‘Katoomba’, a c1883 Victorian mansion on the über prestigious Harcourt Street in Hawthorn East has come to market with bullish $10m+ hopes, according to Domain.com.au. It’s a rare event that two ‘original’ homes on Harcourt Street are both on market at the same time, but that is indeed the case since Federation mansion ‘Talana’ at the entrance to this grand streetscape has remained on the market for over a year with its now slightly reduced $8m+ hopes.
The initial subdivision of land in this pocket of Hawthorn East occurred in the midst of the Gold Rush. According to a 1993 Hawthorn Heritage Study:
With the separation of Victoria from the mother colony of New South Wales and the beginning of the gold-rush era in 1851, the price of colonial land dropped and, as a consequence, there was an increased demand for Hawthorn allotments by eager speculators. The value of these purchases trebled in the next few years. Most notable was James Murphy’s purchase of allotment 70, 124 acres on the north west corner of Burke and Barkers Road, which became known as Murphy’s Paddock. This was later carved up by Murphy in a mid-1850s private subdivision into the Village of Rathmines Estate, which included the important Harcourt Street area…
Harcourt Street’s staying power since its first subdivision during the Gold Rush years of the 19th Century owes, in part, to the highly rectangular blocks of land. In 1857, we were able to dig up the below parcel map that reveals Harcourt Street’s subdivision (between what is now Barkers Road and Rathmines Road, but what was then referred to as ‘Westmoreland Street’ and the unnamed ‘Government Road’). The area between Auburn Road and Kildare Street - the most prestigious pocket of 1k long road owing to its elevated views - was subdivided into twelve just-shy-of-2-acre blocks of land.
The first subdivision of Harcourt Street in 1857, then referred to as ‘Village of Rathmines’.
Of these original twelve, only one home retains its original parcel size (#5, although even that estate chopped off a small portion of its backyard for the inter-war subdivision of the Maurice Street cul-de-sac at the property’s rear). Even Talana, the show-stopping Federation at the entrance to the road siphoned off three properties (1A and 3 Harcourt Street, 25 Auburn Road) at various times. But that’s a digression. It is unclear to the Radical Terrace how many homes were developed during the Gold Rush era - likely very few - but by the end of the Land Boom of the 1880s, architect John Beswicke’s Italianate designs proliferated on slightly reduced blocks. Beswicke’s designs began in the 1870s and were constructed mostly for his own family - including ‘Carn Brae’ (c1873, 5 Harcourt Street), ‘Hilton House’ (c1880-81, 13 Harcourt Street), and Rotha (1887-88, 29 Harcourt Street). (For the record, although Katoomba held its own amongst its neighbours, it was merely one of at least a dozen aesthetically pleasing homes on the road.) Most parcels were subdivided by owner-developers in such a way as to maintain their Harcourt Street frontage, making the parcel even more narrow. Such narrow parcels are likely the saving grace for Harcourt Street as it greatly reduced the feasibility for parcel subdivision (after all, we all want to front a street!). On the contrary, Barkers Road which was home to a larger number of imposing mansions at the turn of the century than Harcourt Street, possessed many estates that sat on substantial - and square - blocks. These square blocks, along with the increasing traffic of the thoroughfare, paved the way for substantial 20th century subdivisions.
Turn of the century MMBW map shows a nameless Katoomba with a central circular driveway where the tennis court now stands and estensive outbuildings and sheds (above). ‘Katoomba’, interestingly enough, didn’t score a mention as a prominent neighbour in the subdivision land sale along nearby Higham Road in 1900 (below).
At the turn of the century, Harcourt Street offered a unique pocket of grand Victorian living. Unlike Toorak, where large estates still existed unfettered and with hefty distances between them, Harcourt Street provided its residents with a unified streetscape of imposing, but consistent housing stock. The above MMBW map reveals Victorian and Federation Free Style homes of comparable size as existed in the contemporaneous suburbs of Malvern and Hawthorn but on far deeper lots, enabling Harcourt Street homes to rest on imposing gardens. According to the aforementioned Hawthorn Heritage Study:
Recognising the prime hill top location and the genteel reputation Hawthorn had acquired, the Harcourt Street area was amongst the first land to be redivided after the Government block land sales. The enormous block sizes and the desirable location were the key features in what was in effect a speculative mansion house development, promoted by the Beswicke family. Harcourt Street quickly became a fashionable address. Development in Auburn Road and Lyndhurst Crescent capitalized on the existing image to consolidate this region as a highly desirable Victorian period suburb for the wealthy. In contrast, the adjoining Rathmines Village area to the south, developed on the back of the mansion houses with small servicing quarters (Rathmines Grove) and more modest but respectable housing for the middle class. …[This area is of] local significance for the illustration of the flow on effect of early mansion house construction on the type of construction in the surrounding area, creating nodes of high status housing on hills, and is typical of the mixed Hawthorn character elsewhere.
The St James Park Estate off Shakespeare Grove in Hawthorn East is likely the only extant comparable for Harcourt Street’s homes size and vintage. Which is likely why Katoomba’s highly bullish asking price seems to be directly influenced by Avon Court - one of Melbourne’s most expensive home’s sold which likely sold for slightly above $20m in 2009. Two other sales closer to home also influence Katoomba’s price. East of Kildare Street, Harcourt Street’s prestige slips along with the elevation and features a higher number of early-20th C Federation homes. Among these, 49 Harcourt Street (surprisingly) holds the street price record for its 2010 sale of $7.3m. Furthermore, Strathroy at 482 Barkers Road, an imposing c1882 Victorian Italianate villa that sits on nearly an acre of land on the busy road, sold for a suburb record of $9.0m in 2010, in a vaguely renovated state. Katoomba itself last traded for $4.4m in 2004 and has since undergone an extensive and tasteful renovation that propels its value well into the 8-digits. How far into this unchartered territory will be fleshed out in time. But we’d like to remind our readers that Talana, a home that holds richer architectural heritage, but far poorer interior qualities for a modern family, has remained on the market for over a year with an $8.0m+ asking price. Nonetheless, Katoomba has much going for it: Paul Bangay-designed gardens (fast becoming an imperative for any mega-listing in Melbourne) and interiors by Stuart Rattle, a noted Neo-Classical interior designer. The tennis court, pool, “summer house”, and district views (that once stretched from the Dandenong Ranges to the Bay before the neighbourhood trees matured) certainly help the home’s big price ambitions.
The listing: ‘Katoomba’, 31 Harcourt Street, Hawthorn East
Click below for more photos of the interior and a FLOOR PLAN!