In 1928 the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows purchased Stewart Dawson's Building, on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets, with the intention of constructing a new head office on the site. The society hoped to exploit the popularity of the site, commonly known as 'Puppy Dog Corner' after the large number of besotted couples who used it as a meeting place, to increase its business and public profile.
The society's architect, Marcus Barlow, chose the Commercial Gothic style (a manner which emphasised verticality) for the 11-storey building. Inspired by Chicago's Tribune Building he included a soaring ornamental tower on the south-eastern corner, a measure which increased the building's visibility, as well as advertising value.
Constructed by W.E. Cooper Pty Ltd at the height of the depression in 1932, the building provided work for over 300 people. Its completion in less than a year was hailed by civic leaders as a sign of renewed economic confidence. The building's technical features similarly drew positive comment. These included Melbourne's first escalators, high-speed lifts, and 'toilets for both sexes on every floor'. The interior also featured a frieze depicting the history of Australia in progressive and heroic terms, largely omitting the contribution of women and non-whites to nation-building. The Manchester Unity Building soon became a Melbourne icon, appearing on postcards, chocolate boxes, and elsewhere as a symbol of the city's modernity.
Alongside Manchester Unity staff, tenants of the building have ranged from Averillite's, a clothing manufacturer, to Rene Henri, a high-society hairstylist. Perhaps the most notorious episode in the building's history was the unsolved 1978 murder of three jewellers on the eighth floor. In 1997 the top two floors of the building were bought by a developer and converted into apartments.