Change is afoot at Campbell Arcade, the pink, chrome and terrazzo wonderland under Flinders Street Station.
Campbell Arcade is the underground connection between the Station and Degraves Street. It is part of the state-heritage listed Flinders Street Station complex.
As part of the Metro Tunnel project, a new link will connect Campbell Arcade and Town Hall Station. The new link will enter the arcade through the site of the former ticket booking office. This is the southernmost shopfront on the eastern side of the arcade.
The new link will have a big impact on Campbell Arcade. To help mitigate this, the Metro Tunnel team will deliver a suite of conservation works at the arcade. This will include restoration and repair works, as well as a good spit-and-polish to remove years of grime and graffiti. The design and finishes of the new link have also been carefully considered.
So, what’s so important about this post-war late modern styled arcade? Campbell Arcade opened in 1955, after being first proposed nearly 30 years earlier. It was one of the first new projects in Melbourne’s CBD after the restrictions on post-war construction lifted.
When it opened, access to the arcade was via:
- Two staircases on the north side of Flinders Street, framing Degraves Street,
- A set of stairs from Degraves Street, right next to the popular Belgian Waffles kiosk,
- The underground level of the Mutual Store to the west side of Degraves Street, and
- The basement of the former Post Office, to the east side of Degraves Street.
Most recently, the Post Office basement was home to Lost and Found Bar. That entrance, and the connection to the Mutual Store building, are now closed.
The City of Melbourne and Victorian Railways engineered and planned the Campbell Arcade. To deliver the project, cooperation between both parties was crucial.
- The Victorian Railways widened the northern end of the Degraves Street subway.
- They also demolished the staircase from Flinders Street into the subway.
- This enabled a connection between the arcade and Flinders Street Station.
- The original stair looked like the one which still leads to the Elizabeth Street subway.
While Victorian Railways were doing work on the south side of Flinders Street, Council was busy on the north side. City of Melbourne tunnelled beneath Degraves Street. They reconfigured the back of the Post Office to make space for the stair. They also excavated below Flinders Street itself to break through into the Degraves Subway. A media report from 1954 described a thin wall of earth between each zone of this building project.
On 3 June 1954 the two sections were linked, and a photograph of workmen appeared in that evening’s Herald.
Campbell Arcade opened to the public on 31 August 1955, but on the opening day, no shops were occupied! City of Melbourne had received over 1000 applications from prospective tenants. It took some time for the 11 shops and 2 kiosks to be tenanted. The arcade was officially opened by Sir Harold Gengoult Smith in 1956. It was named in honour of Councillor Robert Burns Campbell. Campbell was Chairman of the Public Works Committee, who had been instrumental in promoting the proposal but had died during construction.
Over time, Campbell Arcade became known for its eclectic mix of tenants.
The shops provided services to passengers heading into and out of the city. They included:
- Sally’s American Chocolates
- Herbert Adams Cakes
- Pola Children’s Wear
- Fiesta Delicatessen, and
- Kew Dry Cleaners, amongst others.
In late 1955 there was controversy when models in beach outfits paraded in the peach-pink tiled subway. Council shut down the fashion show, on the grounds it was blocking a public pathway. In 1956 the connection to the Mutual Store basement opened. You could access the arcade by going through the store’s Cafeteria (later a bowling alley). You can still see the entrance to the Mutual Store from the ‘blind’ end of the arcade, although it closed years ago.
Campbell Arcade was well patronised and tenancies were sought after until the City Loop opened in the early 1980s. A milk bar and sweet shop was a long-time favourite. When the City Loop opened, commuters dispersed to the three new stations. Patronage and use of the Campbell Arcade dropped off. In the early 1990s the Platform Artists’ Collective started using the showcases in the arcade for exhibitions. This was supported by the City of Melbourne. From 2015 the Dirty Dozen Arts Collective took over exhibition programming for the space.
By the 2010s Campbell Arcade housed an eclectic mix of tenancies. The ‘underground arts’ sensibility was complemented by:
- The Touch of Paris Hair Salon with its singing barber,
- The Sticky Institute ‘zine maker and retailer,
- Wax Museum records
- Corky St Clair gifts,
- Cat’s Meow fashion,
- PC and Laptop Service Centre, and
- Cup of Truth coffee kiosk.
As works to construct the new underground link got underway in 2020, the Arcade tenancies gradually emptied out. When the Metro Tunnel project is complete, Campbell Arcade will reopen – refreshed, restored, and hopefully occupied by a new mix of tenants who continue the engagement, piquing the curiosity and patronage that Campbell Arcade has always enjoyed.
Page last updated: 19/06/23