||It has been suggested that this article be merged into Kew Asylum. (Discuss) Proposed since August 2010.|
Set on high ground above the Yarra River, Willsmere is one of Melbourne's most visual urban landmarks.
The French Second Empire and Italianate inspired design draws from the mannerist and baroque idioms. The front facade contains sections of loggia in addition to mansard roofing which has been noted as advanced for Victorian contemporary standards. The two taller towers that flank the complex incorporate mansards of a pyramidal form while a third smaller tower is located toward the centre of the complex.
The surrounding walls of Willsmere maintain scalloped sections in addition to ball finials. These were restored during the 1990s redevelopment. The forecourt to the complex also contains a woven wire fence that is a historic recreation based on early photographs.
Verandas run for almost a lineal kilometre around the complex. The longest unbroken stretch has been measured at 690 metres—around three times the length of the Grand Hotel (Mackinac Island) (claimed at one stage to be the longest in the world). In fact, they are much nearer the length of Beijing's Summer Palace which contains the longest corridor in Chinese garden architecture (780 metres). The verandas are framed by wrought iron posts with capitals in the Roman Doric Order.
History and redevelopment
Formerly known as Willsmere Hospital, and before that Kew Asylum, the complex was decommissioned in December 1988. An extensive Conservation Analysis was completed in 1988 by Best Overend and Partners and Dr Miles Lewis in which it was recommended that the bulk of the original buildings be conserved. Following the hospital closure, a number of redevelopment proposals from several applicants were considered by the Government of Victoria. The Jennings Group Ltd proposed a combined residential hotel and conference centre development and in June 1990, ownership of the property was formally transferred to the Jennings Group. The Willsmere site was placed onto the Historic Buildings Register in February 1991. Mostly because of the difficult economic climate of the time, the Jennings redevelopment proposal was not proceeded with. The property was then sold to Central Equity Ltd in February 1993. Conservation consultant Willys Span-Keeble acting on behalf of Central Equity prepared a proposal to redevelop the Willsmere Hospital buildings into residential apartments. In accordance with the Historic Buildings Council permit # 1816, issued in April 1993, the original buildings were redeveloped into 155 residential apartments, while 101 new townhouses were built along three sides of the property. The new development was officially opened on 27 October 1993 by Premier Jeff Kennett, although the redevelopment was not complete until late in 1994.
Great care was taken during the redevelopment to restore and preserve as much as possible of the original buildings and features of the Willsmere site. The two fever tents were retained and are now used as a gymnasium and a function room. Two of the original six sunshades were retained. All four of the privy buildings survive intact. Two of them are now used to store residents bicycles, one has been converted to a modern toilet, while the fourth is preserved in its 1950s state with low partitions and sanitary fittings. The basalt block dungeon with its cells, brick vaulted ceilings and bars on the windows is well preserved. The perimeter walls were retained and sections were rebuilt. The ha-ha ditches were re-excavated in places to show what they once looked like. All of the buildings and structures added to the site in the twentieth century were demolished and removed with the exception of the 28 metre tall laundry boiler chimney built in 1921. The "Day Room" has been converted to a library/reading room and displays historic photographs of Willsmere. Adjacent to the library is an area originally referred to as the Gallery, the attendant's room and bedrooms, which is now called the archive centre. The archive centre is preserved mostly in its original 1872 form, except for the lighting and heating. The archive centre is normally kept locked, but is periodically opened for public viewing. The original lawn bowling green once used by the Kew Asylum patients is well maintained and is now regularly used by Willsmere residents.
New features have been added to the property including two tennis courts, three BBQ facilities, a 25 metre solar heated swimming pool, a toddlers pool, a putting green and half a basketball court.
- Kew Asylum Museum & Archives
- Public Records Office of Victoria—Kew Asylum
- Central Equity Projects: Willsmere
- Day, Cheryl (1999). Magnificence, Misery and Madness – A History of the Kew Asylum. Unpublished University of Melbourne PhD thesis.
- "Former Willsmere Hospital (listing VICH861)". Australia Heritage Places Inventory. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- PROV Agency VA 2840 Kew Asylum, Accessed 27/08/2008