243-247 Smith Street, Fitzroy (Fitzroy Coffee Palace, Ackman’s Furniture)

This site retains part of the façade of the Fitzroy Coffee Palace (which is on the right of this image) and the Ackmans Furniture store which was on the corner. Both are now Woolworths and it’s car park.

The Coffee Palace (1879-1887)

“By the 1870s, groups such as the Collingwood Total Abstinence Society and church groups such as the George St Fitzroy Baptist Church Total Abstinence Society were active locally, and advocated for the opening of a coffee palace like those which had become popular in British industrial cities, to provide a social, alcohol-free alternative to pubs and hotels for the area’s working class population. Collingwood and Fitzroy Coffee Palace Company was launched as a public company in 1878, and it opened its Fitzroy Coffee Palace in 1879, which was the first to open in Australia. It was a grand scale operation which physically dominated the western side of Smith Street, housed in a four-storey stone building crowned with a dome topped by a flagpole. It was very successful upon its opening, with its 1880 public general meeting noted, its profits were “very satisfactory”. In that year, the Coffee Palace expanded to add accommodation for boarders who wished to avoid lodging in a hotel where alcohol was served. The building was extended further in 1887, however the depression of the 1890s affected the business drastically, and the coffee palace was closed and repurposed as Ackman’s furniture warehouse” Lauren Piko – Yarra Past Port

F.A. Sleap, “Coffee Palace, Collingwood,” 1879 – available at State Library Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/252387

What Lauren has stated could be true. The Coffee Palace was next door to the site that Ackman purchased in 1887. But I am not sure the grandiose vision above was what was actually built. The image below from pre-1896 shows the building next door having only two levels. It would also make sense then that Ackmans purchased this building to expand their empire in the 1890s when it was no longer viable as the coffee palace.

Ackmans Furniture (located here 1887 (corner block) -?)

“Mr Ackman, who was the founder of the firm, was born in Geelong, in 1850. While comparatively young he engaged in business and prospered, but it was not until 1880 that he embarked o the great establishment which now bears his name. He then opened in Stanford’s buildings in Smith-street, and from the first success attended his enterprise. In 1887 he purchased the property on which the present premises stand, which have a magnificent frontage to the main street and extend back a considerable distance, nearly all the available space being built upon with vast three storied warehouses. Messrs. Ackman and Co. go further than perhaps any house who trade i this line of business in the principle of deferred payments. The cheapness of the goods and the facilities afforded for payment are exceptional. In this branch alone there is said to be something like 30,000 pounds of floating capital involved. The stock is simply enormous, and a splendid business is also done direct for cash. The manufactory of the firm is located in Otter-street, and almost 50 hands are employed. Mr Ackman died in September last, but the business is carried on under the management of Mr Percy Rendle, who has been connected with the firm for about 13 years, for the benefit of Mrs. H. Ackman and family. (The Leader, 8 Feb 1896)

Image held by Fitzroy Library. Taken from the Collingwood and Fitzroy illustrated Directory and Handbook, 1905.

H. Ackman and Company, Monster Furnishing Arcade, 243-247 Smith Street, Fitzroy.

Image held by Fitzroy Library. Taken from the Collingwood and Fitzroy illustrated Directory and Handbook, 1905.
Image held by Fitzroy Library. Taken from the Collingwood and Fitzroy illustrated Directory and Handbook, 1905.
Image held by Fitzroy Library. Taken from the Collingwood and Fitzroy illustrated Directory and Handbook, 1905.
H. Ackman and Company, Monster Furnishing Arcade, 243-247 Smith Street, Fitzroy. Fitzroy Library
Image held by Fitzroy Library. 1978 – this picture looks to be inverse, the building to the left looks to be the old Coffee Palace.

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