The elegant black columns marking the entrance to the Carlton Hotel, once the finest in Queensland, stand almost forgotten at the Queen Street entrance to the Myer Centre.
The historic frontage of the hotel, built in 1891, was one of the four facades retained when the area was redeveloped as the Myer Centre in time for Brisbane’s Expo ‘88.
The Carlton was THE place to stay for country visitors. It underwent an extensive renovation in the 1920s, ensuring guests had “hot and cold running water to every bathroom”.
Just as importantly, the hotel bar upgraded its refrigeration to ensure patrons could be guaranteed a cold drink on a hot Queensland day.
The “best people” held their wedding receptions there, and “generations of young ladies received their marriage proposals over dinner in the chandeliered dining room”.
At the outbreak of World War II, the hotel converted its basement into a cinema running continuous newsreels for a public eager for the latest war news.
Queen Street’s oldest hotel maintained its elegant standards right to the end.
“No thongs, no t-shirts”, said the sign behind the bar on closing day in 1985.
The rest of the ornate façade with its elegant verandas are still proudly on show for those busy shoppers who pause and look up.
Next door was the Telegraph Newspaper Company, also built in 1891. The sound of the presses, accompanied by the whiff of printers’ ink and newsprint, echoed into Queen Street until 1963, when the Tele, as it was affectionately known, moved production to Bowen Hills. For decades the reporters’ room, quaintly known as the Literary Department, was a “jumble of piled desks, tatty linoleum, and strange old telephones…” The floor was uneven and some stools had two shorter legs to compensate for the floor’s slope.
When the Tele moved the building was revamped as Queensland Newspapers’ city office and renamed Newspaper House, replacing an older similarly-named building near the GPO.
The other two buildings to make way for the Myer Centre were the York Hotel and the Barry & Roberts department store, both built in the 1920s and demolished in 1985.
The York’s fine decorative metalwork on the top floor is as stunning today as when it was built. At street level it had a bar, a shop, and the entrance leading up to a second floor dining room.
Standing elegantly alongside the colourful façade of the York Hotel and still on show today is the remaining survivor, the shop front of Barry & Roberts Queen Street store.
Barry & Roberts was a household name in Queensland, a retail icon founded by Thomas Barry and Sam Roberts who made a name for themselves undercutting other retail merchants and opening many suburban and regional stores.
When the Myer Centre opened in 1988 it created history as the largest central business district shopping complex.
While the exterior kept the historical façades, inside was said to be “classic Victorian-revival styling, or Old Queenslander, with cast-iron decorations, verandas, light-giving atriums and sub-tropical palms and gardens adding to the Queensland feel.”
It remains to be seen what future generations make of the 1980s architecture that binds those four historic buildings together, and whether it too is deemed worthy of preserving.
Lynda Scott is a volunteer at the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. Visit queenslandhistory.org