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Rare house in Melbourne’s CBD set to return to its commercial roots

March 16, 2017

102 Little Lonsdale Street, a converted warehouse, is up for sale. Photo: Supplied

It was one of the only houses in Melbourne’s CBD before the boom in apartment living, but now it looks likely that the former home of the iconic rag trader turned restaurateur Marisa Sillitto will return to its commercial roots.

Transformed by Ms Sillitto in the 1970s from an 1894 factory to a three-storey house, 102 Little Lonsdale Street almost stood alone in a city which Ms Sillitto described at the time as being as deserted as ”war-torn Berlin”.

But now, against the backdrop of a vastly different city, it looks set to shift back to being a commercial building, with an auction scheduled for April, and $5 million price hopes.

“Assets of this class and rarity will see a shift back to commercial,” said Colliers’ Daniel Wolman, who is marketing the property alongside Oliver Hay and David Sia.

“(It’s) not just any commercial office, this building has something special, something unique and will create one of Melbourne’s finest, high-end and tasteful offices that will generate appreciation from all whom visit.”

The exterior of 102 Little Lonsdale Street. Photo: Supplied The exterior of 102 Little Lonsdale Street. Photo: Supplied

According to Mr Wolman, demand for owner-occupied offices, buoyed by low interest rates, should see the property sell in the $4.5 to $5 million range.

The house last traded for $2.8 million when it was purchased by Karen and John Harvey from Ms Sillitto in 2010.

Since then, “demand for office space has catapaulted as a result of the recent exceptional withdrawal of CBD commercial property for residential development,” Mr Wolman said. 

The site also has potential for future redevelopment, a factor likely to weigh in on any commercial buyer’s decision.

“(It’s) likely to be favoured for its commercial appeal and underlying potential for redevelopment,” he said.

The property features two outdoor courtyards. Photo: Supplied The property features two outdoor courtyards. Photo: Supplied

Ms Silletto paid $40,000 for the 103-square-metre block in 1975, moving into her newly converted residence in 1979.

The city was a very different place to live then, she told The Sunday Age in a 2002 interview, likening it to “living in war-torn Berlin”.

“The city was absolutely dead,” she said.

“All these buildings around here were derelict. The whole block had been prepared for demolition by a developer. But he went bust, so the finance company had to sell the individual blocks off cheaply.”

She then converted it to a house, painting its distinctive facade black, and incorporating large, open-plan rooms, courtyard gardens on two levels, a circular staircase and a stone fireplace imported from Italy, where she was born.

“I built this place as a kind of bunker,” she told The Sunday Age.

It was a ”bunker” now likely to be favoured by buyers looking for a statement office, Mr Wolman said.

“We’re expecting this asset to appeal to buyers as a prestige office headquarters, in particular,” he said. 

Just as the current owners have done for the past six years, the new occupants would be part of a CBD far different from Ms Sillitto’s time, Mr Wolman said.

“When [she] first occupied the premises, a permit had to be sought just to live in the city – in stark contrast to the second half of 2017, which will see close 6000 residential apartments settling in the Melbourne CBD,” he said.

  • 102 Little Lonsdale Street goes to auction Wednesday, April 19 at 1pm on site.
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