Statement of SignificanceThe Observer Hotel and site are of State heritage significance for their aesthetic, historical and scientific cultural values. The site and building are also of State heritage significance for their contribution to The Rocks area which is of State Heritage significance in its own right.The Observer Hotel demonstrates the extensive urban renewal undertaken in The Rocks in the post-plague era and is a reasonably well-preserved example of a small hotel. Of the five rebuilt hotels to survive only three retain evidence of their interior configuration. Despite a number of alterations, the Observer hotel is remarkably intact on the first and second floors, indicating the residential character of the upper floors.The original layout and some of the details, including Art Nouveau style detailing, are reasonably discernible on the ground floor although much of the original fabric and all the spaces, with the exception of the stair well, have been demolished.The Observer Hotel, which boldly addresses the corner of George Street North and Mill Lane in the Federation Free Style, contributes to the historic and architectural diversity of the George Street North streetscape.The series of footpath awnings along George Street North reflects social and legislative changes regarding shelter of footpaths and society's changing attitude towards the authenticity of recreating supposed 'original' detail.The hotel is one of three similarly styled and sized hotels designed by Halligan and Wilton circa 1908 in Sydney and it is the most intact of those three.
Pub / Hotel
Pub / Hotel
Construction Years: 1908 - 1909
Physical Description: The three storey brick hotel building is in the Federation Free Style. There is a wide awning to the building. The first and second storeys have central recessed balconies dominated above by a pediment in the parapeted roofline. The hotel is constructed with a flexible non load bearing partition system. It is finished with cement render. (Collingridge 1976)Style: Art Nouveau; Storeys: 3 plus basement; Internal Walls: Timber framed and covered with lath and plaster; Roof Cladding: Corrugated Iron; Floor Frame: Timber
|Lot/Volume Number||Section Number||Plan Folio Code||Plan Folio Number|
Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: The Observer Hotel is built on the west side of George Street North on land which in 1788, was part of the grounds of the hospital. The hospital was surrounded by extensive gardens containing medicinal plants and the future Observer Hotel fell within the gardens. In 1795 some of the hospital garden land was leased to William Balmain. Balmain left the colony in 1801 and next official lease of the land was 1810 to William Gaudry who may have erected a building on the site. Gaudry married the daughter of Henry Kable, a Sydney entrepreneur, who also lived close to the site on George St North. The lease was transferred to John Plummer in 1820, but by 1824 Plummer was bankrupt and the lease was once again transferred, this time to James Johnston. A substantial two storey house with a verandah, stables and stores was built on the site of the future The Garling family emigrated from London in 1815. Frederick Garling junior, a noted maritime artist, painted a series of views of Sydney Harbour, one of which painted c1839, included his family residence which had recently been sold. In the early 1830s an attempt was made to formalise the leases as a series of section maps, prepared by Robert Russell. The outline of Garling's House is shown, including a substantial walled garden and gates to the south of the house. The grant was not formalised until October 1838, by which time the lot had been transferred to William Carr and George John Rodgers. Carr and Rodger's grant was then transferred to Frederick Wright Unwin, who was the claimant of the lot to the south. Unwin subdivided the grant into a series of lots and around1845 erected the substantial sandstone stores that survive today. A rear lane was created (now Kendall Lane). Garling's house is believed to have been demolished in 1844, shortly before the Waterman's Arms were constructed. On the 1849 plan of Lower George Street showing proposed realignments, the grounds of the Garling house are shown subdivided. Part of the house was revealed during archaeological excavations in the early 1990s. The Observer Tavern, as it was originally known, was built in 1848 for Robert White Moore who had purchased Lot 10 of Frederick Unwin's subdivision the year before. The adjacent Waterman's Arms was built in 1844. The present Observer Hotel, built on a more substantial site than the original, dates from 1908-09 and straddles the sites of both the Waterman's Arms and the Observer Tavern. Unwin created a series of small lots fronting George Street North, selling the lot on the corner of Cornwall Lane, as the Lane was then known, to William Stone in 1842. The three-storey sandstone Watermen's Arms, and cellar, were built circa 1844; when rated in 1845 the building was described as being 'new'. The Stones' main business was the Kings Arms in Pitt Street. Stone died intestate in 1847. In 1855 his wife Mary, transferred her business, and the hotel name from Pitt Street. She continued to operate a public house in George Street North until 1859 when the property was sold to Daniel Egan. The Moore family retained the ownership of the Waterman's Arms until the 1901 resumption.The Observer Tavern (1848)The two-storey six roomed building constructed for Robert White Moore was built of brick walls with timber floors and a shingle roof. Up until 1852 the building was rated as a house rather than a public house. By 1851 a kitchen had been added to the roof, and the hotel is recorded as containing 8 rooms. Like the Stones, Moore had more than one premises. From 1840-46 he was the publican of the nearby Fortune of War hotel, a hotel that retains its liquor licence today. The first stage of the Observatory on Observatory Hill, the time ball, was also built in 1848. It is not a common name for a public house. The Observer was taken over by John Ferguson, a Sudan War Veteran, in c1886, with the adjacent P & O hotel [Pacific and Orient] operated by his wife Mary. The photographs of the Observer Tavern in the SCC Demolition Books shows a sign reading 'Fergusons' on the parapet, and the wording "Observer Tavern' painted on the brickwork below. The Fergusons continued to be the publicans until 1925.The Observer Tavern was for some years used as an unofficial coroner's court, before the construction of the Coroner's Court and Morgue in 1906. The dead house was located across the road on the foreshore between the Water Police Office (Cadman's Cottage) and the wall delineating Campbell's Wharf. It was common practice in NSW to hold coronial inquests in public houses, although by law if there was a morgue or police station within one mile, it had to be used in preference. The use of the adjacent hotel was probably due to the stench of the bodies in an era when refrigerated morgues were unknown. The Observer Tavern was the site of a number of coronial inquests including that of the death of John Bridges, the first victim in the celebrated Parramatta River Murders. In 1908 J. M. Forde reported in The Truth that:'The government has recently sold the Observer Tavern, with thirty feet frontage and very little depth, an old house, for 3,000 pounds, or one hundred pounds per foot. The house has for ages been a sort of Coroner's Court, where short inquests were held. It will still be a sort of appendage to "coronial quests", as the new morgue and court are opposite. Weeping friends can wet eye and whistle while awaiting coronial pleasure 'The Observer Tavern and the new Coroner's Court were both part of the extensive urban renewal in George Street North undertaken following the 1900 land resumptions. Following the outbreak of bubonic plague in December 1900 the entire area from Millers Point to Charlotte Place (Grosvenor Street) was resumed by the state. An advisory board was created to oversee the redevelopment of the area, whose members included the NSW Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon. Until the creation of the Housing Board in 1912, the buildings within the resumed areas were, including a number of the public houses, designed by the Government Architect's Branch (GAB). A series of plans survives that records the owners of the premises resumed. The former Waterman's Arms was owned by the Union Bank of Australia, the Observer Tavern was the estate of Arthur Malcolm Moore. The majority of the public houses were rebuilt, all retained both the name and the license of an earlier hotel. The inclusion of a series of substantial public houses in an area intended to contain model workers housing, model factories and modern wharves, showed that the impact of the temperance movement, which sought to reduce the number of liquor outlets and drinking establishments, was yet to be felt.The first hotel to be constructed was the New York Hotel, (built circa 1908), the Observer (1909), the Brooklyn, the Commercial, and the Newcastle (all circa 1912), the Mercantile (1914), The Australian (1915) , the Glenmore (1921), the Fortune of War (c1922) and the Harbour View (1922-23). The hotels were either designed by the Government Architect or, as in the case of the Observer, private architects commissioned by the then major brewer, Tooth & Co. Plans for the new 'Observer Tavern Hotel' prepared by Halligan and Wilton on behalf of Tooth & Co, were approved by the Sydney City Council in March 1908. The Building Application plans no longer survive, however the watercolour version of the plans is amongst the hotel plans held at State Records, as are some of the other George Street North hotels. The Tooth's Yellow Card for the Observer Hotel records that the site was acquired by Tooth & Co. in January 1909 and they retained the premises until the land was once again resumed, this time by the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority (SCRA), in December 1977. The Fergusons continued to operate the hotel once the new building had been completed. John Alexander Ferguson remained the publican until his death in 1920, his wife Mrs Victoria Elizabeth Ferguson continued until 1925, a period of almost 20 years. Two of their sons were killed within three months of each other in WW1. Andrew Banks Fyfe, a WW1 veteran, took over the hotel in 1925.In June 1920 Tooth's architect Mr. J. G. Dalzeil prepared a report noting that works to the site and building of the Observer Hotel were required. The hotel was described as:'A three storey brick building of modern design and good appearance, containing on the second floor five bedrooms, and on the first floor three bedrooms, all of which are up to requirements, reasonably clean and sufficiently furnished. One bathroom, W.C. and linen press are situated on the first floor. The lessee might reasonably be requested to renovate the same. On the ground floor there is a fairly large bar, good cellar, two parlours, private entrance, dining room, kitchen and laundry, whilst at the rear there is a storeroom, small stable, public lavatories and yard. The building is generally clean and in good repair inside and out.' The location of the small stable is not known. A second bathroom (on the top floor) was added in 1938. The hotel was painted in 1928, and by 1933 'the whole of the exterior of the main hotel building and all of the outhouses require painting'. In 1929 the Tooth's Architectural Office prepared plans for the removal of the original post supported verandah and the installation of a cantilevered awning. In 1908 the Sydney City Council began to require suspended awnings rather than post supported awnings. The original awning configuration of the Observer Hotel was one of the last post-supported verandahs to be approved. The suspended awning, which had a pressed metal soffit, was replaced by SCRA during a program of works undertaken in the mid-1980s to reconstruct the deemed historic character of the shopfronts and awnings along George Street North. A fall off in trade occurred in the late 1920s when some of the shipping lines were no longer permitted to berth in Circular Quay. As noted in the Tooth & Co. archives: 'The trade for 1928 has been showing a slight falling-off since the beginning of the year. Mr Fyfe thinks this is due to a general depression in the locality. He also thinks that the removal of the Commonwealth Line about six months ago had a bearing on his trade Mr Fyfe said that the Matson Line was shifted about 3 weeks ago and this made a difference of about 30 pounds a week to his takings ' Tooth's reduced Fyfe's rent twice and their files note that as he had been there since1925 'it does not look like a case where we can charge him with incompetency'. By 1930 there had been no improvement in trade, despite the hotel being 'scrupulously clean' and being run on the 'most economical lines'. A handwritten note on the memo states 'Fyfe is genuine and so is his wife, his letter should not be regarded as a try on". In May 1932 Mr. Fyfe, was 'a nervous wreck' Fyfe was issued with a notice to quit in February 1933. His response was that he had 'worked and given all my energy for the last 3 years and all I have got is a bed, 3 meals and plenty of work and worry. This request of yours means I am to be turned out without a cent after all I have tried'. Despite Fyfe's request to remain Tooth's proceeded, however the comment written on Fyfe's letter reads: 'The unfortunate part of the whole thing is that I really think Fyfe will finish up in the asylum'. He didn't, by 1936 he was working as a barman and living in Hunters Hill, he died at Ryde in 1944.The licence was then taken over by P. E. Goskin in March 1933, then Desmond Bush in August 1934, Oswald Algernon Bush in December 1938 and Nelson Grindal in 1943. Desmond Bush was fined on more than one occasion for supplying liquor during 'prohibited hours'. In late November 1944 the publican Nelson Grindal was charged with the murder of his mistress, Edna Jean Lund at the hotel. It was an accident and he was convicted of manslaughter without criminal intent in April 1945. He was sentenced to two years with a recommendation of release at 3 months if his behaviour was good. On his release 3 months later he admitted to the licencing court that he had committed perjury on his application for the licence of the hotel. He stated that Edna Lund was his wife and he was financing the purchasing of the hotel, and no other person was involved. For these false statements he was sentenced to another 9 months in jail.By January 1945 a new publican was in place, Mr. Alfred Aldio. A rapid sequence of publicans followed:24/1/1945 Alfred Aldio4/2/1946 D. Foulds15/4/1946 John M. Underdown16/10/1946 Mrs Laurie Ethel Hawe13/11/1946 Ernest Edward Tucker3/2/1947 Albert E. F. AuburnMr. Auburn sought a number of improvements to the hotel. Very little work occurred to the hotel during the 1940s, reflecting post-war shortages of building materials. Tooth's made an 'application for consent to carry out building operations' in November 1946 to carry out external painting and repairs and internal renovation and repairs in line with the police notice. The Building and Materials Control Branch granted permission for the works: 'With the exception of the external painting of the premises, which work, in view of the prevailing shortage of essential materials and the need for conserving resources to ensure the most equitable distribution, must be deferred for the time being. A permit for the amended works was issued in December 1946'.As a precaution against air raids wire netting had been fixed over the glass on the bar doors. By 1947 the wire had been removed however 'the frosting and lettering on glass to bar doors and side-lights is badly defaced and requires refrosting and lettering'. The damage had been caused by the wire netting rubbing the glass. In 1948 renovations were required for the transfer of the licence. In late 1952 the warehouse immediately north of the Observer Hotel across the lane was destroyed by fire and the elevation to Playfair Lane (Mill Lane) was damaged, including the windows separated from the lane by the rear yard. The architect John M. Hellyer, one of the architects frequently employed by Tooth's, reported on the damage. The estimated cost of the works was £240. The Insurance Company paid the claim. The publican believed that some of the internal rooms had been smoke damaged but Hellyer did not agree. The warehouse was subsequently demolished and a temporary BP station erected.In August 1954 a DA was submitted to the Sydney City Council 'for providing a saloon bar, improving public bar, erecting women's toilet block, concrete paving yard and renewing cellar floor.' The estimated cost was 8,040 pounds. The extensive works proposed by J. M. Hellyer did not occur. In 1960 the State Government invited developers to submit schemes for the redevelopment of the resumed area in The Rocks. All of the developers schemes were rejected by the Liberal State Government and the Chairman of the NCDC Sir John Overall was appointed to prepare a report and planning scheme. To facilitate the proposed redevelopment the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority was established. The Observer Hotel was resumed by the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority in December 1970. By May 1971 the head lease was ready for execution. Tooth's were eventually paid $600,000 of the $ 1.1 million they had claimed. Their files recount that 'we do not expect to get this amount'. SCRA files note that: In 1971 Tooth's made it known that they were considering moving the licence out of The Rocks. Faced with the possibility of owning an unlicensed hotel building whose highest and best use was as a pub, the Authority decided in 1972/73 to purchase the licence for $75,000. An additional $ 30,000 was paid to the Tooths publican for 'goodwill'. Advice indicated that the Licence Reduction Board would not be interested in creating a new licence for The Rocks, to replace that of the Observer. The Authority had always been of the opinion that The Rocks needed more low cost (hotel style) accommodation and the potential for an amplified hotel redevelopment was obvious even then.By September 1971 a precinct study had been undertaken and a small two or three storey development area identified that included the two sites adjacent to the Observer Hotel. The main portion of the hotel was to be retained. A beer garden was shown and a new entrance from Kendall Lane. SCRA had been limited in the extent of redevelopment that could occur by the green bans imposed by the BLF in the 1970s. During the 1980s a program of restoration of the street frontage to George Street North north of the Cahill expressway was begun. The resulting streetscape sought to return each facade to its original configuration, which resulted in re-instating the 1840s appearance of the Unwin Stores and the 1909 appearance of the Observer Hotel. The licence remained in force until 1985 and SCRA began once again to consider the redevelopment potential of the site, recognising that the Observer Hotel had been listed by the National Trust in the interim. In 1990 the Sydney Cove Authority engaged Robertson & Hindmarsh Pty Ltd, architects to prepare a conservation report of the Observer Hotel and then to undertake conservation work to the building and site.The 1990 report by Robertson & Hindmarsh Pty Ltd made a number of recommendations regarding the use of the building and the physical works required. Remains of previous buildings on the site were uncovered during the conservation works of September 1991. Soon after excavation work commenced on site for the additions to the cellar, remains of the south wall of the Waterman's Arms Hotel and the north wall of the Observer Tavern were uncovered. The cellars of both buildings were uncovered and a drain running along the north boundary of the old Waterman's Arms Hotel was discovered. The archaeologist for the work was Mr Anthony Lowe of Casey and Lowe Associates (see Casey & Lowe, 1993). In order to display and interpret the archaeological remains uncovered during the conservation works a timber and glass enclosure was constructed in the newly constructed Courtyard Room to allow patrons to view the sandstone steps and cellar of the Waterman's Arms Hotel. The drain uncovered at the rear of the site in 1991 was left exposed in its own room, lights and an interpretive sign were installed and a viewing window was cut into the Kendall Lane wall of the room to allow passers-by to view the remains. In January 2007 this room is no longer visible through the window as timber formwork has been placed against the inside of the window and items owned by the tenant have been stored on top of the archaeological remains.In 1998 the Sydney Cove Authority was transformed into the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. In 2000, the licensee of the Observer Hotel, Mr Jim Doughan, engaged Misho & Associates, architects to prepare plans for the expansion of the hotel into the neighbouring property (No. 71 George Street North). The plans entailed the occupation of the small two storey building at the rear of that site which had been designed by Brian McDonald in 1992. The kitchen in the Observer Hotel was demolished and the space occupied by a new small bar. The ground floor of the Observer Hotel was now totally occupied by bars and drinking spaces and the only link with the former private rooms at the rear of the hotel remains in the different ceiling outlines. The Courtyard between the two buildings at No. 71 George Street became a drinking and dining courtyard ("Beer Garden"). The 2000 works also involved the alteration of the Male and Female toilets at the rear of the hotel. The toilets had been constructed as part of the 1992 works and the airlocks were removed in the 2000 works and new stainless steel wash basins were installed. In 2001 the main bar which had been constructed in 1992 was demolished and replaced with a new bar with a timber "canopy" above and a tiled spillage area in front. At some stage in the early 2000s split system air-conditioning units were installed on the second floor.
Historical significance: The Observer Hotel demonstrates the rebuilding of the Rocks in the post-plague era. It is a reasonably well-preserved example of a small, formerly on bar, hotel. It demonstrates changing drinking habits by the gradual expansion of the drinking facilities and loss of Women's and Guest's Parlours. It embodies a fragment of The Rocks social history by virtue of the need to protect patrons by incorporating internally supervised lavatories. It embodies changes to The Rocks in the loss of its residential component. It represents changes in laws governing accommodation on licensed premises by virtue of the new (1950s) second floor bathroom and WC. It is an important functioning remnant of the many hotels which once dotted The Rocks. The series of footpath awnings along George Street North reflects social and legislative changes regarding shelter of footpaths and society's changing attitude towards the authenticity of recreating supposed 'original' detail.
Historical association: The substantial urban renewal of The Rocks and Millers Point would appear to be the most extensive scheme undertaken in Australia in its day. The rebuilding of the hotels indicates that the impact of the Temperance Movement, which sought to limit the number of liquor outlets in order to reduce alcohol consumption, had yet to be felt.The site is associated with the Garling family and Fredrick Garling a marine artist in particular.
Aesthetic significance: The Observer Hotel, which boldly addresses the corner of George Street North and Mill Lane, contributes to the historic and architectural diversity of the George Street North streetscape. It is also an excellent example of Federation Free Style architecture in its own right.It is an excellent example of the hotel work of architects, Halligan & Wilton, and is one of the better preserved examples of their work. The hotel is one of three similar hotels designed by the partners circa 1909 in Sydney.
Research significance: The site of the Observer Hotel, as revealed in the conservation work of 1991, contains the below ground remains of the former buildings on the site and has the potential for further archaeological investigation in the future. The changes in the layout of the hotel are well documented in the surviving sequence of documentary evidence.
Rare assessment: The use of Art Nouveau detailing in the Observer Hotel, including the façade lettering and the pressed metal dado, is a rare surviving example of the introduction of the Art Nouveau style to Sydney widely promoted by Liberty's.
Representative assessment: The Observer Hotel is a well-preserved example of a small, originally one bar, hotel. Despite a number of alterations, the hotel is remarkably intact on the first and second floors. The original layout and some of the details are reasonably discernible on the ground floor although much of the original fabric and all the spaces, with the exception of the stair well, have been demolished.
Intact assessment: Despite a number of alterations, the hotel is remarkably intact on the first and second floors and the original layout and most of the details are discernible and retrievable on the ground floor. Archaeology partly disturbed.
Physical condition: Archaeology Assessment Condition: Partly disturbed. Assessment Basis: Archaeological deposit under main part of hotel removed in 1992. Deposit under rear wing identified and left untouched. Investigation: Archaeological Excavation
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services.|
|Developing cultural institutions and ways of life||Activities associated with recreation and relaxation.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|Royal Australian Institute of Architects register|
|Register of the National Estate||01565||10/05/2002||2868||85|
|National Trust of Australia Register||9150||05/04/1976|
|Heritage Act - State Heritage Register||01565||Observer Hotel||10/05/2002||2865||85|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Within a National Trust conservation area||10499|
|National Trust of Australia Register||7714||05/04/1976|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0331||George Street / Kendall Lane Precinct||21/03/1978||2133|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0332||Observer Hotel||21/03/1978||2134|