A Brief History of Mentone
At the risk of offending a whole host of learned historians, there’s something about a headline that reads ‘A history of ….’ that is unashamedly off-putting. We want to buck this trend, however, because the history of Mentone is certainly worth catching up on.
Timelines are always a trusted way of getting this stuff through, so let’s get cracking.
1881: The year it all began. As the railway started to snake all the way from Caulfield to Frankston, a rudimentary station was established in somewhat of a dead spot between Cheltenham and Mordialloc.
They coined the station ‘Balcombe Road’ after the track that led into Alexander Balcombe’s grazing land which the new railway crossed. As we have it, Balcombe Road still remains at the epicentre of Mentone today.
1884: Realising that the area surrounding ‘Balcombe Road’ had potential beyond just a railway station, developers named the area ‘Mentone’. Inspired by the Italian resort ‘Menton’, the idea was to sell the seaside dream, the ‘Riviera of the South’ as some developers called it.
These developers built on this idea by building this palatial, Riviera aspect with large mansions and impressive public facilities.
1887: Here came about the inception of two Mentone landmarks. The Coffee Palace, with its high Italianate tower was built as an alternative to a hotel, where ‘no wine, ale or spirituous or intoxicating liquors’ were to be sold.
As you’d expect from a rowdy bunch of Mentonians, the heyday of The Coffee Palace was short lived in favour of the new pub. The Mentone Hotel was erected in 1889, providing alcohol and accommodation overlooking the beach.
Fast forward to 2018, the Coffee Palace is now incorporated into Kilbreda College. After a long battle, a community movement to ‘Save The Edgy’ has sparked a planned revival of The Mentone Hotel so that visitors can continue to enjoy the historic building.
1888: With it’s seaside location and rich, sandy soil, trainers and horse owners were thrilled with the establishment of the Mentone Race Course. The course was officially declared open on September 8, 1888 with the feature race of the day, ‘The Mentone Cup.’ For many years, the standard of racing was excellent and the course was considered top class. However, the end of the war saw serious cutbacks in Victorian racing. As such, the Mentone Race Course held its final meeting in 1948. Since then, the former race course has been redeveloped as a residential housing estate incorporating the popular Mentone Race Course Reserve.
1891: As Mentone continued to boom, the need became apparent to replace the small jetty with a fully fledged pier. Quickly becoming part of Mentone’s beach culture, the pier served as a popular spot for fishing anglers and beach strollers alike.
Alas, come 1950 - the Pier is in drastic need of repair. Despite huge local campaigns to acquire funding, the State Government saw to the unpopular demolishment of the Mentone Pier in 1964.
1889: The founders of Mentone retained a vision that the wealthy residents would be keen to have their children well educated. As such, a primary school was opened in 1889, which then sparked a collective understanding that there were a class of people willing to pay for education. The first secondary schools were Mentone College ( opened 1896 ), Mentone Girls’ Grammar School (1899) and Kilbreda College (1904). Later on came Mentone Grammar School (1920), St. Bede’s College (1938) and Mentone Girls’ Secondary College (1954). All of these schools except Mentone College are still in existence. Indeed, they educate well over five thousand pupils at any given time, a number which would surely impress original founders.
1928: Throughout the 1920s as silent movies catapulted in popularity, the Mentone Skating Rink in Brindisi Street became a makeshift venue to watch movies. In reality, this precinct was a huge barn so in 1928, the visionary Albert Lydford pioneered the creation of the ‘New Mentone Theatre’.
For the three decades preceding the opening, the New Mentone Theatre flourished, with silent movies an ever popular attraction. However, as the 50s arrived, so did television.
People stayed home, unable to drag themselves away from a succession of cheap American productions, news transmissions, In Melbourne Tonight and other offerings from the three channels. The marvellous New Mentone Theatre, the booming success of the thirties and forties, met a quick death. In 1960 it closed forever, and within a few years it was demolished and replaced by a service station.
1938: Richly entwined in Mentone’s history is St Bede’s College, an independent Catholic College for boys. Founded in 1938, the College takes in stunning ocean views from the front oval, whereby pub goers could stand on the verandah of the Mentone Hotel and observe the sporting prowess of the younger boys.
1956: St Bede’s/Mentone Tigers AFC has a long and rich history stretching back to the late nineteenth century. Integral to this history is the culture of supporting and facilitate women’s football. Long before many other football clubs got involved in women’s footy, sources verify that the Club first fielded an official women’s team in 2001. Long before that, however, there is good reason to believe that women from Mentone played in match also umpired by women at Mordialloc Oval in 1956. Women’s footy is still a vital part of the club culture at St Bede’s/Mentone Tigers AFC.
1970: Victorian society saw plenty of shifts in the way people lived throughout the 60s and 70s. As car ownership grew, suburbanites favoured holiday trips in the country and interstate. Mentone lost its shine as a summer vacation resort. Adding insult to injury, erratic wave action virtually destroyed the once beautiful Mentone foreshore.
But wait! Not all hope is lost. Offshore dredging carried out during 1977/8 pumped thousands of tons of sand from about a kilometre out in the bay back onto the degraded beaches. With the return of the beach, tourism grew once more and local businesses began to flourish again.
The Mentone of 2018 has retained plenty of what the original founders had in mind. With the beach at the forefront of the Mentonian lifestyle, there is a relaxed, community vibe about the place. Mentonians love to stay active, with a myriad of recreational clubs. The educational facilities are world class and hopefully one day in the near future it will be possible to once again grab a beer from the historic Mentone Hotel.