Located in Melbourne Central shopping centre is the 20 story high glass cone, designed by renowned Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, which houses the heritage listed ‘Coops Shot Tower’. The Shot Tower is a bullet making facility designed in 1889. It was the tallest building in Melbourne's CBD until the mid-1940s, and has become one of the city’s most enduring landmarks and is a significant building in Australia’s industrial history.
On a shot-making day, the shot maker would load the pig iron (in the form of lead bars) into a bucket on the second floor. He’d then take the 300-odd stairs to the top of the tower, where he would use a pulley to haul the lead to the top. There, he’d fire up a gas ring vat and melt the lead, which boils at a reasonably low 118 degrees Celsius. Then he would ladle the molten lead into a colander and the lead would fall 132 feet into a vat of water on the second floor. By the time it hit the water, the molten lead would have cooled into spheres of lead shot, which were then shovelled into rolling machine dryers (each punched with holes for auto-sizing) on its way to being packed into bags, ready for despatch and use in shotguns, on scales, in pin ball machines and puzzle games—and even as ships’ ballast.
Some 25 million individual shot pellets could be produced every hour, but the Coop family didn’t just make shot here. They made all manner of lead products—from old-fashioned weights to nails and solder, as well as the stair grips for Melbourne’s trams and all of the lead pipe that was used to encase the city’s first electricity system.
The Shot Tower Museum is located on the second level inside the tower and you need to walk through the R M Williams shop to get to it. The museum explains how lead shot was made and has photos of Melbourne from the early days.
One room explains the shot making process with some exhibits of the actual equipment used during the process.
There is another room which shows the history of Melbourne and how it has changed over time. A summary of the changes as shown in the exhibition is:
1837 - If you were standing in this exact spot over 170 years ago; woody and boggy marshlands would stretch out around you for as far as the eye could see.
But in 1837, when Melbourne's streets were laid out by convict gangs in accordance with Robert Hoddle's controversial grid plan, Lonsdale Street marked the northern boundary of the village first settled by Europeans just a few years before.
The grid form symbolised the settlers' will to superimpose order on the irregularities of a site that had until then been tree-covered terrain of hills, contours, declivities and shallow waterways.
1847 - Queen Victoria declared Melbourne a city in 1847, even though you could still find wild emus at the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets.
At this time the total number of buildings in Melbourne was 1140. This included the St Francis Church (the oldest public building in Victoria still standing) and the first hotel in the area, The Brittania, on the corner of Lonsdale and Swanston Streets.
With the City Arms Hotel on the corner of La Trobe and Elizabeth, and the Travellers Home at the corner of La Trobe and Swanston, by 1850 there were four substantial landmarks demarcating the Melbourne Central block and it would remain that way up until 1970!
1851 - Discovery of gold at Clunes marked Melbourne's transformation from a settlement into a metropolis in 1851.
The very same year, the colony of Port Phillip separated from South Wales and the State of Victoria was born. Melbourne's population at the time was around 25,000, but only a decade later would be five times that figure.
A Scottish couple, Archibald and Catherine Menzies, set up the Menzies Family Hotel at this time in La Trobe Street, which lent its name to today's surviving Menzies Alley and Menzies Place. It changed its name to Stutt's around 1872 and then proceeded to feature a lion and other caged animals in its dining room!
1889 - At a time when cable trams began replacing horse-drawn services, Melbourne was going through a boom period.
Around ten buildings were being erected a week in the city centre, many six to ten storeys high. One of the largest of these was Coop's Shot Tower, a 50-metre high red brick tower which was the tallest building at the time, and exceeded the city's building limit by six metres.
At this time, the building of the third and last stage of Melboume's Parliament House was being undertaken, with the decision made to turn it into the city's showpiece.
1895 - Melbourne really got its act together as it headed into the 20th Century.
At this time all city streets were finally paved and the cable tram network was completed. Electric arc lights were also installed as street lighting, making Melbourne a safer place at night.
A typhoid epidemic led to the call for a properly operating sewage system, and the central part of Melbourne was connected up at the time to satisfy this need.
1925 - Melburnians, along with the rest of the world, underwent drastic lifestyle changes at this time.
The "Jazz Age" saw the pace of life increasing, mainly to the onset of the automobile. Melbourne's pedestrians were encountering an astonishing range of vehicles, such as hansom cabs and other horse-drawn carts, bicycles, omnibuses and trams, along with motorcycles, electric trams as the increasingly popular automobile.
The drastic change in transportation was also reflected in the area's traders, with an abundance of motorcycle, motor accessory, car workshop and motorcar showroom- springing up within central Melbourne
1961 - Two decades after Coop's Shot Tower ceased to be Melbourne's tallest building, shot production ceased.
This was a period where the immediate vicinity was regarded as a "forgotten" area of the city, the advent of the suburban shopping seeing shoppers attracted away from the CBD.
It was as early as 1961 that the Melbourne City Council, prompted by plans for a new underground railway for the city, resolved to prepare a new planning scheme for the CBD, proposing that the future Melbourne Central block be redeveloped in order to link the existing area through to the proposed route of the train line.
1972 - A freak storm hit Melbourne and the ensuing flood in Elizabeth Street reached torrential proportions.
Around this time, all the Lonsdale Street buildings between Elizabeth and Swanston were demolished to make way for the Museum Station development. The demolition included two hotels that has stood on corners since the 1850's.
At a cost of $33 million, Zeus Corporation bought up a series of properties between the station site and Little Lonsdale Street in 1972. These were later demolished as part of the Melbourne Central office tower development.
1991 - Melbourne Central opens just six years after developer Kumagai Gumi was awarded the contract.
The centre at the time featured Japanese department store Daimaru, 160 specialty shops, 30 food outlets and a 55-storey office tower, as well as pedestrian bridges across Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale Streets.
A major feature designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa was the 20-storey high glass cone which was constructed to enclose the Shot Tower, and is said to be one of the largest glass structures in the word.
The shot tower and surrounding glass cone is absolutely stunning to look at.