c. 1839 - 1896
Abbondio Campi is immortalised in the row of shops at 149 to 167 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill which bear the words ‘Campi’s Buildings’ on the pediment. Few passers-by would realise that the Italian-born owner of these buildings was also one of the master craftsmen of 19th century Melbourne.
His business of glass-bevelling and looking-glass manufacturing had its beginnings in the early 1850s when Abbondio’s older brother Giovanni Battista Campi (known as John) set up shop in Melbourne. His brother Angelo joined him and the firm became known as J and A Campi. They soon turned to manufacturing rather then importing, thus solving the problem of shipping such large fragile objects. Their ‘looking-glass and frame manufactory’ was at 122 Russell Street. They carved and gilded frames for mirrors and pictures, and also offered a service of re-silvering mirrors. An article in The Weekly Times in 1870 gives a detailed description of the work carried out by their 14 skilled workmen and proudly mentions the examples of their craft hung in the newly built Melbourne Town Hall. At this time an amalgam of tin and mercury was used in the process.
In February 1871 John retired and Angelo carried on but died in 1873, when Abbondio became the sole proprietor. He exhibited at such events as the 1875 Exhibition, the 1881 International Exhibition and the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition, obtaining first or second class awards for his mirrors. According to the information he provided for 1888 publication in Victoria and its Metropolis, by the mid 1880s he was employing 16 hands and carried on the principal part of the business in supplying large wholesale houses. He described details of the manufacturing process: the silvering was done by the ‘new nitrate of silver process’, and glasses as large as 15 feet by 9 feet were made. About 50,000 feet of looking glasses were manufactured per year, and 25,000 to 30,000 feet were bevelled annually.
In the meantime, Campi had moved into Brompton House in the main street of the up and coming suburb of Clifton Hill, purchasing it in 1876 from the impecunious widow of carpenter Christopher Snowden, brother of Arthur Snowden. It was a two storey seven-roomed house with balcony and veranda. The Campis moved in with their first-born son Angelo and at Brompton House Mrs Campi produced a child almost every year until 1888. Only two died, leaving them with six sons and two daughters.
Queens Parade in the 1870s (then called Heidelberg Road) was still sparsely built up. Campi bought a piece of land with a frontage of 160 feet to Queens Parade running eastwards from Gold Street. In 1883, architects Twentyman and Askew invited tenders for the construction of a Post and Telegraph Office and this was built by William Rudder on the corner of Gold Street. Campi sold the building to the Postal Department and used the proceeds to build the first of what became a terrace of seven shops with dwellings above. Designed by Twentyman and Askew between 1884 and 1886, they were built in stages, most by local builder William Hall. The land between the post office and number 149 remained vacant, but it is probable that Campi intended to complete the terrace. The development can be seen as part of a Melbourne-wide phenomenon, when decorative shopping terraces appeared on the major high streets of the Boom Period.
Campi’s buildings are each classed as ‘Individually Significant’ in the City of Yarra Planning Scheme. A number of changes have been made to most of the buildings, especially as fashions in shop-fronts have changed over the years since construction, but number 165 is a rare intact 19th century timber shop front. It has two wood arches to each shop window on wood colonnets each with a base and capital set on a common wood sill: the design shown on the architect’s drawing signed by the builder, William Hall.
Campi died of diabetes in 1896. The business was carried on by two of his sons for some time. A photograph of Queens Parade taken from Rain’s Reserve in the early 20th century shows Campi’s Buildings, the easternmost shop occupied by Hardy the chemist, and Brompton House two doors to the left. The house was sold in 1908, and was run as a boarding house under the name of Moland House until at least 1930. After this date it was demolished and on the site Yarra Falls Motors built garage premises. Play it Again Sam video store was here from 1990 to 2016.
Queens Parade including Campi's Buildings early 20th century
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|c. 1839||Rovellasca, Lombardy, Italy|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Mary Jane Sturrock (c. 1853-1935)||13 December 1877, St Francis’ Church, Melbourne.||Seven sons and three daughters born between 1875 and 1888|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|173 Queens Parade||Clifton Hill||Demolished|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|17 September 1896||Clifton Hill||MGC|
The Argus, Mercury, The Australasian, Weekly Times, Victoria and its metropolis vol. 2 p. 596; architectural descriptions and research by G. Loughlin; Graunes, 'Stucco and shopping: Melbourne’s nineteenth century commercial terraces'; Sagazio, Italian craftsmanship and building in Victoria.