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Opened in 1891, the Hotel Australia was one of Sydney's finest establishments, providing high quality accommodation, dining and entertainment to some of the city's most distinguished visitors and residents. The first Hotel Australia building faced Castlereagh Street, with a large entrance and foyer.
During the 1920s an extension was built to the north of the main hotel, with its entrance on Martin Place. This building was designed by Emil Sodersten, and was a modernist building of the most striking Art Deco design, a mix of glass – mainly black and silver – stainless steel, marble and Australian woods. The entrance foyer was a fantasy of black Carrara marble, black glass with silver etchings, and mirrors. With entrances from Castlereagh Street, Martin Place, and Rowe Street, it was the 'showplace' of the city, with a banqueting hall, several bars, and an 'intimate' dining room, called the Bevery. Its streamlined interiors were linked by a sweeping, elliptical stairway set against an enfolding wall of black glass, incised with fantastic birds and foliage in silver.
It was arguably the most elegant hotel that Sydney had ever seen, and it provided a central focus to 1930s city hospitality. Favoured by wealthy rural visitors, it also became the haunt of American servicemen during World War II, and was immortalised in Florence James and Dymphna Cusack's novel Come in Spinner as the South Pacific Hotel.
A legend during the wartime era, the Hotel Australia traded into [media]the late 1960s, when it was bought by the MLC Insurance and Finance group. The building was demolished in 1972, along with the Theatre Royal and much of Rowe Street, to make way for the Harry Seidler redesign of the block, which included his circular tower MLC building and the Commercial Travellers Association Club mushroom building.