The Melbourne Athenaeum – Victoria’s Oldest Subscription Library

The first building that I had a chance to visit during Open House Melbourne event last July 2013 was The Melbourne Athenaeum, also called as The Athenaeum. It was mentioned that the building is as old as Melbourne itself. It was built in 1842 to house the first Mechanics’ Institute (the first name of the building) in Victoria. First President was Captain William Lonsdale whom supervised the founding settlement of Port Philip, now named as Melbourne and first Patron Superintendent of Port Philip, Charles La Trobe who become first lieutenant-governor when Victoria become a separate colony at that time. The building is the home of the oldest public institution in Victoria. It is also significant as the site of the first Melbourne Council Meetings from 1842 to 1852.



The building in 1842


The building in 1874


The building in 2013

When the building was renovated in 1924, the large hall become a modern theatre and it became one of Melbourne’s premier picture theaters, screening films and live theatre. The Athenaeum housed Melbourne’s earliest museum and art gallery and was venue of the lectures by Mark Twain (American writer, humorist and lecturer) and Sir Redmond Barry (Doctor of Laws and Judge of Supreme Court in Victoria).

When I entered the building there were receptionist and guides that welcomes visitor of the building and they gave some directions which area of the building is open for the visitors. At the time of my visit, the open for public is Athenauem Library, the reading room on the mezzanine floor, the foyer, as well as the exhibition “The Melbourne Athenaeum in Pictures”. The live theatre was closed and I never got a chance to see inside of it.

Below are some parts of the building that I had a chance to see.

The Foyer


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Photo Exhibits within The Foyer

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When I walked inside the building, I felt excited when I saw the kind of interiors inside the building. At first I know nothing about the library but through looking in its different photos exhibited from the hallway up to the reading room, I discovered how historic the building is.

The Library and Reading Room


Reading Room in 1918


Reading Room in 2013

When I was in reading room, one thing caught my attention, I knew it was a classic though not yet sure if I was correct, it’s the elevator. And I was more amazed when I learned that it still working at the time of my visit.

The Historic Lift

The famous lift in the library was established in 1930 which still in operation as of the moment and one of only two of its vintage in Melbourne. It decorative interiors based on history as Interwar Neo-classical or classical revival.


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Additional :


Stairs to Comedy Club (Athenaeum Theatre Two)


1. Plan to visit The Melbourne Athenaeum ?

Address: 188 Collins Street, Melbourne

Library – To use the library, membership is required. Please check membership information here. Or visit the official website of the library here.

Theatre – To watch shows and to see the theatre, visit its official website here.

The building open in a daily basis but with a fee (either through membership for the library or tickets for theatre, gallery or museum), but if you really wanted to see inside of it for free, the right opportunity is during Open House Melbourne which happens in one weekend of July every year, to check if the building is participating in Open House Melbourne event please check here.

2. Public Transportation Ticket – Use Myki (Melbourne Ticketing System), please check here for more details.

3. Directions

Using tram

Use tramTracker Apps or even just Google Maps (use directions) and there are tram routes available
Route: 1, 3/3a, 5, 6, 8, 16, 64, 67, 72 –> get off at Stop 11 – Town Hall / Collins Street
Route: 112, 109, 48 –> get off at Stop 6 –  Town Hall / Collins Street

Using train

Visit the official Public Transport Victoria website to be able to use the Journey Planner for the next train schedule.

Ride from any station and get off at Flinders Street Station
From Flinders Street Station, get off at St Kilda Road Exit and continue walking along Swanston Street and turned right at Collins Street.