Architect: G.W. Vivian and Frederick Kawerau, 1856-1872

City of Boroondara | B09

Building Description

Willsmere is a rare and historic architectural marvel of Melbourne. The former hospital, previously known as the Kew Lunatic Asylum, commenced construction in 1856 and opened in 1872. Until 1876, Willsmere was Melbourne’s tallest building, still visible from many vantage points. Spread over 25 acres, but originally over 340 acres, the Italianate and Second French Empire buildings, designed by G.W. Vivian and Frederick Kawerau, and expansive working gardens were intended to portray Melbourne as a civilized, benevolent city providing progressive treatment, afforded by gold-rush wealth. Willsmere closed in 1988 with development proposals including a casino, hotel, or demolition. The magnificent barracks-style buildings were converted in the early 90’s to private residences with the addition of some townhouses, however it retains heritage listing and is an exemplar of successful re-purposing. Facilities now include tennis courts, pool, lawn bowling green, BBQs, and a gym. Roughly forming an ‘E’ shape, the administration block at the entrance comprises three-storeys with an attic Mansard roof using Welsh slate. Two barracks-style wings extend on either side, each with a tower, surrounding courtyards lined with iron-columned verandas. The central services wing once housed the dining halls and ballroom.

Kew, full address available after booking

What's On

Tours of grounds preserved ward/museum, ‘ha-ha’ walls, fever tents, and bluestone ‘dungeon’ cells. Extensive walking and stairs are involved, mostly outdoors. Photography of buildings is permitted but not of residents without their permission.

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