Hotel Imperial, 1-15 Station St
The Hotel Imperial is significant for a variety of reasons. It is the only hotel in the Blue Mountains to have traded continuously under its own name.
The Hotel has played host to famous guests in the past and has been an important venue for local residents and visitors to Mt Victoria alike for over one hundred and twenty years.
The building has associations with historically significant individuals including James Joynton Smith, members of the Tabrett family and William Lees.
The hotel is a very important visual landmark at the intersection of Great Western Highway and Station Street and has strong historical associations with Memorial Park to its west and the park to its north. The hotel, which has retained a large amount of intact external and internal fabric, is notable for its size and distinctive architectural expression.
The Imperial Hotel stands on part of the land that was granted to Mary Finn. It was acquired by William Piddington and his partners and subdivided. The block that now includes the hotel was purchased by John Leeming in 1877.
A small hut which served as a school house was demolished and a hotel built on the site the following year that was called the Imperial Hotel. The first licensee was a man called McMahon. The establishment was sufficiently respectible to accommodate Vice Regal visitors in 1889 when Lord Carrington and the Earl and Countess of Onslow stayed there during a visit to the Blue Mountains. In 1891 the license of the hotel was taken by John Francis Tabrett, who had migrated to New South Wales with his wife and family in the 1870s. The Tabrett family lived for a time in Hartley before moving to Mt Victoria, and lived across the road in the house at 26 Station Street (now the Bay Tree/Petalura Tea Rooms). The family left Mt Victoria after a number of years to settle in Katoomba, where they attained a high level of prominence.
The license to the hotel passed from John Tabrett to Arthur Peacock. Shortly after a serious fire destroyed part of the premises and it was rebuilt.
In 1912 Thomas Gillespie and James Steel sold the hotel and the land to its north (which was apparently used as the vegetable garden for the establishment), as well as the land that now comprises the Memorial Park to James Joynton-Smith. James Smith was born in London on 4 October 1858, the eldest of twelve children born to James and Jane Smith. He started working at age 12 and eventually ended up in the employ of the Peninsula and Oriental Lines. This enabled him to reach New Zealand in 1874, where he flourished running a hotel in Wellington. On his return to England in 1886 Smith gambled heavily and lost his fortune, so returned to Wellington. He subsequently arrived in Sydney around 1890 and between 1892 and 1896 managed a hotel in Clarence Street. After divorcing his wife Smith married into a family of experienced hoteliers in 1893; by 1896 he had become well known by the name of Joynton Smith and in that year he took up the lease of the Imperial Arcade Hotel, which was to form the basis of his future wealth.
In 1901 he became a Justice of the Peace and leased the Brighton Racecourse at Rockdale then leased the course at Forest Lodge before purchasing it in 1911. Joynton Smith also opened a racecourse at Victoria Park (Zetland) in 1908. As well, Joynton Smith prospered as a result of his ventures in the Blue Mountains where for many years he proved to be the region’s dominant venture. He is perhaps best known for his association with the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba.
Other ventures in which he was involved included publication of Smith’s Weekly, The Daily Guardian and the Sunday Guardian newspapers. He backed Sydney’s first radio station and was president of the NSW Rugby League between 1910 and 1928.
In the public realm Joynton Smith was nominated to the Legislative Council in March 1912 and, although not active within it, retired as late as 1934. He was an independent alderman with the Sydney Municipal Council between 1916 and 1918 and Lord Mayor for the term 1917-18. In 1910 he founded a charity to support South Sydney Hospital, was a director of Sydney Hospital between 1911 and 1932, a director of the Queen Victoria House for Consumptives at Wentworth Falls and the first president of the Picton Lakes T B Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Settlement. Joynton Smith died on 10 October 1948.
After acquiring the property at Mt Victoria Joynton Smith mortgaged it to the City Bank of Sydney on 12 January 1912 then to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia on 31 May 1917 and finally to James Yates of Newtown on 21 November 1924.
In March 1925 he sold all of the property to William Joseph Lees. William Lees had arrived in Mt Victoria around 1913. He took over the Royal Hotel (now the Victoria and Albert guesthouse) which he completely rebuilt and, after acquiring the Imperial Hotel was able to dominate the local tourist industry. Lees established a golf course and ran a coach service to Jenolan Caves for the enjoyment of his guests.
Lees also mortgaged the property to a succession of individuals and companies, and from April 1925 tied the hotel to Resch’s Limited, which was transferred to Tooth & Co Limited after the take over of Resch’s in 1929.
In July 1945 Lees sold the hotel and other property to Francis Joseph Sommers. Five years later Sommers sold the parkland across from the hotel to a company called Mountain Mist Hotels Pty Limited, then in August 1955 sold the hotel and the land to its north to Edgar Howard Benjamin Allen. Allen retained the hotel for about twenty years, living next to the Imperial in a cottage included within the grounds, and building the motel that stands to its north. He also donated land so that a Guide Hall could be built.
During 1975 the hotel was sold to Kenneth and Kathleen Doust, who lived in Bathurst, where Kenneth Doust practised as a medical doctor. Three years later the Memorial Park ceased to have any links with the hotel industry after title to it was transferred from Mountain Mist Hotels Pty Limited to the Council of the City of Blue Mountains during 1978. The Imperial Hotel was sold to Joseph and Ruth Griffin during 1980, then to a company called Tanir Holdings Pty Limited at the end of 1984 or the beginning of 1985.
In the late 1980s the hotel was purchased by Carol Turner, who undertook to arrest the decline which the premises had been experiencing. In 1991 it was sold again, and was refurbished under the direction of its licensee, Ann Welstead.
The Imperial Hotel at Mt Victoria will become a Radisson Hotel after an agreement between the boutique hotel chain and the pub’s new owners.
One Pro Investment Group, which is backed by Chinese interests, bought the Imperial in 2017 for about $2.5 million.
It now has approved $8.3 million plans to restore and renovate the pub as well as a separate proposal to knock down the adjoining 1960s motel and replace it with a number of accommodation chalets set around landscaped gardens.
One Pro’s plans would see close to $20 million spent on the historic pub to create a 60-bed complex.
It is due to open in 2023.
From Blue Mountains Gazette, 17 July 2019.
Article by Jenni Curtin
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Lot/Section/Deposited Plan L 1 DP 219543