John Wren's family up for fight with Festival Hall redevelopment proposal

John Wren's family up for fight with Festival Hall redevelopment proposal
John Wren's family up for fight with Festival Hall redevelopment proposal

The West Melbourne, Festival Hall, owned by the family of the legendary sports impresario John Wren since 1915, is set to be listed for sale with redevelopment plans.

Cousins Chris and John Wren – directors of the business that operates Festival Hall – have lodged plans with the City of Melbourne for a two-tower $65 million redevelopment.

The Wren family plan to sell it with a permit for the mixed-used scheme designed by architects Rothelowman.

"We're not developers," Chris Wren, a planning lawyer and director of the family owned Stadiums Pty Ltd, told The Australian Financial Review. 

The premises opened with a boxing match on Cup Eve 1913 under the stars. During Wren's ownership there was boxing on Friday nights, wrestling on Saturday, with Wenesday's a mix of vaudeville or light boxing matches.

A two-tower development with 1400 square metres of commercial space and 179 apartments is planned.
 
A two-tower development has been proposed with 1400 square metres of commercial space and 179 apartments.

At a time when many moralists regarded gambling as a racket, John Wren obtained great power and wealth over the decades until his death in 1953.

He was the thinly disguised subject of author Frank Hardy's 1950 novel Power Without Glory.

His 2004 biographer James Griffin wrote that Wren's defamations were still current - and even this week one national newspaper described Wren inappropriately as a "crime boss." 

Chris Wren said John Wren (top and below) would not have been sentimental about the site.

"He would have told us to sell the place ages ago," he said.
 
The City of Melbourne has placed an interim heritage order on the site, which they hope to have overturned.
 
The building on the site was rebuilt to host boxing events in 1955 after fire destroyed the original structure.
 
It has since hosted bands including the Beatles, The Seekers and the Rolling Stones.
 
John Wren's family up for fight with Festival Hall redevelopment proposal
 
Music guru Molly Meldrum said it would be a shame to lose the 5400-person hall which had lost business since the completion of a retractable roof on the Margaret Court Arena in 2014 drew acts and promoters away.

Festival Hall is the last of a string of event venues the family business once owned in the east coast capitals including premises at Rushcutters Bay in Sydney and Brisbane.

The Collingwood based John Wren bought the three boxing stadiums in 1915 from silver medial Olympian boxer, R L "Snowy" Baker and undertook the Festival Hall roofing at a 230,000 pounds cost.

Sydney held 11,000, Melbourne 7,000 and Brisbane held 5,000.

Laid off work during the 1890s depression, Wren launched his Johnston Street totalizator with a stake bolstered by his 1890 Carbine Melbourne Cup victory gambling coup.

In Victoria his probate was valued at £1,003,946.

 

 

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

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New Developments Melbourne

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