The location is superb, just across the Yarra River where Johnston St, Collingwood ends and Studley Park Road, Kew begins. The Yarra was a natural barrier to the city’s expansion so the early homes built in this area of Melbourne turned their backs on the working class terrace house, and gave way to the grand Villa’s of Studley Park, Kew. Early photos show that the villa was on a much larger property than it is today.
Front entrance to Villa Alba with interested spectator in the foreground.
Villa Alba was built by William Greenlaw in 1882. Greenlaw’s wife’s family had purchased the property in 1862. Greenlaw was the General Manager of one of Victoria’s early banks, the Colonial Bank of Australasia which went belly up in the depression of the 1890’s.
Wedding Notice in The Argus 25th July 1862 – there’s nothing like an accountant marrying into money. St Francis’s church is the oldest Catholic Church in Melbourne.
The Greenlaw’s had spent a fortune on the property. According to the Villa Alba Preservation committee, Greenlaw “threw caution to the winds and turned his modest house, Villa Alba, into a mansion in keeping with its neighbours in Studley Park, Kew. He then gave Paterson Brothers, Melbourne’s leading decorators, free rein in his new interiors and topped off their work with loads of fashionable Aesthetic and Artistic Furnishings”. It goes on “While this exercise in conspicuous consumption contributed to Greenlaw’s insolvency, demotion and death (in 1895), his and his wife’s profligate spending will eventually benefit Australians”.
And indeed it did.
Greenlaw was obviously careful enough, and even though he personally became bankrupt, the house was in his wife’s name and out of the reach of creditors. Mrs Anna Greenlaw managed to hold onto the property until 1918 although she rented it out shortly after her husband’s death. She did, however sell all of the contents in order to earn some cash:
Notice in The Age, 20th March 1897 noting the riches from within the Villa.
In 1918 the property was transferred to Samuel Fripp who owned it until 1950 to the Royal Women’s Hospital, initially to house nurses and subsequently a post-natal convalescence hospital for mothers and babies. It was held by several hospitals until 1999 when it was sold to the Society of Jesus for use by Xavier College.
A community group led by Sir Rupert Hamer was established in 1984 with a view to preserving the property which by then was in poor repair. In 2004 Villa Alba Museum Incorporated gained title to the house and it has been managed by that community group ever since. It is open on the first Sunday of each month.
These days the house is subject to constant restoration and renovation, with the committee trying to get it back to its earlier condition, although I must say that it is most interesting the way that it is currently presented.
Despite the tough time that it has had, there are many original features that indicate the highly ornate nature of the decorations within the Villa.
Fireplace and surrounds in the Drawing Room.
Here’s where you go - from the days when the Villa was a nurse’s residence.
Fancy work on the solid plaster after restoration. Much of the original stencilling was painted over by the Royal Women’s Hospital to “brighten the place up”. The brickwork under the plaster is evident.
Staircase detail, incredibly ornate and in wonderful condition.
Large combustion stove in the kitchen towards the rear of the house – there’s also a more modern version to the right
Much of the original garden has been taken over by Xavier, however there is still about ¾ of an acre of grounds around the Villa.
The plantings hark back to the Victorian era when the villa was built.
West Side garden with Acanthus Mollis (Oyster Plant) in the foreground. The Acanthus motif is a favourite in Corinthian Columns.
View to the rear of the property – Wisteria Lined walkway
Rear of property with citrus trees shading the windows.
Entrance to the kitchen at the rear of the property. Not quite as ornate as the front door but good enough for the servants who worked for the Greenlaw’s.
So, if you’re at a loose end on the first Sunday of the month, you could do far worse than a visit to see one of Melbourne’s perpetual renovations. The volunteers attending on the day showing the visitors through were fantastic
“The quality of tradesmen Supa Group employ are very good. Our original home was built by a volume builder and doesn't compare to the workmanship displayed by Supa Groups tradesmen.”Steve and Anna of Pascoe Vale South
“The works commenced in November and as promised the second storey was at lock up well before Christmas.”John and Grazie of Box Hill North
“Our previous experience of builders has not been great, however we immediately experience a far more professional, friendly and reliable approach.”David and Kathryn of Wantirna
“A big Thank You for a smooth project throughout all its stages, which did not interfere with our busy household of seven.”Naso and Eva of Bulleen
“Thank you for working with us over the last year to make our dream of renovating our much loved home a reality.”Mark and Catherine of Hampton
“Wez and I were very touched by the kind thoughts and flowers we received for our family loss, we warmly thank you so very much...and this is Supa Group!!!”Wez and Pina of Rowville
“You get results that make you smile every time you come home and open the front door. You get a home that brings you joy.”Steve and Jenny of Watsonia
“The Design process was like no other we have experienced. We were excited from day one and we are still smiling from ear to ear.”Kleanthis and Emma of Oakleigh East
“Our building supervisor Braidon Marshall was absolutely fantastic. He was friendly, approachable and accessible when we had a few issues out of hours. We sprung a leak on one rather rainy night, and he came to the rescue after his birthday dinner no less!”Danny and Melissa of Coburg
“The pleasant demeanor, accommodation of questions and assistance through the process has provide us with a feeling of a priority client. ”Peter and Louise of Alphington
“What was really impressive was that the building works were completed in an incredible 6 weeks!!!!”Chris and Michelle of Camberwell
“I highly recommend anyone to consider Supa Group for an extension on their home. I am absolutely delighted we chose Supa Group to make our dreams come true!”Tony and Claire
“We are very happy in our new home and we would like to thank all the staff at supagroup.”Dale and Cristina, Port Melbourne
“Supa Group has done a great job capturing our vision with the original ideas and plans we had in mind and the result is better than we would have expected.”Con and Daniella, East Keilor
“From initial plans right through to the end Supagroup have been polite, professional and super efficient and well organised. Thanks to everyone at Supagroup for helping realise my dreams.”Claudia, West Footscray
“We have no hesitation in recommending Supa Group and we have already started in our Church community, neighbourhood and Tin's work place.”David and Tina, Gladstone Park
“We would not hesitate to recommend Supa Group to any family or friends who may consider a house extension.”George & Elizabeth, Maidstone
“The end result has exceeded my expectations. Not only is the end result stunning but also the manner in which it was achieved was exemplary. I would have no hesitation in recommending Supa Group to others considering extending their homes.. ”Jane, Blackburn
“...we were looking for a no fuss solution, which would require as little input from us as possible. We certainly found that with the Supa Group. We found you professional and timely right throughout the building phase.”Peter and Rose, Taylors Lakes
“My family and I would like to thank you for your excellent quality of work done on our second level extension. It's been an exciting six months watching our house turn into the home we were hoping for.”Tom and Vicky, Mill Park
“We have found the whole experience of a new extension something interesting and exciting and are delighted to recommend Supagroup to our friends and neighbours.”Tim and Kathy, Beaconsfield
“Every day we look around and are amazed at what has been achieved. ...our journey with Supa Group has been amazing to say the least. ”Damian and Anthea
“We would not hesitate in recommending Supa Group to others that are thinking of renovating or extending.”Maria and Vince