The first sod for the new road was turned on Monday, September 8 1913.This is part of a report in The Age of September 9, 1913 that tells us about this road - The ceremony, which took place yesterday afternoon ...was made possible by the patriotism and generosity of Messrs. P.E. Keam, Austin Sharp and F. Castella, who are interested in land extending for about three miles between Heidelberg and the city. These gentlemen have donated a strip of land 100 feet wide above flood mark, and have also given sufficient for a footway along the banks of the river itself. The spot where the first sod was turned yesterday is over a quarter of a mile from the water's edge, but the intervening land is liable to floods, and it would not do for a large sum of money to be spent on it. Where the land keeps high, the proposed road will run adjacent to the bank. Mr.Catani, the Government engineer, has prepared plans for the boulevard, which will include accommodation for carriages, foot passengers/bicyclists and equestrians, some what similar to the lay out of Alexandra-avenue from St. Kilda-road, but it will not be quite so elaborate. Read the full article, here.
As you can see from the article I quoted from, above, there was discussion about the location of the road not being close to the river and on January 17, 1914 The Age had a hard hitting article on the Boulevard [read it here]. It started by criticising the Government - both State and Local - for their dalliance on the matter. It then criticised the Government for failing to buy up land along the river that would have allowed a boulevard along the length of the Yarra - In the year 1912 the Government, at the suggestion of the metropolitan members of Parliament decided that the first step to be taken was to secure the land along the banks of the river. Twelve months ago the Public Works department undertook to secure options on privately held land fronting the river. What the department actually did has never been disclosed, but as far as can be ascertained it has not secured any of the land it was municipal authorities, but other land needed for the scheme has been cut up and sold while the Government or its representatives were asleep. And all the while the market price of land in Toorak, Hawthorn, Kew, Richmond, Collingwood and other river suburbs has been steadily advancing and making the ultimate hand ling of the scheme so much, the more expensive.
The report then talks about the work in the upper reaches of the Yarra i.e. between Heidelberg and Ivanhoe The "boulevard" is supposed to embrace in a 100-feet strip a footpath 10 feet wide, a 30-foot roadway for carriages and motor cars, and a pedestrian track. In addition, river bends have been secured for the establishment or parks and picnicking reserves. Those are the achievements of the Government at a cost of less than £3000.
The facts, however, are disappointing. The most astonishing feature of the thing is that the "boulevard" is not a riverside avenue at all. All that is now visible as a result of the expenditure of £3000 is a partially formed road and footpath, not along the river bank, but up on the hills. At one or two points it gets within 100 yards of the river, but for the greater distance it is between 200 yards and half a mile away. The new road runs from near Heidelberg-bridge to the edge of a Chinese garden. There it stops like the serial story, to be continued— on the other side of the garden. The Chinese, holds this land on lease, and the officials apparently did not think it necessary to arrange with him for the running of the road through his properly......
The road is resumed on the other side of the garden, and by an easy grade it ascends the hills, getting further away from the river, to a spot where it is proposed to connect with a short unmade road that runs into Lower Heidelberg-road. On the way the officials have diverted themselves by making some interesting curves, and contortions along the hillside, which are calculated to keep a motorist so busy looking for accidents that he will not notice that the riverside road is half a mile away from the river. There are three curves of 3½ chains diameter, with the hill slope on one side, and on the other side banks that hide the view of approaching traffic. At the Ivanhoe end the pretentious "boulevard" stops short at a post and rail fence, and all the rights of private property and the majesty and might of the law unite to prevent the officials from pulling down that fence so that they might reach a public road 40 or 50 yards away...... with extraordinary stupidity the officials have, actually placed themselves in the power of the owner of that land. .....
Of the chapter of bungles into which the short history of this road is divided the most striking of all is the choice of a hillside for what is supposed to be a river side boulevard. It is only by a severe stretch of the imagination — stretching in fact back to the flood of 1891— that any connection between road and river can be understood. Excepting at the Heidelberg end the thoroughfare will give frontages on each side to private property, and in the course of time this expensive "boulevard" will become merely a suburban street — with dwellings on either side— constructed and fenced by a complaisant Government free of charge to the municipality and to the owners of the property.
So you get the picture, The Age was not happy with this pretentious boulevard. However, the next week, the next week the paper had a reply from the Minister of Public Works, Mr Hagelthorn.
One of the complaints is that the road as surveyed is not a river road. A boulevard, such as is being constructed, cannot be satisfactorily placed on land subject to flooding, which occurs periodically more or less three or four limes in a year. In 1911 it was flooded, to a depth of 15 feet, in 1891 24 feet, and move than once every year it has been flooded from two to three feet. However, the road is primarily intended to be a pleasure drive, having easy access to the river at various points. Mr Hagelthorn also dealt his trump card with this statement Mr Catani's conception of this great boulevard has been approved by Mr. Griffin, the designer of the Federal Capital, who stated that the drive was one of the finest he had ever seen and if it were in Chicago it would be worth millions to the people. Read the full article, here.
The road was officially opened sometime in late 1915 or 1916, I haven't found an official opening date yet. The local community were obviously well pleased with the work Carlo carried out on their behalf as at Heidelberg Shire Council meeting held Tuesday, August 20, 1918 the following took place - Cr. Keam, referring to the death of the late Mr Catani, said that in order to perpetuate his memory, he proposed that the Minister for Public Works be asked to name the boulevard "The Via Catani." An Italian by birth, Mr Catani did a lot for the beautification of the Yarra, and it would be fitting to name the boulevard after him.-Seconded by Cr. Hannah and carried. (Heidelberg News, August 24, 1918). This name change was approved by the Department of Public Works in the September and Via Catani came into being. Sadly it seems to have been a very short term name - there are advertisements for land with frontages to Via Catani in April 1919, but that is the last year I can find a mention of the road being called that name. Perhaps the locals thought that the French sounding The Boulevard was more to their tastes than the Italian sounding Via Catani. Interestingly, there was a letter to the Editor of The Argus on July 17, 1918 that suggested that the road should be renamed Anzac Boulevard as a lasting memorial to our brave boys. (Read the letter, here)
As for whether Via Catani or The Boulevard is just pretentious or the drive was one of the finest ever seen and if it were in Chicago it would be worth millions to the people, you can be the judge.
I have created a list of newspaper articles on Trove about the Via Catani, access the list, here.