Allen's Sweets, South Melbourne
Of the many hundreds of these neon displays, Audrey and the Nylex Clock are the best known of only a half dozen or so remaining neon displays from this era around Melbourne. Each has had to survive the ravage s of age, neglect, and urban development - and only survive today thanks to the two key elements that unfortunately the survival of any such iconic masterpiece requires: overwhelming public support and corporate sponsorship. Sadly, the Allen's Sweets sign was not so lucky.
The sign is generally recognised as being the most spectacular animated sign in Victoria. It was mounted on the roof of an old factory used to assemble General Motors cars in that part of South Melbourne now known as Southbank, on City Road next to the Allen's Sweets factory in South Melbourne. It was here, in 1922, that General Motors had set up the first assembly line in the Australian motor industry.
Erected on scaffold built to display an advertisement for a Holden car, the initial Allen's sign was erected 1955. It was a simple neon sign which just read "Allen's - Your Favourite Sweets", but in 1969 a more extravagant sign was created by Claude Neon, which involved several overlays variously reading "Allen's Sweets", "Cool Cool Kool Mints" and "Anticol Cough Drops". The sign included a soaring rocket that travels in a trajectory over the sign until it reaches the centre, where it detonates into an array of colourful spark-like raindrops to catch attention and cough lollies actually falling from the Anticol packet. The entire sequence lasted a lenthy 35 seconds. In it's entirety, the Allen's Sweets sign measured 30 metres in width and 12 metres in height and was supported by a scaffold originally intended for a Holden car advertisement.
In 1987, A.W. Allen Ltd. moved from their South Melbourne location. Despite universal agreement that the sign should be and could be preserved, it seems that no agreement could be reached by the many players involved, both government and commercial, on exactly how, and it would ultimately leave the sign with no place to go. It was torn down in 1987. Plans for redevelopment were conceptualised in the mid 1980's, the Allen's factory, along with other buildings around it, was demolished, and by the early 1990's, many of the now familiar buildings that feature so prominently along the Southbank promenade, were either in place or under construction. The redevelopment of Southbank closed the history books on the lifetime of a place that was very different from what we know today, and some landmarks that were as familiar then, to the locals, as the Crown Complex, or Southgate are to us today.
Allen's was founded by Alfred Weaver Allen (1870 1925), a Melbourne confectioner. Originally employed by MacRobertson's, he commenced confectionery production in the 1890s at his Fitzroy confectionery shop. By 1909, Allen's was the third largest confectionery business in Melbourne, after those of Sir Macpherson Robertson and Abel Hoadley. It launched as a public company in 1922 and erected a vast factory to the design of prominent Melbourne architect Joseph Plottel in South Melbourne on the banks of the Yarra River, where its animated neon sign was a local landmark up to its demise in the 1980s.
Allen's abandoned chocolate production after World War II, however it became Australia's largest confectionery company. Allen's was purchased by UK-based Rothmans Holdings in 1985, and later sold to Nestle. Allen's is the top brand of sugar confectionery in Australia. It is best known for Minties, a soft chewable mint flavoured confectionery, and their varieties of 'Party Mix' lollies, which include 'Snakes', 'Milk Bottles', 'Redskins', 'Cola', 'Red Frogs', 'Pineapples', 'Sherbies', 'Oddfellows' and 'Bananas'. One of its most popular (now deleted) lines was for many years 'Spearmint Leaves'.