A coffee palace was an often large and elaborate residential hotel that did not serve alcohol, most of which were built in Australia in the late 19th century.
Temperance hotels were first established in the UK in the 1850s to provide an alcohol-free alternative to corner pubs and residential hotels, and by the 1870s they could be found in every town and city, some quite large and elaborate. In the late 1870s the idea caught on in Australia, where the appellation "coffee palace" was almost universal, and dozens were built in the 1880s and early 1890s, including some of the largest hotels in the country. Due to the depression of the mid-1890s, some became ordinary hotels and others were converted to different uses. The name continued to be applied to smaller residential hotels and guest houses in the early 20th century, until the trend died out. As large old hotels that may never have been a financial success, many, including most of the largest, were eventually demolished.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, "coffee houses", which were like taverns, but sold the new beverage of coffee rather than alcohol, became popular in the United Kingdom, but died out by the late 18th century.
Beginning in the early 19th century in the United States, the Temperance movement campaigned against the moral, economical and medical effects of overindulgence in alcoholic beverages, a campaign which soon evolved into the promotion of total abstinence. By the early 1830s the temperance movement began in earnest in the United Kingdom, starting in the north, and soon spread all over the country. The movement built or converted its own premises for meetings, entertainment, food and accommodations, with the first "temperance hotel" opening in 1833 in Preston, with 22 across the north and the Midlands by 1835 (though not all offered accommodation).
Intended as an alternative to the corner pub, they were often about the same size, and just about every town of any size soon had at least one. As well as "temperance hotel", many other names were used such as temperance bar, coffee tavern, coffee rooms, temperance tavern, or just a named hotel that was advertised as a temperance venue. In the 1870s, with an established market, larger and more elaborate temperance hotels began to be built, a trend which continued into the 1880s, and some of these were called a "coffee palace". Examples included the 1872 French Renaissance style Trevelyan Temperance Hotel, Boar Lane, Leeds, and the Cobden Coffee Palace, Corporation Street, Birmingham, built in 1883 in a striking Gothic Revival style (demolished).
The Temperance movement in Australia was established shortly after its beginnings in the UK, for instance, the temperance society in Melbourne was formed in 1837. This was followed by the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society in 1842, the Independent Order of Rechabites in 1847, and in 1885 the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Tankard's Temperance Hotel, an alcohol-free residential hotel, was established in the 1850s, in the western end of the city.
In Australia, the same imperative for their construction applied as in the UK, as expressed at a meeting at the Melbourne Temperance Hall in October 1878, to build a place "... as attractive as possible for the working man, [which] should combine every facility for harmless amusement and intellectual enjoyment, with the advantages of a large hotel, the only difference being that coffee should be vended instead of intoxicating liquors". A major point of difference to the UK examples however was that they were built "on a business basis" rather than as a subsidised or not for profit venture. The first "coffee house" companies were founded soon after that meeting in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, and the first to be built, the Collingwood Coffee Palace, opened in Smith Street, Fitzroy in 1879, closely followed by the gladly ornate Melbourne Coffee Palace in the city in 1881.
Their promotion occurred at a time of great economic growth in Australia, which perhaps combined with the "moral superiority" behind them, led to their rapid popularity and the construction of many often quite large and elaborate "temperance hotels" in the following decade, nearly always called Coffee Palaces. The greatest growth occurred in Melbourne, then in the throes of a "land boom", with land rising steeply in value and large buildings built to capitalise on that value. This coincided with the popularity of what is now called High Victorian architecture, lavish buildings with richly ornamented facades and interiors, usually Renaissance Revival, perhaps combined with Second Empire elements. The coffee palaces were invariably built in this elaborate High Victorian style, or in the more form of typical large pub/hotels, with extensive cast-iron verandahs.
The Scots Presbyterian James Munro, politician and leading Land Boomer, was a champion of the temperance movement in Victoria; in 1886 he formed a company that purchased an already prominent hotel, the Grand on Spring Street built three years previously, and converted it into a temperance hotel, the Grand Coffee Palace, reputedly burning the liquor licence.
The Federal Coffee Palace, built in 1888 on the corner of Collins and King Street in the western end of Melbourne's CBD was the largest hotel built in Australia, and the Grand Coffee Palace at the other end of the city was the second largest in Melbourne, while the Queens Coffee Palace in Carlton was possibly the third (though it appears to never have opened as a hotel, instead becoming residential apartments). In Sydney the Grand Central Coffee Palace built in 1889 was almost as big the contemporary Metropole and Australia Hotels, but they were the better known and patronised.
The boom lasted a little more than a decade, ending with the banking crisis of 1893, and a severe economic depression. The coffee palaces lost custom to the licensed hotels they were sometimes built to compete with, while others were built for patrons that never came, and so struggled to survive. Some were converted into guest houses or private hotels (or in one case a school), while others applied for liquor licences and dropped the "coffee palace" title.
The "coffee palace" title was however taken up in the early 20th century for usually small residential hotels / guest houses, often in resort or country towns, to indicate they were not licensed, but they fell short of the grandeur the name implied (such as the 1901 Yarram Coffee Palace, about the size of a corner pub).
The larger examples were essentially large Victorian-era hotels with numerous small rooms, and those that had not continued as hotels often became cheap boarding houses by the mid 20th century, especially in the Melbourne suburbs, and a large number were demolished from the 1950s-1970s. Some significant examples still survive, though very few still operate as hotels. The most famous survivor is the Hotel Windsor, the renamed Grand Coffee Palace that James Munro had established, which re-gained its liquor licence in 1897, and changed name in 1920, and is Australia's major surviving grand 19th century hotel.
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