What is significant? The Richmond South Post Office was built on a small, triangular site adjacent to the railway overpass in Swan Street, Richmond in 1905. The railway line was extended across Swan Street in 1860 and a signal box originally stood on this site. The level crossing was replaced by an overhead bridge in 1887, presumably making the signal box obsolete at this stage. In the early 1900s a number of buildings were erected along this section of Swan Street, including the Dimmeys store and State Savings Bank in 1907 and the Post Office. A post office already existed adjacent to the town hall in Bridge Road, opened about 1871, however an additional one was required and this small vacant site was selected. The Richmond South branch then operated until its closure in 1972. It was subsequently used as the Post Office Museum from 1974 until about 1989, when it was sold and it is now in private ownership.
The Richmond South Post Office was designed by JB Cohen and W Mackay of the Victorian Public Works Department, on behalf of the Commonwealth Public Works Branch, and constructed by builders Connell and McIntosh. In the early years after Federation, the majority of works were still undertaken by the State, including a number of post office buildings. Cohen, who was employed by the PWD. from 1887, was in charge of the north-eastern district by 1893 and from 1895 was in charge of the eastern district. William Mackay was a temporary architectural draughtsman employed by the department prior to 1900, becoming a permanent member of staff in 1909. It appears that Mackay was used by Cohen to execute most works in the eastern region, although it is difficult to ascertain his design input. Such buildings include the Heidelberg (1899) and Yarram (1908, H1491) Court Houses, Korumburra (1903) and Richmond South (1905) Post Offices and Ascot Vale (1901), Canterbury (1907) and Clayton North (1909, H1084) Primary Schools.
The design of the Richmond South Post Office is highly original. Planned to fit on an extremely restricted site, this small building comprises four main spaces; a public area, mail room, manager’s room and caretaker’s room, all arranged symmetrically about a diagonal axis. Entry is through an encaustic tiled and towered porch into the public area, which was originally divided from the mail room by an arched opening and counter. A telephone booth and lobby is accessed form the public area, opposite the entrance porch. The manager’s and caretaker’s rooms, with related amenities, are accessed from either end of the mail room. A strong room, with access from the mail room, is located adjacent to the manager’s room, and an outhouse and coal room are accessed externally from the rear.
The red brick building, with cream brick and render contrasts, is a highly picturesque and subtly asymmetrical composition. It incorporates steeply pitched slate roofs, tall chimneys, ridge cresting, a tower with exaggerated brick consoles and three pavilions with separate octagonal, or part octagonal, roof forms. Unusual ogee shaped domes on buttress-like elements flank the entrance tower and the corresponding section on the other side of the main public space, which itself forms the front apex of the triangular site. Rectangular window openings are repeated throughout the composition.
The ceilings of the internal spaces are timber lined and feature central ventilation roses and timber brackets around the perimeter. With the exception of the manager’s room, these dark-stained timber ceilings remain unpainted, with that of the polygonal public area appearing particularly impressive with eight panels rising to the large central rose. The roses, probably of plaster, are painted to give the appearance of timber.
The building is largely intact. The major alteration is the removal of the arch and counter between the public area and mail room. Minor alterations include the removal of fireplaces and some fittings, and changes made to some openings, including the relocation of the main public entry. Original writing slopes are no longer present. Externally the original post box, and stamp dispenser have been retained, and an early urinal is present in the outhouse.
How is it significant? The former Richmond South Post Office is of architectural and historical significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant? The former Richmond South Post Office is of architectural significance as a highly individual and distinctive public building produced by the Public Works Department. It is one of the most innovative post offices built in the first decade of the twentieth century. After such innovative examples as the Flemington Post Office (1888) by JR Brown and the South Yarra Post Office (1892) by AJ Macdonald in the latter nineteenth century, the twentieth century saw little such innovation. The Richmond South Post Office displays characteristics typical of the Federation Free style, including a landmark tower, pyramidal tower roof, interest and variation at skyline, prominent brackets, the use of contrasting materials and colour, and subtle external asymmetry. Other examples of Cohen and MacKay’s work exhibit similar characteristics to varying degrees. No other post offices appear to have been designed in a similar manner to that at Richmond South, which has more in common with the court houses at Heidelberg and Yarram. These both contain octagonal central court rooms with low pyramidal roofs, prominent eave brackets and rectangular window openings.
The former Richmond South Post Office is also of architectural significance as it demonstrates the application of a carefully considered individual plan and subtle asymmetry in its design. It was planned to cleverly fit on a tight triangular site, adopting a part octagon public space to fit the front apex of the triangle.
The former Richmond South Post Office is historically important as an early Commonwealth building designed and constructed under the supervision of the Victorian Public Works Department. It is an early example of the cooperative nature of State and Commonwealth public administration required to implement federation in Australia.