Job Warehouse building facade
Melbourne Crossley Building, 54-62 Bourke Street Melbourne, 2020 (author’s photograph)

When you walk down the Bourke Street Hill from Spring Street, with Parliament House looming behind you, there’s a freestanding terrace of four two-storeyed shopfronts on your right that stands out for a number of reasons.

You know the one – commonly known as the Job Warehouse – once a haberdashery and fabric business, now a sad and derelict row of (almost) untenanted shops.    

Fifty-four to sixty-two Bourke Street, also known as the Crossley Building, holds the history of one of Melbourne’s earliest, pre gold-rush retail and residential developments, where butchers, grocers, tailors and dressmakers lived and worked alongside prostitutes and thieves. It became part of the Chinese Quarter after slums were removed in the late 1800s and is now one of the few original commercial edifices in the city district.

Job Warehouse
John T. Collins, Melbourne Crossley Building 54-62 Bourke St., gelatin silver photograph, 1978, J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, H98.252/918

Revealing a wide shopfront with a residence above, the first section (architect unknown) was built in 1847-48 for William Crossley, an English migrant and a successful butcher, who also managed a neighbouring slaughterhouse and trained numerous early Melbourne butchers.

Ownership passed to Mrs Anne Crossley in 1855-1858. It was occupied by another butcher, [Sir] William Angliss, from 1896-99, and then a grocer and fruiterer until it was turned into, and remains, a bookshop in 1969.

The second shopfront, built in the same simple Georgian style as the first, in 1853-54, was designed by Joseph R. Burns. Eugene von Guerard lived at number 56 from 1857-1858, as he was establishing his career as a landscape artist.

Over its lifetime, the terrace of buildings has seen only four owners. The most recent were the Zeimer Brothers. Max and Jacob arrived in Melbourne in 1948 as Polish refugees. Their Jewish family had been Polish cloth traders for generations and, while the brothers survived WWII, their parents and siblings all perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Within a decade, Jacob was able to purchase a section of the building and open his drapery business. From 1956, he bought up more space, eventually owning the entire terrace.

Many a story has been told of their overfilled, dusty and disorganised store, catering to clients such as Mariana Hardwick, Prue Acton and Alannah Hill. Max died in 1988 and Jacob in 2005. The warehouse continued to trade until Jacob’s son David closed it down in 2012.

Man in fabric shop
Hilary Bradford, Job Warehouse, haberdashery shop, Melbourne, established 1952, Captured in Time [electronic resource], 2011, H2011.165/5 (copyright with photographer). David Zeimer (pictured), General Manager and son of original owner.

Wanting it kept in the family, David Zeimer leased out the building, relocating some fabrics to a warehouse in North Coburg. In 2019 the O’Brien Group, a large catering business, purchased a 40-year lease on the now run-down property.

Significant restoration, overseen by Heritage Victoria, is required to stabilise and preserve this building, which provides a glimpse of early Melbourne commerce. It’s also an important link to post-war immigration and the success of European refugees resettling in a new country.

Walking down the alleyways alongside the Crossley Building, you can see original timbers and window openings. There’s graffiti and much evidence of neglect. What’s next for this old building, in a world dominated by modern skyscrapers and noisy traffic? Hopefully its next life is filled with the promise of opportunity, much like its first.

Melbourne Crossley Building, 54-62 Bourke Street Melbourne, view from Liverpool Street, 2020 (author’s photograph)
Melbourne Crossley Building, 54-62 Bourke Street Melbourne, view from Liverpool Street, 2020 (author’s photograph)

This post was written by Kate Holloway, Preservation Manager

Further Reading

Byrne, E 2008, Crossley Street, eMelbourne (Encylcopedia of Melbourne online), School of Historical & Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne, http://www.emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM01762b.htm

Heritage Council Victoria 2000, Job Warehouse (or Crossley Building), Statement of Significance, Victorian Heritage Database, https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/700

Lindsay, N 2014, ‘Jobs Warehouse Building offers Golden Opportunity’, The Age, 12 August 2014, https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/jobs-warehouse-building-offers-golden-opportunity-20140812-1037iu.html

Lovell Chen 2020, ‘Crossley’s Building: Conservation management plan for CBD streetscape survivor’, http://www.lovellchen.com.au/lc/crossleys-building/

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Thank you so much for your article on Job Warehouse.
    There is so much of Melbourne’s history woven thru this building – it must preserved at all costs.

    • Hi Jill

      It really is a fascinating old building with many stories to tell. Let’s hope this significant piece of Melbourne’s heritage is preserved for many years to come.

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