The Block 2019: History of The Oslo’s five houses that were buried under 100 years of neglect
Anyone who has visited or lived on Grey Street in Melbourne’s popular suburb of St Kilda could easily tell you of its notorious past.
It is commonly remembered for being a haven for drugs and a thriving red light district.
At the centre of the strip was The Oslo, where for $18 a night, you could get a room in the backpackers hotel.
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Around the corner was another infamous building — The Gatwick — housing some of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable people; including drug addicts, prison parolees and those down on their luck, since the 1950s.
The building, which was also linked to incidents of arson and violence got a grand makeover last year when The Block moved in and gave it a complete makeover.
The Gatwick’s new look helped inject new life and value into the area, boosting real estate prices, and this year it’s The Oslo’s turn as the popular reno show takes on yet another building to transform with a chequered past.
THE OSLO’S BACKPACKER PAST
The building dates back to the 1861, in the height of the gold rush when Grey Street was known as being one of the fanciest streets in the city.
The heritage hotel was originally built as a row of five, three-storey terrace houses but since then, the region had rapidly declined — becoming known as the city’s red-light district.
A brother and sister took over the building, knocking down the walls and turning it into a massive hostel, however it is unclear exactly when this happened.
“It was mostly full of English tourists for the past few years but in its original form it had five houses inside … it was beautifully built,” The Block’s executive producer Julian Cress told news.com.au.
Just before Channel 9 bought the building for a reported $10.8 million — for this year’s show — the low-budget hotel offered accommodation in shared dorm rooms for as little as $18 a night.
In fact, if you search for The Oslo on TripAdvisor, images will reveal just how unkempt it was inside.
The travel website listed the “budget friendly accommodation” with a 2.0 “poor” rating.
When reading the hostel’s colourful description on the website, it actually sounds really tempting with its “baggage storage”, “free parking” and popular local attractions — until the images surface.
They mostly show its extremely rundown state and poor treatment, with some reviewers describing it as a “filthy lobby that smells like weed and feet”.
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“Bedsheets smelled like damp sheets that never got hung or B.O,” one former visitor said in the review section.
“Bathroom was extremely stinky and dirty looked like it had never been cleaned.”
Mr Cress told news.com.au the owners tunnelled through the walls of the five homes in The Oslo to make it one big building.
“It was extremely rundown but it’s the perfect property for us,” Mr Cress said.
“It’s a restoration — if you look back at the last few Block renos we’ve done like The Gatwick, we love to restore things back to their former glory as they are the best series of The Block.”
Last year, Channel 9 had a huge job of relocating all the residences of The Gatwick before renovating the hostel.
“It had become something of a place of last resort for people who were disadvantaged so the challenge there was to rehouse everyone who was living in that building before we could renovate it,” Mr Cress said, “which we did.”
“In the case of The Oslo, it was a British backpackers hostel with people paying $18 a night so there were no issues about closing it down — they just have to find another cheap hostel to trash.”
HOW MUCH WILL IT GO FOR
Given the volatile real estate market, Mr Cress said it will be hard to predict the outcome of the building.
“I have never been able to predict the outcome of any series of The Block and I won’t start now … I am often wrong,” he said.
“Nobody picked the winner or prices last year — we weren’t even sure going into the auction whether it was going to sell given the 50 per cent clearance rates drop.”
However he did point out the area’s “up-market” reputation will play a huge role, with prolific Melbourne developer Tim Gurner’s purchase of the old Novotel in St Kilda as an example.
Mr Gurner will develop the hotel into a $550 million apartment complex which Mr Cress says will again ramp up the area’s real estate portfolio.
Mr Cress said one of the key reasons for purchasing the hostel was to connect more with the audience who are mostly families who may prefer seeing homes renovated, rather than just apartments.
At stake is $100,000 for The Block winner plus whatever profits their home can make on auction day.
“This is by far the most impressive Block ever attempted. In every sense of the word, it is going to be huge,” Mr Cress said.