"The Melbourne City Baths was first opened in 1860 and has continued to
provide health and fitness services to the community for more than 140
years, an achievement that distinguishes the baths from any other health and
fitness facility in Victoria.
In Melbourne’s founding years, a bathroom in the home was a luxury only the
wealthy could afford. For most, a weekly wash or dip in Port Phillip Bay or
the Yarra River sufficed.
By the 1850s the Yarra had become quite polluted and an epidemic of typhoid
fever hit the city causing many deaths. However, people continued to swim
and drink the water.
One of the Melbourne City Councillors, Sizar Elliott, initiated moves to
build public baths and urinals in the city. A triangular piece of land on
the corner of Swanston and Franklin streets was chosen and the City Baths
was opened on 9 January 1860. People flocked to the baths and it was
reported that 79,096 men and 2,950 women enjoyed the facilities in the first
For financial reasons the council decided to lease the baths but lack of
maintenance resulted in such deterioration of the building that it was
closed down in 1899.
In 1901 the corporation of the City of Melbourne advertised a national
competition for the design of new public baths on the same site as the
previous baths. The winning entry was from a well-known architect J J Clark,
who also designed Melbourne’s Treasury Building.
The Lord Mayor, Councillor Sir Malcolm D McEacharn, officially opened the
new Melbourne City Baths on 23 March 1904 in the presence of the Premier,
the right honourable Thomas Bent, and other guests.
The design reflected all the social conventions of the turn of the century.
There was segregation of the sexes for all facilities, right down to
separate street entrances. Class distinctions were also apparent with second
class baths in the basement and first class baths on the main floor.
Facilities consisted of two swimming pools, 16 slipper baths and six spray
baths each for the men and women.
There were also Turkish and vapour baths, a Jewish ceremonial bath (Mikvah
bath) and a laundry.
Mixed bathing was introduced into the City Baths in 1947 and the popularity
of the swimming pool began to increase.
The success of the Australian swimmers in the Melbourne Olympic Games in
1956 further contributed to the popularity of the swimming pools, after
which attendance rocketed to over 300,000 per year. In fact the baths had
been considered as a possible venue for the Olympic swimming events but were
disregarded due to the state of the facilities.
Melbourne City Baths is now a leading health, fitness and wellness centre
with innovative programs and modern equipment, as well as being a
significant historical icon that is visited by thousands of national and
The uniqueness of the building and the significance it holds for so many
Victorians has also prompted theatre groups, television programs and fashion
magazines to use the baths as the setting for their productions, films and
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