You know a venue is loved when it comes to be best-known not by its actual name, but by an affectionate nickname.
Such is the case with The Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda, locally known as ‘The Espy’. The 139-year-old building has not only become a staple of Melbourne’s music scene over the century-plus of its existence, it has also become something of an architectural landmark.
In recent years, however, The Espy has been in a dire state of disrepair. For two years, its doors were shut to the public, and its future seemed unclear. During this time, many locals feared its demolition and ultimate replacement by a high-rise residential development, but in March it was confirmed that this was not to be the hotel’s fate. The historic landmark was purchased by Sand Hill Road – an entertainment agency whose portfolio includes some of Melbourne’s best-loved watering holes, such as The Terminus Hotel and Prahran Hotel – who planned on giving the venue a second lease on life.
Now, it’s been revealed that Sand Hill has commissioned another hospitality veteran for The Espy’s refurbishment. Technē Architecture, whose formidable hospitality portfolio includes a number of projects – The Garden State Hotel, Prahran Hotel and Bridge Hotel among them – that are managed by Sand Hill, has been announced as the project architect for The Espy’s second wind.
Although the project is in its very early design stages, Technē’s director and project leader, Justin Northrop, says the firm is planning a “top-to-bottom overhaul” of the venue, which will include opening up several areas within The Espy that have previously been underutilised.
“The renovation will be a top-to-bottom overhaul of the venue, opening up some areas that had previously been inaccessible to patrons and breathing life into new spaces,” says Northrop.
“We’re looking forward to opening up new spaces within The Espy and telling the stories associated with these rooms. The Espy also has a massive archive of original gig posters that we’re hoping to involve in the new design.
“We have an overarching stylistic direction for the refurbishment but the functional brief isn’t static. It will continue to evolve through the sketch design process and as the possibilities of the spaces are revealed.”
While the word “overhaul” suggests an insensitivity to the long-standing heritage of the architectural icon, Northrop says this is not the case. The first touchpoint for the design process was the existing architectural design of The Espy, with all its “rich, layered history”.
“Our vision for The Espy will be mindful of its heritage, its legacy and the esteem in which it is held,” says Northrop. “We want to remain true to the spirit of The Espy and create a space that continues to inspire such dedication from its patrons.
“While the venue will undergo a full reinvigoration, we’re working to retain the venue’s rich history, and some areas – such as the Gershwin Room – will remain largely untouched.
“We want the rough edges and layers of The Espy's history to remain in-tact. The building has developed a fantastic patina over the years and it would be wrong to remove these elements, as they date back to its establishment."
At this stage, it’s too early to know what the new Espy will look like. However, Technē says that the design process is well underway, with construction expected to commence by the end of the year. Sand Hill plans to reopen The Espy – including the aforementioned spaces that were not previously open to the public – by October 2018.