Melbourne’s much-loved Skipping Girl Vinegar neon sign may soon be overshadowed and partially obscured by a tall apartment building, if a property developer gets the go-ahead from the local council.
While the historic sign once dominated the Abbotsford skyline, it sits in the middle of a rapidly developing suburb. Nicknamed Little Audrey by locals, the sign was first installed above a vinegar factory in 1936. A new version of Audrey was erected in 1970 near the original site, but switched off in 2001. She was resurrected by the National Trust and AGL in 2009.
“The Skipping Girl sign has been crowded in on by high-rise development in contradiction to City of Yarra’s own landmark structure policy,” National Trust conservation manager Paul Roser said, “and this building is going to have the greatest impact of the lot because it is the closest.”
An artist’s impression of the new apartment block to be built on Victoria Street, Abbotsford. Viewed as if driving away from the sign. Photo: Bates Smart Architects
Developer Salta Properties defended its plans, saying its proposal for 647 Victoria Street provided more public access to the river and better views of Audrey than the old fire brigade training college and factories which used to be in the area.
“Interested parties will remember the previous use of the site, which included the unsightly former MFB training college building, which extended to the equivalent of over 10 residential levels, blocked access to the Yarra River and the Skipping Girl sign, and was an eyesore for the City of Yarra,” managing director Sam Tarascio said.
“Salta’s projects have overwhelmingly contributed to an improvement in the accessibility and reinstatement of the valuable Yarra River embankment from the previous high-intensity industrial uses [residents] were previously subjected to.”
Salta has been criticised by the Yarra Riverkeeper for designing large buildings too close to the water at the corner of Walmer Street footbridge and Victoria Street. The City of Yarra was still considering plans for 647 Victoria Street.
Salta also has plans for a 539-dwelling development at 627 Victoria Street, but this sits within a priority development zone administered directly by the Planning Minister.
The Skipping Girl sign has been listed in the Victorian Heritage Register and by the National Trust, which notes the sign was “one of the few neon sky-signs remaining in Victoria, and is the only one to include an animated figure”.
Meanwhile, the Collingwood Historical Society believes a heritage assessment commissioned by the developers under-estimated the impact of the new apartments on the sign.
“[The proposed apartment block] will certainly impact on [the sign] as a landmark, and some of its significance is as a landmark,” the society’s vice-president, Janet Taylor, said.
The Skipping Girl sign reaches 36 metres into the sky above Victoria Street, sitting on the roof of the Crusader Plate Building.
It has been visible from all directions for many years, particularly when lit up at night. But the proposed apartment block would be more than 55 meters high – making Little Audrey appear even smaller. The apartments would sit just 23 meters west of the sign, according to planning documents lodged with the City of Yarra.
A heritage report prepared by Lovell Chen consultants noted the existing silhouette could only be maintained by avoiding tall developments altogether.
“The fact that the sign will be silhouetted against a building in the views from the south-east is not an outcome which will diminish the significance of the sign and it will remain prominent in views from both directions,” Mr Lovell’s report states.
Drawings by architects Bates Smart show the sign would still be visible when approaching from the west, but only if cars were driving on the wrong side of the road. It has not provided drawings of the view when approaching from the east.