Farewells to a Grand Old Dame

In late 2006 Newcastle’s most famous building, the Palais Royale, was partially demolished. A year later its street front was sadly and brutally flattened.

Palais Royale December 2004 in Hunter Street locale.

Heritage listing, colonial ties, and archaeological significance were perfunctorily dismissed by a modern city’s imperative of one more fried chicken dispensary. 'Progress' had to wait only for a brief heritage controversy and an archaeological dig that uncovered colonial and Aboriginal artefacts. 

When 684 Hunter Street’s final chapter wrote fast food outlet, its patrons, like most city folk, cared little. Its heritage value discounted by poor condition, the Palais' merit diminished to a mere emblematic reminder of a social era passing beyond living memory. Nevertheless its veins run deep through our colourful history, born from the needs of a bustling mining town and desires of a growing industrial city.

Palais Royale's rich and diverse affairs intertwined strongly with lives and times of all but earliest generations of Novocastrians. Happenings were talk of the town. Occasions at the Palais marked indelibly our commercial and social history during the city's second hundred years. 

With always a common touch and from beneath a stylishly simple façade, the front doors opened directly onto the street welcoming ordinary people to good times. In an unglamorous little coal and manufacturing town, a seaport to the world, the Palais stood proudly, with few peers. 

The balanced iconic symmetry of its fascia projected a striking and evocative street presence. Coupled with so charming and glamorous a moniker, the "Palais Royale" became, irresistibly, the city's most famous building and the place to be. 

Hunter Street will miss its spacious graceful counterpoise to those West End boxy monoliths. Behind that crude yet allusive exterior, surviving decades of redesign and re-use, delicate frescos adorned stunning coved ceilings astride bold column work, and crowned a great hall of expectant and timeless atmosphere.

The huge paned fanlight befitting a grand foyer, instead framed musicians playing to a mezzanine Loft Nightclub of young sophisticates. 

This living heart of civic distraction evolved by demand from skating, to market, dance hall, night club, bandstand, and finally a creative sanctuary for our kids. A venue for all seasons, for all citizens. 

Come 2006, dilapidation was not the Palais' fault and sad disuse not its desire. 

The Palais Royale was a unique gift to this city. A treasure sharing aura and mystique with luckier - yes, far grander - namesakes around the world, it represented more gracious times, and anchored the past against the styleless modernity of generational change. 

Perhaps, as social venues go, Palais Royale was a poor relative from the wrong side of the track masquerading as grand lady - lately in shabby clothes, carrying dark secrets of past indiscretions, yet rich in hidden beauties and fond memories. 

Farewell, old girl, from we who relish emblems of our past.

Image kind permission of University of Newcastle, NSW, Au. Ralph Snowball Collection

* A delightful "life story" of the Palais Royale is online at West End Adventures website by Kimberly O'Sullivan telling those hard-to-find details. 

* The region's treasure, Coal River Working Party website, describes the final chapter of Palais Royale's story, with an ending that outgrew a "demise" greatly overshadowed by a bigger story – our true heritage. 

* Modification of consent for 684 Hunter Street, Newcastle West, old Palais Royale:
The applicant (Newcastle Palais Holdings Inc.) asked Council approval to modify the original terms of consent in respect of the redevelopment of the heritage listing Palais Royale building site. The original consent was based on retaining the Hunter Street façade as part of the development of an 8-storey mixed commercial/ residential development. The developer asked for the consent to be modified as investigation has found that the facade is not supported on substantial foundations, and has been adversely affected by the Jun 07 storms. Council approved the modification on the basis of conditions, including strict adherence to drawings by Span Architects and the Statement of Environmental Effects. The developer will be required to display examples of the 1920s ceramic wall tiling into the commercial area café. * www.ncc.nsw.gov.au » in council » Council meetings » Meeting summaries » Development Applications Committee 19 Feb 08 The site is occupied by the derelict and partially demolished 'Palais Royale', a former retail market and Dance Hall that has until recently been utilised as a youth centre. The building is listed in the Newcastle LEP 2003 as a heritage item of local significance and the subject site falls within the Newcastle City Centre Heritage Conservation Area. * Report DA 05/0115 opens as PDF document
* NSW Office of Environment and Heritage details both site former structure in a Statement of Significance.
Without doubt the building has historic and social significance and is a place well known to many people in Newcastle. It also has considerable aesthetic significance given its prominence along Hunter Street and its location within the conservation area. Should the structural system and original fabric of the building have been more intact listing as a "State" item may have been warranted based on its history, however the high level of intervention means the building does not warrant a higher ranking.
* The Newcastle Herald’s article History: Palais Royale – king of venues includes a 21 image slideshow, one of which is a marvellous vista of the spacious interior at its best.
FOR almost 80 years until 2008, the Palais Royale was a Newcastle cultural landmark. Best remembered now as a big barn of a place with impressive corkscrew-shaped pillars… it became known as the Empire Palais Royale dance hall. Later, it was simply called the Palais Royale. And for years it was famous as a ballroom, a dance hall and by the early 1990s, a nightclub.
Palais Royale’s spacious inside and dance floors ~ Image courtesy The Newcastle Herald

ABC Newcastle news piece on Lynn and Carol Carlyle, a Newcastle couple representing the good times.

* Toby Duffill's fine rendition of the Palais that properly illustrates its 'counterpoising' of those neighbouring monoliths. Which brought a pertinent comment by Denver (US) resident: "I didn't think Aussies would stand for the destruction of architectural wonders!"

Palais Royale May 2007 – Loft night club signage.

Glory Days - Reliving the Palais (at Trove) is also linked in article above.

* Bachelor of Comms students Lexie Durbridge and Thomas Hancock made a half hour doco after gathering so much material 10 minutes was way too short. Which leads to UoC link here.

* Paterson Real Estate advertisement for 'Palais Royale Newcastle' apartments

* Lost comment on Lemminstone.com ~ "a place where I sometimes played in my band ... many national as well as international touring bands played here ... I guess you could say it is a huge part of Newcastle and I am not the only one who is sad watching it fade away."

'Eyesore' Palais Demolition ~ ABC News report: "We actually had the whole place nailed up with steel banding and they could still break through that. You are just in despair, you cannot control them"

* Kev - an “occupant” in the empty building preceding demolition - commented on this NewcastleOnHunter article:
I was one of the last people to inhabit the grand old dame [The Palais Royale] as some are referring to it. Yes I was one of those infernal squatters that they just could not get rid of! I think that in my mind it was a romantic notion that one of the iconic buildings in Newcastle met its demise at the hands of the demolishers.
Its sad times that modern technology could not save even the slightest bit of the place. Even though we (the squatters) were abhorred by the community we really were a lovely bunch of caring citizens (never judge a book by its cover - that is an old adage that is not used too frequently these days). 
I think that most of us there at the time at least had a bit of social integrity and knew what we were living in and what it meant - not just a handful but to generations of Novocastrians. The bureaucracy won yet again. No one came to talk to us, about rehousing or anything like that - we were just moved along. I guess people thought that we were just hooligans which we were not, we lived harmoniously together there, we kept the place clean and we even use to sweep and mop the floor. I now reside in Gosford and the town centre here has the same problems as Newcastle but not to the same extremes unused derelict buildings. What's with local councils and old buildings?
* A last word from Brad – from a now-closed page at www2b.abc.net.au/guestbookcentral
I fail to understand what all the fuss about the Palais facade is. At the end of the day it is merely out-dated brickwork that blends perfectly with the rest of Newcastle West (RUBBISH). I worked at the Palais as a drummer back in the 80s & it is just another room. The sooner this town & its council move on the better. Hunter Street is a disgrace & an embarrassment to everyone that lives in the Hunter. Memories are one thing, progress is another. Time to move on Newcastle.

Brad’s opinion is normal and reasonable: derelict buildings depress the experience of Hunter Street and urban renewal is natural. However, the point of conservation - of buildings, languages, or species - is to preserve ecological diversity. A country (a region, a city) ignorant of its history loses perspective and risks progress at random. Which is fine if random is one’s plan and uniformity pleases the eye.

* Last, but far from least, Greg Ray's PhotoTimeTunnel article on his parents' fateful meeting at the Palais.


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