It is located on Port Phillip Bay about 7 km south-east of the Melbourne's central business district. Its population at the 2006 Census was 16,122, the largest population of any suburb in the City of Port Phillip.
The suburb has been a popular seaside resort for residents and visitors since its foundation. During the Edwardian and Victorian eras, it was favoured by Melbourne's elite, and many palatial mansions were constructed. During the interwar years, St Kilda served a similar function for Melburnians as did Coney Island to the residents of New York City and its history draws an interesting parallel. Postwar St Kilda became Melbourne's red-light district, with many of the large mansions converted into low-cost rooming houses. In recent years, St Kilda has begun to shake off a seamy reputation and is home to many of Melbourne's famous visitor attractions including Luna Park, the Esplanade Hotel, Acland Street and Fitzroy Street. It is the home of many theatres and St Kilda Beach and to many of the city of Melbourne's big events.
Many people have mistakenly referred to the suburb as "St. Kilda" or "Saint Kilda", assuming that it stands for "saint", however the correct spelling is "St Kilda" as there is no known saint by the name of Kilda - see Origin of Names at St Kilda, Scotland.
St Kilda was first settled around 1839 by Ben Baxter, a settler from Melbourne, on a grazing lease. The high ground above the beach offered a cool fresh breeze during Melbourne's hot summer months. In 1840, St Kilda was the home to Melbourne's first quarantine station for Scottish immigrants. The area was named St Kilda by then governor Charles La Trobe in 1841, though several names were proposed for the new city, including Fareham. Within a few years of its founding, St Kilda became a fashionable area for wealthy settlers and the indigenous peoples were driven out to surrounding areas.
During the Land Boom of the 1880s, St Kilda became a suburb of great stone mansions and palatial hotels, particularly along the seaside streets such as Fitzroy Street, Grey Street and Acland Street and the area once known as St Kilda Hill centred between Wellington Street, Alma Road, former High Street (incorporated as part of St Kilda Road) and Chapel Street. The lower inland areas of St Kilda East were not so wealthy and included many smaller, semi detached cottages, many constructed of timber. Much of the area which is now St Kilda West was swampland, but was reclaimed and subdivided in the 1870s.
During the Depression of the 1890s, however, St Kilda began to decline. The seaside area became an entertainment precinct for Melbourne's working classes after a tramline was extended south from the Melbourne central city area, and the wealthy people moved further south to more exclusive suburbs such as Brighton.
Italian Carlo Catani, Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department was contracted in 1906 to masterplan for the beautification the foreshore of St Kilda all the way to Point Ormond. His successful plan resulted in the famous leisure precinct that people enjoy visiting today, paving the way for several resort style developments along the foreshore including Luna Park (1912), the Palais Theatre (1927), Palais de Danse (1926), St Moritz Ice Rink (1939), and many others. As a result, several landmarks along the foreshore were named after Catani, including the clock tower, gardens and arch.
In the 1930s, St Kilda became a centre for Melbourne's growing Jewish community and subsequently a growing Orthodox community developed with a number of synagogues and schools. In recent decades, however, the centre of Melbourne's Jewish community has moved eastwards to more affluent Caulfield. There are still Jewish neighbourhoods in East St Kilda, mainly of older and more Orthodox people and recent Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but the Jewish character of Acland Street, for example, has been lost.
In the 1960s, St Kilda became one of Melbourne's leading gay and lesbian residential areas. In 1968, the Palais de Danse, adjacent to the Palais was gutted by fire. The Palace nightclub was built in its place in 1971 and in 2007 was also gutted by fire and demolished.
In the late 1960s, widening of St Kilda Road and the creation of the Queens Way connection to Dandenong road destroyed much of the former St Kilda Junction (including the famous Junction Hotel) and High Street, once considered the centre of the suburb, which became an extension of the road. The widening also had the effect of creating a physical barrier between the foreshore suburb, its civic area and eastern streets.
In 1981, the St Moritz ice rink was closed. Around 1984, it was destroyed by a spectacular fire. In 1987, the St Kilda railway line was closed, rationalised and re-opened to become part of route 96, one of the first light rail lines in Melbourne, terminating in Acland Street.
In 1991, the site formerly occupied by the St Moritz site was reopened as the St Moritz, which became the Novotoel Bayside in 1993, then the Novotel Bayside in 1999.
Since the 1990s, an influx of tourists and young backpackers and the increased gentrification of the area and during the decade led many long term residents to leave, thus removing much of the bohemian/artistic character of the area.
In mid-1998 Becton, new owners of the Esplanade Hotel announced its plan to build a 125 metre, 38-storey tower behind the historic hotel. The plans were later scaled down due to resident concerns.
On September 11, 2003, the St Kilda icon, the 99 year old pier kiosk burned down in an arson attack. In a swift and overwhelming response to the loss, the government committed to its original plans using what remained of the original materials.
In 2004, Baymour Court, significant 1920s Spanish Mission flats and hotel stables were demolished despite the campaigning of the National Trust of Victoria and The Esplanade Alliance as part of the commencement of hi-rise Esplanade apartment building.
For the 2006 Commonwealth Games, St Kilda hosted an interpretive public artwork called, the Lady of St Kilda sculpture, a mock timber shipwreck. The installation proved to be extraordinarily popular with locals and tourists and it was left erected for many months afterward. However, the sculpture was subject to vandals disassembling parts of it as well as OH&S concern for children's safety on the high unprotected bow of the "ship" so the local council removed it in November 2006.
The area adjacent to the Palais Theatre known as the Triangle Site, including the Palace music venue is the subject of a major re-development, first proposed in 2005. The proposals stipulated the restoration of the Palais Theatre, but controversially many advocated the demolition of the Palace, one of the area's main live music venues. To save the Palace, a legal battle ensued. Ironically, the Palace burned down spectacularly during an arson attack, and fears were held for the Palais. The winning development in 2007 plans a series of lanes, promenades and walkways rambling through eating and drinking spaces, art installations, entertainment venues, retail outlets and open grassy spaces. Further controversy over the new development was caused when the tenants who vacated the Palais illegally removed its 80 year old chandeliers.
In 2006, plans went out for a foreshore re-development, which included promenade widening and saw the demolition of the bicentennial pavilion which marked the land end of the St Kilda pier.
In 2006, the proposed development of a skate park and concrete urban plaza over parkland on Fitzroy Street next to the primary school at Albert Park caused significant local controversy. The council received a large number of objections. Alternative sites along the foreshore were ignored by council and all of the mature trees on the site were removed before the plans were presented for consultation.
In February 2008, the Port Phillip Council's approval of the proposed Triangle site development despite over 5,000 written objections (representing over a quarter of the population of St Kilda) caused an uproar in St Kilda which saw media attention across Victoria with local resident lobby groups including Save St Kilda and UnChain St Kilda banding thousands of residents together in protest and enlisting the help of celebrities including Dave Hughes, Magda Subzanski, Frank Thring and Rachel Griffiths in their fight against the local council. The council had refused to allow a secret agreement between it, the developers and state government to be released which effectively allowed for the transfer of ownership of a large amount of crown land to private owners. As well as the outrage over the sale of public land, many residents believed that the state government and council should have funded the restoration of the heritage Palais themselves rather than pass the costs on to the developers who had proposed a larger development to recover their own costs.
In May 2008, the skate park development was stopped by the Supreme Court of Victoria, claiming that the council had acted inappropriately. A hearing was scheduled with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The mayor at the time, Janet Bolitho, was cited to have commented "the area would remain public open space - just maybe not green".
For many years, St Kilda has had the highest population density in the Melbourne statistical area, and the highest for a metropolitan area outside of Sydney. This density is reflected in the built form, which consists primarily of strata titled units, apartments and flats, including a single Housing Commission of Victoria tower. In recent years a hi-rise apartment trend in suburbs like Southbank, Docklands and the Melbourne CBD and St Kilda Road all rival the suburb's population density.
Despite migrationary trends, St Kilda retains a large Jewish population. The legacy of Jewish people in the area is evidenced in the large number of synagogues in the area and the Jewish Museum of Australia, the only one of its kind in the country, which is located in Alma Road.
St Kilda is also home to many major annual events. The largest of these is the St Kilda Festival, which since 1981 has grown over recent years and now attracts over half a million young people to the area each year. St Kilda also hosts the gay Pride March, part of Melbourne's Midsumma Festival. St Kilda is also home to the many venues of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Each year, the Community Cup Festival celebrates grassroots Australian rules football, attracting up to 23,000 spectators and raising money for local charity the Sacred Heart Mission which helps the homeless, a similar annual celebrity cricket match known as Batting for the Battlers is played at the Peanut Farm opposite Luna Park and attracts a crowd of up to 2,000. Other local events include the St Kilda Film Festival and St Kilda Writers Festival.
St Kilda is represented in the national Australian Football League by the St Kilda Football Club, known as the Saints, the club has a cult following which includes local celebrities such as Ian Meldrum, former Test cricketer Shane Warne, actor Rhys Muldoon, former coach Grant Thomas and actress Stephanie McIntosh. The team retains the name St Kilda, however the club moved its base in 1964 to Moorabbin Oval in suburban Moorabbin, and later began playing its home games out of the Telstra Dome at Melbourne Docklands.
The suburb is home to many sports ovals in Albert Park Reserve, including the historic Junction Oval which is home to the St Kilda Cricket Club, the Melbourne Football Club and occasionally the Victorian Bushrangers Cricket Club, which was made famous as the debut venue of cricket great Shane Warne.
The suburb is also home to the St Kilda City Football Club of the Southern Football League, the St Kilda Sharks who won back-to-back Victorian Women's Football League titles in 1998&99 as well as several VAFA clubs based in Albert Park.
Many of the open water events of the 2007 World Aquatics Championships were held at St Kilda beach. The 2006 Commonwealth Games triathlon and cycling time trials were held along the foreshore, and the marathon passed through the suburb. The annual Melbourne Marathon also passes through the suburb. St Kilda Beach is regularly used for state and international beach volleyball tournaments.
The St Kilda Pier is another local landmark and major tourist attraction. The pier is terminated by the St Kilda Pavilion, an eccentric Edwardian building in the mould of English pier pavilions which is considered of high cultural importance to Melburnians. It was recently reconstructed and listed on the Victorian Heritage Register after burning down. The pier has a long breakwater which shelters St Kilda Harbour and hosts a Little Penguin colony. The pier is also the starting point for a ferry which runs between St Kilda and Williamstown.
St Kilda Beach is a beach with gentle bay waves popular with swimmers and sunbathers during the summer months. It is often criticized by locals and visitors alike for its pollution, but significant recent efforts have been made by government organisations to keep it clean.
The St Kilda Sea Baths, also called South Pacific, a Moorish themed building was built in the late 1920s, and demolished in the 1990s. It was rebuilt in a Moorish style, continuing a history of sea baths in St Kilda dating back to the 1850s.
Acland Street is a shopping and restaurant precinct famous for its cake shops and cafes. It also features a number of public artworks.
St Kilda Town Hall is an impressive building by William Pitt. Directly opposite is the St Kilda Public Library, built between 1971-73 at 150 Carlisle Street, it is a notable brutalist design by architect Enrico Taglietti, uniquely designed to open like a book. Also includes Ashton Raggatt McDougall’s award winning extension (1994).
St Kilda once had many more smaller theatre venues, but has lost many over the years.
St Kilda is home to many "boom style" mansions, dating back to the early days of the seaside resort. Notable historic residences include Eildon Mansion on Grey Street built in 1855 (later modified) to the design of Reed and Barnes is a significant grand old mansion. Hewison House built at 25 Chapel Street in 1869 is a former mansion that has become an administration building of St Michael's Grammar School. Marion Terrace in Burnett Street was built in 1883 and is considered one of the finest Second Empire styled terrace houses in Australia. Myrnong Hall built in 1890 on Acland Street is a large Victorian mansion richly decorated in cast iron.
Notable Edwardian buildings include The Priory, built in 1890 at 61 Alma Road, it is one of the few Richardsonian Romanesque homes in Melbourne, built as the boarding house for a ladies school, but now a private residence.
During the Interwar years, St Kilda was heavily subdivided into apartments. This era produced some outstanding early apartment designs including Majestic Mansions on Fitzroy Street (1912) and The Canterbury flats built on Canterbury Road built between 1914-1919 to the design of H.W. & F.B. Tompkins is a notable mixture of Edwardian styles and are some of the earliest self-contained flats in Melbourne. Summerland Mansions built in 1920 on Fitzroy Street is another notable block in the "mansion flats" style, a style rare in Melbourne. Belmont Flats on the corner of Alma Road and Chapel Street was built in 1923, an outstanding blend of Arts and Crafts and Californian Bungalow influences applied to an apartment building, was built in 1923. Belvedere Flats at 22 Esplanade on the corner of Robe Street was built in 1929 and is a notable Spanish Mission styled block of flats designed by William H. Merritt and has featured on The Secret Life of Us. All of these buildings are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. A significant block of Spanish Mission flats, the Baymor Court, built in 1929 was demolished in November 2004 to make way for the Esplanade hi-rise apartment development.
St Kilda is also home to some notable contemporary residential designs. St Leonards Apartments in St Leonards Street is two blocks of post modern apartments built in 1996 to the design of Nonda Katsalidis and is recognised with multiple RAIA Victorian architecture awards. Newman House on Canterbury Road was built in 2000 and became a pop architecture icon. The house was designed by Cassandra Fahey for local celebrity Sam Newman featuring an image of Pamela Anderson's face. Sam did not first obtain council permission, however permits were issued retrospectively when it became a major local landmark and won the award for Best New Residential Building in the RAIA Victorian Architecture awards. Newman no longer lives at the house.
The "Veg Out" Community Gardens at the former St Kilda Bowling Club in the Peanut Farm reserve is another popular public garden. The gardens are primarily rented by residents of apartments in the area and offer local residents the opportunity to express themselves in a small plot of dirt, which results in many colourful artistic displays.
St Kilda is also home to one of Melbourne's few remaining Indigenous Australian landmarks, the Corroboree Tree. The red gum eucalyptus, estimated at being between four and seven hundred years old, is located next to Queens Road, close to the junction with Fitzroy Street, overlooked by the Cadbury-Schweppes building. A plaque close to its base reads "Aboriginals of early settlement days congregated and held their ceremonies under and in the vicinity of this tree". These ceremonies celebrated important events, told traditional stories and promoted unity between communities, and are commonly known by the generic term, corroboree, or ngargee in the local language. The site continued to be used, both for ceremonial purposes and as a fringe camp, for some years after British settlement in 1835, as is evidenced by Jacob Miller who told his son how he had witnessed the remnant Kulin population "perform their dancing about the old tree" after moving into the area during the 1850s.
Many of Paul Kelly's popular songs feature the suburb, including "From St. Kilda To King's Cross" from the Album Post which included the famous lyric "I'd give you all of Sydney Harbour (all that land, all that water) For that one sweet promenade", in reference to the St Kilda Esplanade. The area also featured in songs such as "Killed her in St Kilda" by Voodoo Lovecats, "St Kilda Nights" by Purple Dentists and "Melodies Of St Kilda" by Masters Apprentices.
Many movies and video clips have been filmed in St Kilda. Many of the indoor scenes from The Story of the Kelly Gang were filmed in St Kilda. The beach scenes of the 2005 hit Bollywood film Salaam Namaste were both set and filmed in St Kilda. The 2006 film Kenny also featured many scenes set in St Kilda.
Australian rock band Hunters & Collectors filmed many of their video clips in St. Kilda in the 1980s; of particular note is "Talking to a Stranger" which used the old St Kilda Railway Station, "Say Goodbye", parts of which were filmed upstairs at the George Hotel and "Do you see what I see?" which was partly filmed on a train running along the Sandringham line past parts of East St. Kilda, Balaclava and Ripponlea, Victoria. Other musicians to film in the area include Eran James' clip "Touched by Love" which has backdrops including the Palais Theatre and St Kilda Pier and Something for Kate, whose clip "The Futurist" was filmed at St Kilda West pier.
Louise and Charmian Faulkner also vanished from outside their Acland St flat on 26 April 1980 after getting into a ute driven by an older Australian male. The driver of the ute was presumed to be Louise's potato farmer boyfriend.
Proposed 'St Kilda Triangle' redevelopment