The land on which Garden City is laid out was known as Sandridge Flat, and subsequently as Fishermens Bend. When the Coode Canal was constructed in 1884-6, to both improve cargo ship access to the docks and to increase the stream velocity for upstream flood mitigation, the excavated silt was used for land reclamation. Much of the surrounding land was marshy river delta. (See Coode Island for further explanation and remarks on Fishermens Bend.)
The canal and the Yarra's mouth needed dredging, and the silt was used for the filling of holes excavated for sand extraction at the site of the future Garden City.
In 1912 the Port Melbourne Council lobbied the State Government for housing sites to be allowed on reclaimed land, but the Harbor Trust asserted its claim over the land which was in Trust territory. Prevarication on the Government's part continued until the State Savings Bank took up proposals by the Council and the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission and purchased 18 hectares of land in the area south and east of Williamstown Road and Graham Street (1926). The Bank's estate consisted of houses which were two-storey, semi-detached, cement rendered and apparently inspired by English designs. They were the beginning of Garden City.
In 1936 the Housing Commission assumed the Bank's home-construction role, and acquired 22 hectares further west along Williamstown Road. Its street layout is noticeably "garden city". The Commission's estate re-housed large families who had been in deprived circumstances. Relationships were unfortunately strained between the owners in the Bank's estate ("Nobs Hill"), and the Commission's tenants ("Little Baghdad"). The Commission's last estate was row housing along Beacon and Barak Roads (1981).
The Bank's estate provided for a small shopping centre in Graham Street. The Commission's estate, whilst having five neighbourhood parks, was not so well provided for with other facilities. The community's centre was the Ada Mary A'Beckett kindergarten, supported by the philanthropic Free Kindergarten Union (1942).
In 1979 the Port Melbourne council commissioned a conservation study for its municipality. The study concluded that Garden City provided a unique example of residential town planning, with a substantial part remaining intact.
Nestling below Garden City, however, is the Sandridge/Bayside redevelopment site, adjacent to the foreshore between Princes and Station Piers. It ushers in housing styles radically different from workers' cottages, time-worn factories and English semi-detached dwellings.
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