“Robert Harper & Co” Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Located between Queen and Market streets – the building no longer exists, but Harper Lane, Melbourne is likely to be the original location of this building. Architects: Hyndman and Bates; Builders: Reynolds, Oliver and Peters 1899. Robert Harper was a merchant, Victorian MP and also Federal MP. He arrived in Melbourne in 1856 and initially started working for J.F. McKenzie & Co. before setting up his own tea, coffee, spice, flour and oatmeal business in Flinders Lane.

1899 – Photo published in the Age

“New City Buildings – In Flinders-lane west, between Queen and Market streets, there has recently been erected for Messrs. Robert Harper and Co. a set of offices and sample stores which may fairly be said to rank first among the finest buildings of the kind in Melbourne.  The managerial and clerical work of the firm was being carried on in rented buildings further east in the Lane, and of late year the increasing volume of the business created and imperative need for more commodious quarters.  The new buildings supply this need very thoroughly, and in some respects also display a nearer approach to luxury than is usually found associated with the serious daily realities of commercial life.  In the general design of the building, Messrs. Harper had only themselves to please, and hence their requirements have been med in every way that demands of their varied manufacturing and exporting business suggested.  Safety, convenience and solidity have generally aimed at and accomplished.  the buildings is not a ‘sky-scraper’ by any means.  Height was not necessary, owing to the large ground space available amounting to about 120 feet by 56 feet.  There are only three stories, and as the principal part of the business is transacted on the ground floor and first upstairs floor, lifts have been dispensed with throughout.  The main office occupies a space 60 feet by 52 feet and over it on the next floor is a department 33 feet by 32 feet, devoted to intercolonial business.  The heads of the firm have allotted a space 52 feet by 34 feet on the first floor for their private offices, and the ground floor accommodation includes a sales room 30 feet by 20 feet.  There is also storage for town orders, a sample room, a room for commercial travellers, and provision for many minor purposes.  The building is of red brick, with cement dressings, and the facade is in the free Romanesque style.  As a precaution against fire, it is divided into three blocks by means of hanging iron screens or doors.  With the possibility of fire still in view, the ceilings are made of stamped steel (an American material now getting into common use) and of steel also, instead of cast iron, are the pillars which serve as supports inside the building.  Californian pine is used for the lining of the offices.  A telephone service, very complete and convenient in its arrangement, runs throughout the building and in winter the building will be heated by means of an American system of hot water pipes for which a furnace is now being erected on the basement.  The architects of the building are Messrs. Hyndman and Bates and the Contractors Messrs. Reynolds, Oliver and Peters.”

The Age (Melbourne, Vic: 1854 – 1954), Mon 27 Mar 1899

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