View looking up from Barrack Street from the GPO

Hotel Grand Central


The 1850s goldrush in the New South Wales central west brought much prosperity to the colony and financed a massive building boom in Sydney. The Grand Central Hotel, in Clarence Street, was one of many hotels built around the city at the time. Eager to have the biggest and the best, their owner spared no expense to gain the reputation of having the most opulent hotel in town. Not only did the owner the Grand Central Hotel built it will the intent of making it Sydney's finest - he gave it a name that declared it too. It took its name from The Grand Central Hotel in New York, later renamed the Broadway Central Hotel, that was famous as the site of the murder of financier James Fisk in 1872 by Edward S. Stokes.

The New York hotel, which opened in 1870, was designed by Henry Engelbert, and was commissioned by Elias S. Higgins, a local carpet manufacturer. Believed to be the largest hotel in America when completed, it was described as "throwing in the shade the largest hotels in this country - rivalling even the Grand Hotel at Paris in magnificence." On August 3, 1973, allegedly due in part to illegal alterations on a basement bearing wall, a section of the Broadway facade of the structure collapsed onto Broadway, killing four residents of the hotel. Such was not the fate of its Sydney counterpart - Sydney's Hotel Grand Central survived for many decades and lived up to the reputation its name had originally inferred.

The hotel became the Grand Coffee Palace temperance hotel in 1892 under the management of Joynton Smith. The business published a 110 pages book - The Grand Central Coffee Palace visitors  guide to Sydney - in 1889, promoting the coffee palace and the various health and pleasure resorts in the vicinity. It was described as "Handsomely illustrated with wood engravings especially executed for this work". The term Coffee Palace was primarily used in Australia to describe the temperance hotels which were built during the period of the 1880s Although there are references to the term also being used to a lesser extent, in the United Kingdom. They were hotels that did not serve alcohol, built in response to the temperance movement and, in particular, the influence of the Independent Order of Rechabites in Australia.

James Munro was a particularly vocal member of this movement. Coffee Palaces were often multi-purpose or mixed use buildings which included a large number of rooms for accommodation as well as ballrooms and other function and leisure facilities. The construction of buildings for the temperance movement coincided with an economic boom in Australia and the use of richly ornamental High Victorian architecture.

Ironically as the temperance movement s influence waned, many hotels applied for liquor licences. Many were either converted into hotels or demolished; however, some fine examples still survive. Such was not the fate of the Grand Coffee Palace which was converted into the Hotel Arcadia, now with a liquor licence. The building was demolished in 1929, and replaced by Art Deco Embassy Theatre. Location: 164-174 Pitt Street, Sydney.








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