A CBD car park labelled "ugly" by Planning Minister Matthew Guy is set to be added to Victoria's heritage register, threatening plans for a glittering skyscraper on the Chinatown site.
The Total House car park on Russell Street, built in 1965, is one of the earliest examples of Brutalist architecture in Victoria. On Thursday morning the Heritage Council of Victoria announced it had found it to be a place of cultural heritage significance.
The building's distinctive design sees seven concrete decks of above-ground parking topped with a smaller office building, which has been home to a string of prominent Melbourne architects. Some say it looks like an old-fashion television set.
But, until this week, the divisive post-war building was in grave danger. New owner, the AXF Group, had submitted plans to replace Total House with a "landmark" gold and silver tower.
Blueprints showed a soaring 70-storey hotel and apartment building, which would be taller than the Rialto Towers and be visible from Flinders Street Station, Hoddle Street and Carlton Gardens.
The block was reportedly purchased by AXF for $40 million in 2012.
Melbourne Heritage Action Group originally nominated Total House for the heritage register. Spokesman Paul Beekman said the building's addition to the register would mean it was very unlikely to be demolished.
"It's a great day for Victoria," he said.
Calls to the AFX Group about its plans for the site were not immediately returned.
Heritage Victoria executive director Tim Smith said the building had state significance as it reflected "the massive increase in car ownership and infrastructure post World War II".
Melbourne architect Bruce Trethowan, who was called as an expert witness for the building"s owner, was not as generous. He argued the growth in car use contributed to Melbourne's post-war "urban blight" and the multi-level car park was "best preserved by memory alone".
His views were shared by Victoria's planning minister who told The Age this year he was "not a fan" of the post-war building. "I don't think just because buildings are old, just because they're from the 1960s means that it should be saved," he said.
"If it's ugly we can do better. Newer generations should have a chance to decide what goes on that site."
But Mr Guy said he would not intervene if Heritage Victoria wanted to include the building in the state's heritage register. "I respect their processes … It doesn't mean that I agree with everything but I think that process should stand," he said.
Meanwhile, a Heritage Victoria panel will consider whether to add another threatened city building on to the state register.
A hearing will be held for the Palace Theatre on Friday, while its current owners plan to demolish the century-old building to make way for a luxury W-Hotel.
But the group campaigning to save the popular live music venue already have the odds stacked against it, because Heritage Victoria's executive director has found it does not have state cultural significance as an early theatre, although it is considered locally significant.
Save the Palace Theatre's Rebecca Leslie is frustrated there is no process in place to protect locally significant buildings.
"This is ludicrous,'' she said. "If something is significant shouldn't there then be a due process to review?"