History of the Palais Royale, Katoomba

The following information appears on the website for The New South Wales Government, operating through the Office of Environment (OEH) and Heritage.

The Palais Royale has been a major guesthouse with a spectacular ballroom for over 50 years. It has been a social focus in the area, first as a convent school, and then as a guesthouse and dancehall, then as a Bible college, and now again as a luxury hotel. The Palais Royale is a fine representative example of a substantial c.1930 guesthouse and has an imposing presence on Katoomba Street, close to the town centre. While the guesthouse originally evolved from a pair of matching houses, the present building is unusual as a design which has clearly been intended for use as a quality guesthouse.
The building has a high level of detailing inlcuding the use of bevelled glass, leadlight and unusually fine terrazzo paving.

The Palais Royale is a fine example of the work of the local architect H.L. Blackwood.

Historical Notes

Tourism to the Blue Mountains developed in the late nineteenth century, when the fresh mountain air and scenic views were promoted as a healthy retreat for consumptives and “business people seeking rest and change from the stifling atmosphere and nose and bustle of town nights.” (Tourists’ Guide. 1887: 4) With the opening of the great western railway across the Mountains to Wentworth Falls in 1867 and then to Mount Victoria in 1868, the journey to the Blue Mountains was made more comfortable and accessible to the upper and middle classes. A simple timber platform at Katoomba was opened in 1874. (Spriggs. 1962: 56-67) The opening of the Great Western Hotel (soon to become the Carrington) at Katoomba in 1882 guaranteed that Katoomba would evolve into the tourist centre of the Blue Mountains. From the 1890s, guesthouses began to appear along the major scenic villages of the Blue Mountains, particularly Katoomba, Blackheath, Wentworth Falls, Springwood and Lawson. Tourism continued to develop in the first two decades of the twentieth century, with the 1920s being the heyday of the guesthouses. (Silvey. 1996: 1-26)

Before becoming the guesthouse known as the Palais Royale, the two buildings on Katoomba street functioned as a convent, day and boarding school, and later guesthouse. The two cottages which form the Palais Royale were built in 1896 by Mr Spear of Summer Hill and were named Glen Eric and Hillside. In 1900 the Sisters of Charity obtained Glen Eric and the house became known as St. Canice’s convent. (Silvey: 66) Within a year, the Sisters of Charity had opened a school under their direction, using both Glen Eric and Hillside. Known as Mount St Mary’s Ladies’ College, the college was a “Day School and Boarding School for Young Ladies”. They offered English, French Latin, German, Mathematics, Plain and Fancy Needlework, Drawing, Painting, Wood Carving, Callisthenics, Vocal and Instrumental Music. (Katoomba & Leura Tourist Association. 1905: xxxi) As the two buildings soon became inadequate for the purposes of the school, a new site was decided upon up near the Court House, with His Eminence Cardinal Moran laying the foundation stone for the new building in April 1909. The Sisters of Charity moved into their new school at the start of 1910. (Rotary Club. 1982: 120)

By 1912 the two (?) buildings were being used as a guesthouse. The proprietress Miss Jessie Nichol adopted one of the original names of the cottages, and the establishment was known as “Hillside”. She offered “comfortable accommodation” for 50 visitors and fees were from 30s per week. (Government Tourist Bureau. 1912: 127, 134) In 1914 Miss Nichol shifted the residence for her guesthouse to Waratah Street, taking the name Hillside with her. However the twin cottages continued to be used as a guesthouse.

detail of the Grand Ballroom

The Palais Royale is first mentioned in 1921. (Silvey) The guesthouse was up for sale in April 1923 by Soper Bros. The terms were “25% deposit – £500 per annum, balance end of 3 years, interest 7 percent”. (Katoomba town subdivision plan. ZTP: K1/ 039) The Palais Royale appears to have been bought by Mrs A. Marsh, since in 1924 she was advertising the guesthouse could accommodate 130 guests. The business prospered and by c.1930 the Palais Royale was revamped and given a new impressive cream-coloured facade with a classical style portico. Nevertheless the original roof line and chimneys were still discernible in a 1931 photograph. One of the new additions to the Palais Royale in the 1930s was its ballroom. The private ballroom with “3-piece orchestra” was advertised as “the largest on the Blue Mountains” and “one of the most beautiful ballrooms in Australia”. The description which the Marshes supplied in one advertisement was quite simply bedazzling:

“The whole of the walls, from the seats to the frieze, have been panelled in bevelled mirrors. The effect created is entrancing and magnificent, and gives the impression, on entering, of walking into a vastness of space. The ballroom is illuminated from hanging baskets of ferns, carrying festoons of coloured fairy lights. As each wall reflects into that opposite, these lights are repeated thousands of times into a vast infinity producing a truly amazing effect.” 

(advertisement quoted in Silvey: 66)

The ballroom was a popular dancing venue until the 1950s. (Silvey: 15)

The Palais Royale continued to run as a private hotel during the declining guesthouse tourism in the 1950s and 60s, but in the 1970s it was bought, along with another guesthouse opposite called the Homedale, by the Assembly of God. The building became a bible college, providing accommodation for single students and lectures in the ballroom. (Silvey: 66) In 1999, after extensive renovation, the Palais Royale resumed its existence as a luxury private hotel.

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