The APA Building was the tallest building in Australia at the time of its construction in 1889, and was later reputed to have been one of the world's tallest at the time. Located at 49 Elizabeth Street, on the corner of Flinders Lane in Melbourne, it was notable for its very vertical proportionals, enhanced by the spires and gables of the Queen Anne architectural style top floors.
The building was constructed in 1888-9 by the Australian Property Investment Co., and called the Australian Building. Melbourne was then in the throes of the 'landboom' of the 1880s, fueled by easy credit and steep increases in the price of land, especially in the central city. It was reputed to have been originally planned to have fifteen stories, and was to have been twice as wide, but was built with 12 levels, the top one mostly attic space.
In 1920 the Australian Provincial Assurance Association Ltd, an insurance company, bought the building as their Melbourne base, and the renamed it the APA Building.
The APA Building was Melbourne's tallest for 30 years, until the company purchased and remodelled a building on the corner of Collins and Queen Streets as their new headquarters, adding a very tall tower in 1929 (this was also known as the APA Building, and was demolished in the late 1960s). Some time in the 1950s, the spire, turrets and gables of the top floors of the earlier APA Building were removed, leaving it with a truncated mansard roof.
The building was demolished in 1980, and replaced by a five story office building.
The building was designed by the short-lived partnership of Oakden, Addison & Kemp in association with John Beswicke. The design has strong influences of the English Queen Anne revival, then a new style in Melbourne. This is seen in the use of red-brick with rendered stripes, and the picturesque turreted and gabled roofscape.
The APA Building has been variously claimed to be the tallest, or the third of fourth tallest, in the world in 1889. With 11 occupiable floors, and a 12th attic floor, a roof height of the 11th floor at 41.5m, top roof height of 47m, and top of the spire at 51m (plans reproduced in a thesis at Melbourne University), it is lower than, but comparable to a number of buildings in New York City and Chicago, built in that year or earlier.
For instance in New York, the 11 level Potter Building completed in 1885 was 50.3 to the top of the roof, with pinnacles on top of that, the 12 storey Washington Building of 1887 was 67m to the roof, plus attic and cupola, and the 1885 Chelsea Hotel was 43m to the top of the 12th floor, with decorative gables adding greater height. The 12 storey Rookery Building in Chicago completed in 1888 was 55m to the roof. The next year the very tall World Building was completed in New York, with at least 13 tall floors, a height of 70m up to the top floor roof, and 94m to the top of the large dome.