Former GMH powerhouse in Port Melbourne

Welcome to Lorimer Street in Port Melbourne. Located in a suburb better known for expensive waterfront property, it is often forgotten that this area is full of industrial plants belonging to the likes of Boeing, the DSTO, Herald and Weekly Times, Kraft, and GM Holden. The last company is the topic for today.

Abandoned on Lorimer Street

Located at 610 Lorimer Street, the GM Holden powerhouse once contained the briquette fired boilers that produced the steam and heat needed in the engine plant located next door. The building itself dates to the late 1950s, and the glass fronted Modernist design was in the same style as a number of other industrial buildings constructed around Melbourne during the same period, such as the APM boiler house at Alphington and the BP mixing tower at Spotswood. In this example only the northern wall along Lorimer Street was covered with glass, with more economical asbestos cladding being used for the side and rear walls.

Looking down the boiler room

Running along the top of the building were the coal hoppers that fed the boilers, presumably with a conveyor belt to raise the fuel from ground level. By the time I visited in 2010 the building had already been mostly stripped out, including the asbestos wall cladding and the majority of the heavy machinery, the exception being a single boiler at the west end.

Last boiler standing in the powerhouse

Outside the four chimneys still remained: the one at the west end was taller than the rest.

Sunset on the powerhouse

Abandonment of the powerhouse presumably came in the early 1990s when GM Holden rationalised their operations at Port Melbourne, closing older parts of the factory, and selling off the empty land to developers, who established an office park on the site. With asbestos filling the building, the powerhouse was much slower to move.

It appears the first company to buy the site was developer Omni Property, who proposed the subdivision of the 2,991 m2 site into four individual 700 m2 lots, and the construction of four 900 m2 triple level office/showrooms, with a total project cost of $5 million. This proposal appeared to come nothing: possibly the developers got part way through removing the asbestos before discovering how big the job actually was, and decided to cut their losses.

The next owner of the site was investment group Storm Financial, who purchased the site for $1.825 million in 2007, intending to convert the site into their Melbourne headquarters. Unfortunately for the company and the clients who invested with them, the company went bust in January 2009 and the site went back into limbo. It fell to corporate receivers KordaMentha to dispose of the site as part of the wind up of Storm Financial, with the buyer paying only $700,000 for the empty shell of the powerhouse – a massive drop!

The new owner decided against the conversion of the building, and instead opted to raze the site and build three new warehouses: one around 1000 m2 in size, flanked by two smaller ones around 520 m2. The design and construction contract was awarded in May 2011, with demolition commencing in September the same year.

Asbestos removal occupied a number of months, with the boiler being surrounded by scaffolding and plastic sheeting to ensure the work was carried out safely, leaving behind the steelwork and fireproof bricks.

The last remain boiler lies exposed

By November all of the asbestos wall cladding had also been removed, leaving just a steel skeleton covering coal hoppers and chimneys.

Asbestos cladding gone, just the steelwork to go

Demolition of the main building started at the east end and moved west, with the coal hoppers being lifted away first, followed by the toppling of the top portion of the chimneys.

Three chimney stumps remain: the fourth is on the ground

Going in for the kill

By the time Christmas 2011 rolled around the only piece left was the base of the main chimney, which was easily toppled after the break with a long piece of wire rope tied around the top.

A shadow of what was once here

The rubble has since been cleared, with work starting on the new warehouses.

Sources

  • Omni Property: 61 Lorimer Street:
    DEVELOPMENT STATUS Sold 2007
    PROJECT BUDGET $5 Million
    Position perfect in Port Melbourne, 610 Lorimer Street totals 2,991 m2 with direct Yarra River frontage of approximately 90 m. Zoned Business3 the site is currently subject to a subdivision application to create four individual 700 m2 lots and the subsequent construction of four 900 m2 triple level office/showrooms.
  • Storm Financial Sells Melbourne Office at a Loss After Just 4 Months:
    May 4, 2009
    Another Storm property asset, the former General Motors Holden power station at 610 Lorimer Street in Port Melbourne, is also believed to have sold for about $700,000.
  • Administrators to Sell Two Storm Financial Assets in Melbourne:
    March 21, 2009
    Another property, the former General Motors Holden power station in Port Melbourne, was purchased for $1.825 million in 2007, and was to become the Cairns-based financial services group’s Melbourne headquarters.
  • BMF Construction: 604-610 Lorimer St, Port Melbourne:
    May 3, 2011
    BMF Construction has been awarded the Design & Construction contract for a new project located at 604-610 Lorimer St, Port Melbourne. The project consists of 3 Warehouse & Office Units.

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4 Responses to “Former GMH powerhouse in Port Melbourne”

  1. Andrew says:

    Very interesting. You certainly put some work into the post and the building’s history is tightly recorded.

    • Marcus says:

      Hi Andrew,

      I’d like to think I put a lot of effort into researching the history of the building, but I do still have two open questions: what year it was *actually* built, and when it was closed. I’m hoping someone else who stumbles upon this post has the answers!

  2. Hi Marcus – this is impressive indeed. As these industrial buildings disappear, your careful recording is especially important.

  3. Steve says:

    Hi I’m the owner of the above property. Was impressed with your report. Feel free to contact me. Steve 96464716

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