Melbourne’s abandoned skyscraper

If you frequent the west end of Melbourne’s CBD, then you might have noticed this nondescript looking office building during your travels. Known as Communications House, this 21-storey building is located at 199 William Street on the north-west corner of the intersection with Little Bourke Street, opposite the Supreme Court of Victoria.

The abandoned skyscraper on Melbourne's William Street

Most people walk right past the building without a second thought, but if you stop and look through the windows, one finds an abandoned foyer covered with years of dust. So how does an entire skyscraper lie empty for over a decade?

Abandoned foyer of Communications House

Communications House was constructed in 1966 for the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG), it originally consisted of a single office tower, with curtain walls on three sides, a red brick elevator core on the western face of the building, and a neighbouring building butting up against it from the north. This Wolfgang Sievers photograph shows the William Street frontage of the building soon after completion.

While this photograph from the same set shows the south-west facade, including the elevator core.

At an unknown date a second tower of the same external design was constructed on a site to the west of the first one, with the two towers linked at all levels by a brick skybridge crossing Guests Lane.

Ewwwww! Communications House on William Street

With the split of the Postmaster-General’s Department into separate postal and telecommunications departments in 1975, Communications House became the property of the Australian Telecommunications Commission, better known as Telecom Australia, and later Telstra. The telco remained the main tenant of the building until their departure in 1994, having moved to their new 47-storey high office complex on Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets.

Singaporean billionaire Tay Tee Peng purchased the building soon after for $12 million, and then spent $10 million refurbishing it, but with little success in attracting tenants. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Communications House lay empty, with the next owner being an Asia based investor with the registered company name Memo Corporation, who purchased it at an unknown date.

Of the refurbishment work carried out, the most obvious work was the glass foyer facing William Street, which differs to the sparse plaza seen earlier in the 1960s photographs. As for the rest of the work, it did not appear very successful, with work being left half completed.

Abandoned foyer and site office

Down on the ground floor of the Little Bourke Street tower a tea room was established, only to lie abandoned for a number of years.

Abandoned tea room for construction workers

Next door to that was a site office, featuring a desk with a crappy old IBM computer, and what looks to be a 2001 calendar on the far wall. I hope they haven’t left their lights on for 10 years.

Abandoned site office at a construction site

It took until January 2011 for something to finally happen on the site, when it was sold for $45 million to Hengyi Australia, a local subsidiary of a Chinese property developer. Using existing plans developed by Bruce Henderson Architects, the developer plans to convert the building into more than 530 home offices, each between 40 and 70 square metres in size, some with balconies.

With the development known as “The William”, in September 2011 work started the construction of a display suite and sales office inside the William Street foyer, with the rest of the empty lobbing being covered with full height red curtains.

Morning commuters on the way to the office

Painting the ugly looking stone pillars

"The William" on William Street, Melbourne

This is what the developers intend the lobby to look like….

Lobby of "The William"

And as for the outside:

External render of "The William" development

The architecture geeks are rather happy with the transformation – Communications House is considered one of the ugliest buildings in the Melbourne CBD, so even a refurbishment is something to cheer for.

Further reading

Postscript, June 2012

I’ve just had an article in The Age pointed out to me – A ghost springs back to life of luxury – which details what the foyer of the refurbished building will look like.

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31 Responses to “Melbourne’s abandoned skyscraper”

  1. Daniel15 says:

    Great post, Marcus! I was recently wondering about that building, so this blog post came at a good time 😛

    • Marcus says:

      Glad you found it useful – I’d spent a past year or so looking at the building and wondering “why” as well!

  2. segruts says:

    finally, i work a couple of doors down and the curiosity was getting to me . . . thanks for the info

  3. lena says:

    Wow great work Marcus! have been wondering about that old building as well. But, will it be on demand for sale or rent? I mean working people like us will usually live in suburbs where the areas are more family friendly, wont we?

    • Marcus says:

      I’m guessing the target market for the building will be young professionals without children, wanting to live right in the middle of the exciting city. Over the past few years there has been a constant stream of new residential developments around the CBD, and not just the cheap and nasty student apartments around the universities.

  4. rohan says:

    I quite like this one, not nondescript at all ! lovely gold and squiggly detail, not many like it ! Was disappointed front was changed. Knew it was built / occupied by SEC, and that there were two matching (one 1966, little collins street one c1974!), but other details I didnt know. Hope the rear one stays personally. Wouldnt be surprised if its empty cos of asbestos. Strange though to transform one building and not the other.

    • Marcus says:

      Thanks for the approximate construction date for the rear building – with the time in between I’m surprised that the two look so similar.

      I’m pretty sure both buildings are getting revamped, I seem to recall seeing some renders that show both of them with the new look.

  5. Sarah says:

    Great article! You can check out the development’s Facebook page here:

    • Marcus says:

      I see that their launch event is happening today (April 17), and yesterday I noticed workers placing advertising stickers on the ground level windows, replacing the red curtains – the marketing must be ramping up.

  6. Raka Supriatna says:

    Great post, this place looks awesome, really interesting. But as a fellow urban explorer, some hints as to how to get into this place would be awesome, to do a shoot of my own.

    • Marcus says:

      I’ve seen a few photos in urban exploration groups on Flickr that appear to have been taken from the rooftop at night (the surrounding skyscrapers are quite distinctive and allow you to figure out where said photos were taken from) but I’ve got no idea how the people managed to get up there.

      When I took my photos the windows at ground level were still uncovered, but today curtains prevent you from looking inside the building. It looks like you’re on your own…

  7. Ronny says:

    How do you get in?

    • Marcus says:

      At the moment it is “with great difficulty” – it is now a construction site, so security would be keeping more of an eye on it than before.

    • Yeahno says:

      There were a couple of ways in.. the place was mostly powered for the past decade, lights and the lift operated fine. Although… the lift did have live walls, you couldn’t touch them unless you wanted a nasty shock. (They were covered with light board to stop accidental touches)

      The building has been frequented by explorers for a long time. There is a small 2 bedroom unit on the roof, full of bird crap, mountains of the stuff.

  8. […] news website where people posts links and comment on them. In my case somebody posted a link to my January 2012 blog post about Melbourne’s empty skyscraper to the /RedditDayOf subreddit, where the topic for August 13 was ‘abandoned […]

  9. […] news website where people posts links and comment on them. In my case somebody posted a link to my January 2012 blog post about Melbourne’s empty skyscraper to the /RedditDayOf subreddit, where the topic for August 13 was ‘abandoned […]

  10. mich says:

    Was the SECV in this building, or the one across the street ?

  11. Brad says:

    I used to park in the basement of this building when I worked in the CBD. We used to go exploring in it at night, it was pretty eerie. We found server and telecommunications rooms and racks down in the basement but most of the upper floor levels were stripped back to bare concrete. There is ducts that carry telecommunications cables under the city from the base of this building. Our company stopped parking there when the company we leased the spaces from was forced to shut the garage area down as it didnt meet fire code.

    • Marcus says:

      Thanks for that info Brad – I’m guessing the later owners stripped out the office floors intending to redevelop them, but never got that far.

  12. Marion says:

    I worked at 199 William St from 1969 til about 1992. It was owned by the Federal Government, used by the Postmaster-General’s Department, then Telecom Australia (now Telstra). The connecting building (518 Little Bourke St) was built approx 1980. It’s good to see the old building being given a new life

    • Marcus says:

      Thanks for that info regarding the construction of the building on Little Bourke Street. It seems that proposals for the site had been around for years – when I put the address into Google, I found this diagram from 1969:

    • Cherie says:

      My (now deceased) grandmother worked in the cafeteria of this building for 12 years around the same time that you worked in the building Marion. My mother would sometimes take my sister and I to see my grandmother whilst she was at work and we would choose whatever we wanted to eat from the glass display cabinets. We thought this was quite a treat and our grandmother was very happy in her job. I wish there were photos of the old cafeteria taken prior to the redevelopment.

  13. Alexia says:

    Hi guys, I have actually purchased a unit in The William recently – thanks for the info, it’s nice to know the background and history. Just wondering, everyone kind of mentioned that it’s called Melb ghost building, anyone know anything about this? Thanks!

  14. Marcus says:

    I’m pretty sure the ‘ghost building’ tag was give due to the lack of tenants for so many years, and not any supernatural activity. Not that Melbourne isn’t know for haunted buildings elsewhere!

  15. […] forgettable building was 199 William Street. After sitting empty for decades the year 2011 saw work start on the redevelopment of the tower into ‘The William’ hotel and […]

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