Russell's Old Corner Shop
Widely regarded as Melbourne's oldest residence, Russell's Old Corner Shop stands on the corner of King and LaTrobe Street.
Built in 1851, Russell's Old Corner Shop or Russell's Cafe is one of the few remaining buildings from before the goldrush.
Russell's Old Corner Shop
Have you ever noticed the tiny two-storey 1850s store and residence, now Russell's Old Corner Shop on the corner of Latrobe and King Streets? It was built before the days of the gold rush and is only one of a handful of buildings in Victoria that remain as tangible reminders of that era.
Today it is overshadowed by surrounding high-rise buildings constructed more than a century later. Visitors marvel at just how it has withstood the development pressures of the last 156 years, the nearby construction of the underground rail loop, and the rumble of semitrailers that thunder by on King Street each day.
Meet the proprietors Lola Russell and George Dixon and you will begin to understand how. They love this building and their persistence and struggle against financial hardship to survive into the next century has been remarkable.
The building has been owned and operated as a corner store by Lola Russell's family for over a 100 years. Her grandfather, Valetta Azzopardi purchased the property in 1899 and set up a news agency / general store. Lola was born there and took over the then turned mixed business with her husband George when her father died in 1969.
According to Lola, the building that was originally built as a 4-roomed cottage has had quite colourful history; it used to house a pharmacy, laundry, haberdashery and holds evidence that suggest that it was also one of Melbourne's first maternity hospitals. Some old layers of paint on the building reveal writing stating that Dr Cook was in residence as a chemist and apothecary.
With the development of the surrounding areas, the construction of the underground rail loop, and the heavy ruck traffic going right past it, by the late 80's the building was falling to pieces. The side walls were collapsing, roof was leaking, and the building was sinking. Deciding it was time to act, Lola and George invested a substantial amount of their superannuation money into a large-cale restoration project that kept their business closed for 12 months which added extra financial pressure.
Describing those times, George recounts the discovery of a door at the front of the building on King Street that they never knew existed. It was uncovered complete with a key left in the keyhole, untouched for over a 100 years. According to Lola and George it is discoveries like this that make all the sacrifices and hard times all worth it.
Lola and George are still operating out of their residence / corner shop, and I recently payed them a visit for a bit of a photographic exploration as well as a good history lesson over a cup of tea.
Quest to save Corner Shop
The National Trust has stepped in to try to save the CBD's oldest house amid a massive repair bill and concerns about the owner's health.
Known as Russell's Old Corner Shop, the dilapidated King St property was built about 1850 when Melbourne was only 15 years old.
Owner Lola Russell and husband George Dixon, both actors, performed plays in a downstairs room which also served as a cafe.
Mr Dixon died in 2017, while Ms Russell, 96, left for health reasons. Plans to restore the historic home have been delayed for years.
In late 2017, a developer offered to do the renovation while TV personality and home design expert Shaynna Blaze set up a crowd-funding campaign to raise cash for repairs, and showed interest in helping with interior works.
Ms Russell has no children, and her affairs and care are being handled by her husband's relatives.
Family spokesman Owen Dixon said he wanted to see the house restored, but the priority had been Ms Russell's health and settling her in appropriate aged care.
Mr Dixon said the National Trust was developing a plan to preserve the property, and he hoped the development company , which has no commercial motive for its involvement, would come back on board.
"We'd like to see it used as a cafe downstairs and maybe turned into a museum upstairs ,"he said.
"George and Lola loved the theatrical and film industries - we'd be willing to accommodate that, but it's got to work with the major plan."
National Trust of Victoria CEO Simon Ambrose said an appeal had been set up to save the historic building.
"This property is so fragile and worthy of support that people and organisations can donate money that can be used to help this building be maintained ,"he said.
To donate, call the National Trust on 9656 9800
The Herald Sun Digital Edition: Quest to save Corner Shop
This article is from the May 11, 2019 issue of The Herald Sun Digital Edition.
❊ Address & Contact ❊
⊜ Corner King Street and LaTrobe Street, Melbourne | Map
❊ Web Links ❊
→ Russell's Old Corner Shop
❊ Also See... ❊
→ National Trust of Australia (Victoria)
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