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Melbourne Festival Hall’s change of ownership marks the end of an era

Melbourne Festival Hall’s change of ownership marks the end of an era
February 11, 2021

The recent change of ownership of Melbourne’s Festival Hall marks the end of the Wren family’s 60-year involvement with the venue.

Opened in 1915, the former West Melbourne Stadium has been a Melbourne institution, hosting major events such as boxing, music concerts and professional wrestling.

After being destroyed by fire in 1955, it was purchased by John Wren and reopened as Festival Hall in time to provide the venue for several Olympic Games events, including gymnastics and wrestling, the following year.

The venue quickly became the venue of choice for big-name acts performing in Melbourne with The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey and Ed Sheeran all gracing the venue’s stage over the years.

However, with Melbourne’s newer venues attracting performances and events that would previously have gone to the Festival Hall, the Wren family’s Stadiums Pty Ltd first sought to redevelop the site and, after a heritage listing prevented that, put the property up for sale in 2017.

Purchased by evangelical church Hillsong last year, the sale sees the end of the Wren family’s involvement in venue management, the last of a string of venues the family business once owned in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

The sale has also precipitated the retirement of the Festival Hall’s Director, John Wren.

With St John Ambulance Victoria having provided services to the venue over six decades, its Chief Executive, Gordon Botwright recently wrote about the organisation having provided medical assistance to hundreds of thousands of patrons during this time.

Explaining that the Festival Hall is deeply ingrained into the history of St John Victoria’s Event Health Services Department, Botwright commented “for over 60 years our people have provided essential first aid services at countless events at the venue, aiding those in sickness, distress and suffering.

“Throughout this time, Festival Hall’s owner John Wren and his family have been one of our greatest and loyal supporters.

“We’re so grateful to John and his family for continuing to have us on board for all these years to provide our services at some of Melbourne’s most historical events.”

Some of the Festival Hall’s major events over the decades:

1960s
The Beatles, Pat Boone, Johnny Farnham, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Bob Dylan, Bill Haley

1970s
Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Status Quo, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, John McLaughlin, Bee Gees, Frank Sinatra, Skyhooks, Deep Purple, The Boys Next Door, Cold Chisel, Black Sabbath, Procol Harum, Nana Mouskouri, Russell Morris, Johnny Cash, Lee Gordon “Big Shows”

1980s
The Clash, Split Enz, The Police, Billy Idol, Dire Straits, Midnight Oil, Neil Young, Sherbet, Liberace, Shirley Bassey

1990s and beyond
Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Powderfinger, Lily Allen, Lorde, Ed Sheeran.

Image: Concert at Melbourne’s Festival Hall.

Related Articles

16th December 2020 - Coronavirus halted booming year for Australia’s live music sector

26th October 2020 - Hillsong Church buys Melbourne’s historic Festival Hall

23rd October 2020 - Survey shows over 400 Australian Live Music Businesses face imminent closure

14th October 2020 - Live entertainment industry counts the cost of COVID

20th September 2020 - Live music venues to benefit industry from $13 million Victorian Government support package

11th August 2020 - Federal Government announces guidelines on live music restart funding

22nd July 2020 - Live Entertainment Industry Forum applauds Australian Government’s JobKeeper extension

12th June 2020 - Live Entertainment Industry Forum welcomes potential easing of restrictions on outdoor sport and entertainment venues

3rd April 2019 - Federal Budget delivers for live music but fails creative industries

24th November 2018 - Melbourne’s Festival Hall gains permanent heritage protection

18th May 2018 - Melbourne’s Festival Hall set to receive heritage protection

25th January 2018 - Festival Hall redevelopment plans a result of competition in Melbourne venue market

16th March 2015 - Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena emerges as a new venue for live music

18th December 2013 - New Hamer Hall welcomes almost 400,000 patrons in first year of operations


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