Developer to part ways with 117-year-old Port Melbourne church

The church at 80 Ross St in Port Melbourne.
The church at 80 Ross St in Port Melbourne.

A century-old Port Melbourne church looks set for a second coming as a heavenly house.

The 1903-built Chapman Memorial Hall at 80 Ross St has been tempting homebuyers from across Melbourne since hitting the market last week, with a $1.85-$1.95 million price guide and a February 8 auction date.

Greg Hocking Holdsworth director Warwick Gardiner said the former house of God had been listed by a developer who splashed $4.75 million to buy it and an adjoining block in 2017.

The developer outlasted two other bidders and paid $750,000 above reserve to secure the 711sqm landholding at auction.

He had initially planned to turn the entire property into units or townhouses, while keeping the church’s red brick exterior intact.

The interior is expected to be altar-ed to become a house.

The church is in a handy bayside location.

But he has since decided only to develop the adjoining block, carving off a 349sqm piece of the property containing the church to sell, Gardiner says.

“He has too much work on, so he’s happy to sell the church off as a shell,” the agent says.

“It’s also more affordable now, and more appealing to the average mum and dad buyer type, rather than a developer.”

Gardiner says it was difficult to find warehouse-style properties primed for conversion in bayside Melbourne, making this a “very, very unusual” listing.

He says the bulk of inquiries he’s received so far are from homebuyers wanting to turn the church into a single residence.

The church has heritage overlay.

The building was damaged by fire in the ‘80s but has since been restored.

Most of them were bayside locals, along with a handful of others from trendy inner suburbs like Fitzroy and South Yarra.

“You could put in a rooftop garden with amazing city views, and probably water views as well. It could be something quite special,” he says.

“(Or) at quite a minimal cost, you could convert it into a warehouse-style house with a mezzanine level.”

The purchaser could also look at fulfilling the initial plans to develop the site, which is walking distance from the shops and eateries of Bay St, the light rail and the beach.

There’s plenty of space inside the church hall.

Gardiner says the house had heritage overlay requiring preservation of the front facade.

City of Port Phillip heritage documents show the church is of local significance for its association with the Baptist Church in Port Melbourne and with leading Baptist minister of the 1880s and 1890s, Reverend Samuel Chapman.

It was built in “rudimentary Gothic style” and suffered severe fire damage in 1985, but has since been restored, with “lettered panels” on the facade notably remaining intact.

A 1940s church hall in nearby St Kilda West, which was born again as a home before selling for a record $7.5 million sum in late 2018, offers an extravagant example of how a house of worship can become a praiseworthy residence.

This article from The Herald Sun was originally published as “Port Melbourne church primed for resurrection as a house”.