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Melbourne Athenaeum

(184-192 Collins Street)

Formed as the Melbourne Mechanics Institute in 1839, with Captain William Lonsdale as president, early meetings were held in a house rented from Dr Farquhar McCrae at the corner of Bourke and Queen streets before a new 'Hall of Arts' was built in 1842 in Collins Street on a site where the Melbourne Town, later City Council had met since its inauguration. With a reading room, library and museum, by the late 1840s the Institute offered music and drawing classes and evening lectures to its nearly 400 members. A new hall was opened in 1872, and on 10 February 1873 the Institute changed its name to the Melbourne Athenaeum. A new Collins Street building was completed in 1886, and a statue of Minerva placed on the building the following year. Film screenings and theatrical performances became popular entertainments at the Athenaeum after the turn of the century, and a new theatre was opened in 1924. Library membership peaked at 7579 in 1950, and a short-lived branch library operated at Forest Hill Shopping Centre from 1968 to 1976. The art gallery closed in 1971, and in 1976 the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) leased the theatre and converted the art gallery into a smaller theatre, Athenaeum 2. The MTC moved to the Arts Centre in 1985, and the refurbished theatre was reopened in 1991.

Andrew May

See also

Athenaeum Place