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Laneway saves Carlton landmark

Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media  October 3, 2017 3:16 PM

The Journey | S2E7 Season 2 | Episode 7. In the final episode of Season 2 of The Journey, go behind-the-scenes as Carlton wrap up the 2017 season.

A TINY dead-end laneway has this week served as a buffer to save an iconic Carlton Football Club landmark from potential oblivion.

The old University Hotel, which is currently vacated and available for lease, is the place at which the club’s first annual general meeting was held in mid-1865. The hotel is but three metres from the two-storey Victorian dwellings all but destroyed when a suspicious blaze took hold in the early hours of Monday morning.

The one-time pub stands at 272 Lygon, diagonally opposite Borsari’s Corner on the north-east junction of Lygon and Grattan Streets. A laneway, Beard Place, separates it from the 140 year-old Victorian Meat Mart and adjoining Warehouse buildings, which took the brunt of the fire on Melbourne’s famed restaurant strip.

The blaze broke out at around 1.00am Monday on the ground floor of the Meat Mart Building (now a Japanese restaurant which was undergoing renovations) and quickly spread upstairs. Explosions were then heard before flames hit the adjoining Warehouse Building (more recently a reception centre), causing a first-wall to collapse into Beard Place and brush the side wall of the old hotel in the process.

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The aftermath of the blaze - Beard Place separates the burnt-out buildings from the old University Hotel on the right. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Nearby residents were evacuated from their homes as more than 60 firefighters converged on the scene. The firefighters battled the blaze for more than an hour and by the time the fire was brought under control, the Meat Mart and Warehouse buildings had suffered in excess of $2 million damage.

Though the cause of the fire is subject to a police investigation, Carlton’s Senior Station Officer Wayne George, amongst the first firefighters on the scene on Monday morning, was able to shed some light on how perilously close the old pub came to oblivion.

“I have no doubt whatsoever that the laneway saved the old hotel,” George said.

“It was an incredibly extensive fire. The whole side brick wall of the (Warehouse) building was missing when we got there, and that small three-metre buffer (Beard Place) absolutely saved the pub from significant damage.

“Some of those bricks did hit the side wall of the old pub, and if you look on the side of the pub wall you can see where they hit it. But luckily it (the old hotel) is a strong old building – if it had been a modern one it might have suffered a lot of damage.

“Apart from a little bit of cosmetic damage, there’s really no damage whatsoever. The old pub will live to fight another day.”

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Fire breaks out in the early hours of Monday morning. (Photo courtesy of the ABC)

At the time of publication, barricades surround the damaged buildings and most of the old hotel premises, as investigations into the cause of the fire continue.

The University Hotel has long been considered the football club’s spiritual birthplace. Without question, the old inner city watering hole was where the first annual meeting of the committee was held on the 17thday of May, 1865.

For years, a framed dark Navy Blue guernsey hung from the bar wall in tribute. Contained within the frame was a small plaque which simply read;

“The Carlton Football Club was founded here at the University Hotel, on 17th May 1865. Ben James was elected as Carlton’s first secretary and James Linacre was invited to be president.”

Sadly, last drinks were called at the University Hotel in December last year, with the bar’s remaining barrels emptied along with what was left of the bottle shop supplies.

Potential future occupants of the premises include a bank and fast food outlet - but for as long as the old building still stands the football club connection truly endures.