The telephone exchange at 5 Frith Street is a double-storey clinker-brick building with a hipped tiled roof in the Georgian Revival style. One of a number of automatic telephone exchanges proposed by the Commonwealth in the late 1920s, it was designed in 1929 but not actually constructed until 1934-35 due to the impact of the Great Depression on the number of telephone subscriptions.
How is it Significant?
The telephone exchange is of historical, architectural and aesthetic significance.
Why is it Significant?
Historically, the telephone exchange is significant for associations with an important phase in the expansion of Melbourne's automatic telephone network during the inter-war period. Following the establishment of the city's first purpose-built automatic exchange at Collingwood in 1922, many others were planned for the suburbs over the next few years, culminating in a grand scheme for a new central automatic exchange in Little Bourke Street.
With the Great Depression causing an unprecedented drop in new subscriptions, the construction of many exchanges was postponed indefinitely. The new facility at Brunswick was one of the first in Australia to be erected when the projects were revived in the early 1930s.
Architecturally, this substantial building is significant as a rare example in Victoria (and perhaps in Australia) of an inter-war telephone exchange with two-storeys, as opposed to the more ubiquitous single-storeyed examples.
One comparably-scaled example at Carlton has been demolished, while another still standing at South Melbourne actually comprises a single-storey exchange that was subsequently extended upwards a few years later.
Aesthetically, the building is significant as a fine example of the Classically-derived style adopted by architects of the Commonwealth Department of Works during the inter-war period. This style is not well represented in the City of Moreland, with the most comparable example being the Pascoe Vale Primary School at 360 Gaffney Street, (also of 1929). With its symmetrical facade relieved by regular bays (revealing a Georgian Revival influence), decorative brickwork and, most notably, highly unusual Griffinesque ornament over the main entry, the telephone exchange remains as a distinctive landmark in Frith Street.