Author: Kate Follington
The recent outpouring of grief that followed the death of Pellegrini's restaurant owner, Sisto Malaspina, killed on 9 November on Bourke Street, has highlighted the warmth this man and his small Italian espresso bar had engendered within the hearts of generations of Melburnians.
Barely changed in decades, Pellegrini's original post-war facade and neon signage is a welcome relief amid the steel and glass downtown, and harks back to an era when post-war European immigrants moved to Melbourne seizing upon an opportunity to introduce espresso coffee to the locals, and feed home cooked pasta to the Italian diaspora missing home.
The newspapers have been filled lately with people's memories of both Sisto and Pellegrini's, so we decided to dig into the collection to see if we have any records linked to Pellegrini's Espresso Bar here at Public Record Office Victoria.
Thanks to some help from a local researcher we have uncovered the original hand sketched architectural building plans submitted by the Pellegrini brothers, Leo and Vildo to the Melbourne City Council in August 1954.
The plans are quite detailed, including the exact position of the new espresso machine which was sketched in quotation marks by the architects Smith, Tracey, Lyon and Brock. Presumably the concept of an 'espresso' bar in the 1950s was a relatively new term in the Australian vernacular, with espresso machines quite in vogue across the world at the time, and so it seemed worthy of extra emphasis. The plans also hint at the Italian owner's preference for Terazzo tiling below the front window.
The bar stools and long curved serving bar are also detailed in the plans, harking back to the time when people sat at a bar to eat, and it continues to be a reason clientelle visit the cafe today: the conviviality of sharing a meal or drink with a stranger or the bar staff an enjoyable draw card.
The heritage frontage of the second floor has also remained intact, but disappointingly there are no detailed sketches of the shop front signage which the bar is famous for. According to additional plans below, submitted a year later in 1955, the Pellegrini brothers closed up the back entrance way to possibly make room for a toilet, and it appears to extend the new counter even further by removing a brick wall. These extensions in 1955, just after a year of trading, hint at the success of Pellegrini's downtown.
In 1972, the Pellegrini brothers sold the business to Sisto Malaspina and Nino Pangrazio who had run the restaurant together until Sisto's recent passing.
Most building plans submitted after 1961 are still being held at the archive of the responsible council, but given the age of these records they have been transferred here for permanent storage.
For more details on how to locate historic building plans of Melbourne go the topic guidance page which explains how to search for old Melbourne City building plans, or for more general research guidance on property and land try the landing page for all topic pages related to land and property.
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