What is significant?
The mansion, Stonington, was constructed in Malvern in 1890 for Cobb and Co coachline proprietor, John Wagner, to designs by noted Melbourne architect, Charles D'Ebro. Cobb and Co. virtually monopolised the coach and mail business in northern and central Victoria in the latter part of the 19th century and as a result Wagner made his fortune as one of the proprietors of this company. He purchased the majority of the property in Glenferrie Road in 1888 with additional parcels of land to the south of the main allotment purchased by Wagner in 1890. Prior to 1888, the site has been linked to the first meetings of the Salvation Army in Victoria. After purchasing the site, Wagner developed this estate, naming the residence after Stonington in Connecticut, USA, the birthplace of his wife, Mary.
After Federation, the federal parliament was located in Melbourne and the Governor General resided at Government House, and the mansion, Stonington, was acquired for Victoria's vice-regal residence in 1901. It functioned as the Governor's residence until 1931, when Government House Melbourne once again became available for the Governor, following the establishment of the Governor General's residence in Canberra. It was during this period that the name was changed to Stonnington. The estate was then used as a girls' school until 1938, a hospital for the care of child polio victims until 1940 and then as a Red Cross convalescent hospital until 1953, when it became a Health Department administration centre. In 1957 Stonnington was transferred to the Education Department and has continued to be utilised for educational purposes as the State College of Victoria from 1973 to 1992 and then as Deakin University's Melbourne administrative headquarters.
After John Wagner's death in 1901, the property had various owners. In 1928 it was subdivided into two sections and the Victorian Government acquired the developed western portion, containing the mansion, gate house and stables, later that year. It subsequently remained in government ownership until 1995, when it was granted to Deakin University.
Designed in a late boom style, Stonington is a large two storey brick and stucco classical mansion with Germanic overtones, steep French Second Empire roof forms and concentrated Baroque detail and massing, suggestive of 19th century Continental classicism. It is an asymmetrical composition with arcaded loggia at ground floor level and adjoining two storey servants and service wing which adds to the bulk of the building. Some traces of the building's interior, including fixtures, fittings and some pieces of furniture that were owned by Wagner, remain. The original decorative scheme and the stained glass were by the firm Lyon Cottier and Wells, who undertook work in both Melbourne and Sydney.
D'Ebro employed unconventional engineering solutions in his design of Stonington. These included the use of rolled steel or wrought iron beams on bluestone templates in the sub-floor structure for the large floor spans of the hall and drawing room, concrete barrel vaults on steel joists and brick footings to support the verandahs, and trussed frame hanging beams for the large ceiling spans over two first floor bedrooms, which have marks indicating off-site cutting for on-site assembly. Also evident are traces of the original electrical circuits, which were an early installation in Melbourne.
Stonington is set in a landscaped estate, much of which has been retained from the nineteenth century. An elaborate gate house, with associated entrance gates and iron fence, is designed in a similar style to the house, and positioned on Glenferrie Road to clearly reflect the wealth of the owner. It has been suggested that the presence of this gatehouse may have influenced its selection as the vice-regal residence in 1901. A large original stable building has also been retained on the estate and, although considerably altered in 1956, much of the original fabric remains.
The existing site represents approximately half of the original land acquired by Wagner from 1888 to 1890. Extensive building works were undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s as the property was developed as the Toorak Teachers' College, including the construction of the McInerney Building by architects Yuncken Freeman Pty Ltd in 1975. Modifications were made to the landscape to the east and south of the mansion during this period.
How is it significant?
Stonington, Malvern is of architectural, aesthetic, historical and scientific (technical) significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
Stonington is of architectural significance as an outstanding work of the architect Charles D'Ebro and an excellent example of late boom style classicism which was prevalent in Melbourne in the 1880s and early 1890s. As an architect, engineer and surveyor, D'Ebro was involved in the design of a variety of buildings in Melbourne, and Stonington was one of his most substantial domestic commissions. Although the house has been adapted for a variety of uses, the boom style character remains, as do notable finely detailed and crafted interiors, especially the great hall, staircase and glazed lantern.
Stonington is of architectural significance for its gate house, fence, gates and stables, which contribute to the substantial nature of the property. The inclusion of a gate lodge was rare in a large urban estate and it is one of the few extant gate lodges remaining within an estate's curtilage. It is a particularly notable example with no expense spared in its construction. The stables, one of the largest in Melbourne, are a rare surviving example of a large urban stables building.
Stonington is of aesthetic significance for its remaining interior decoration by well known Melbourne and Sydney firm of Lyon Cottier and Wells, which is an important record of 19th century interior decoration. The staircase windows are a particularly fine example of domestic stained glass in Victoria.
Stonington is of aesthetic significance for its landscaped estate, much of which has been retained. It includes the form of the drive and paths; the Glenferrie Road fence and gates; sweeping lawns with beds, enclosed within a shrubbery and hedge; steps framed by a pair of Quercus canariensis (Algerian Oak) and a portion of the east terrace. Unusual in a private garden is the collection of Araucaria species on the eastern side of the drive, including Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine), Araucaria columnaris (Cook's Pine) and Araucaria cunninghamii (Hoop Pine). An Araucaria bidwillii specimen has been removed from the garden. North of the entrance gates is a rare Quercus cerris hybrid (Turkey Oak).
Stonington is of historical significance for its association with the first meetings of the Salvation Army in Victoria. It is also of historical significance for its association with John Wagner, as it reflects his wealth and social standing in Melbourne, and for its link with the Cobb and Co. coachline service which was so influential in the development of the colony of Victoria.
Stonington is of historical significance for its subsequent associations with important phases in the development of Victoria, such as Federation, and the development of Victorian social institutions. The house is a reminder of the scourge of polio in the middle decades of the 20th century and later reflects the enormous expansion of education during the post-war baby boom. The house remains as a reminder of more than a century of political and social change in Victoria.
Stonington is of scientific (technical) significance for its incorporation of several building techniques, not usually associated with residential buildings and outside conventional design of the time. These, together with the fact that Stonington was one of the earliest houses in Melbourne to be wired for electric light, are indicative of the innovation and quality of the house's design and construction.