On 26 June, 1971, The South Australian Hotel in North Terrace closed its doors for the final time, marking the end of an era and bringing to a sad conclusion almost 100 years of Adelaide social and community history.
During the 50th anniversary celebrations of The Beatles’ legendary visit to Adelaide, “The South” – as it was known – was remembered as the place where the famous pop group stayed.
But the iconic hotel has played a much bigger and more colourful role in the history of our city than hosting just that one group of famous visitors.
Photo from the State Library of SA. The South Australian Hotel at the very height of its fame. Photo by Max Dupain, taken in the early 1950s
The story has its beginning in 1879, when a public house was first erected on the site in North Terracce.
It wasn’t long before that original building proved to be inadequate and was demolished to make way for a much larger and more impressive establishment, which opened in 1894 as The South Australian Hotel.
With its proximity to the Adelaide Railway Station, the new hotel did a brisk business, and by 1900 further additions followed, including the three storey verandas.
Soon the hotel boasted 72 rooms with hot and cold running water, seven luxurious suites (each one tastefully decorated), a grand cedar staircase, a magnificent dining room complete with crystal chandeliers and, eventually, air conditioning (a rare luxury in those days) and 24-hour room service.
The original dining room was able to accommodate up to 200 guests and became the centre of Adelaide’s social life. The balconies offered the perfect setting for weddings, afternoon teas and other important social events.
During the 1920s, however, The South’s reputation as the premium hotel in the young city began to fade, its fortunes declining as more modern establishments opened, and gradually over the next few years it fell into a state of some disrepair.
In 1934, the lease was taken over by a very ambitious and determined woman, Louisa O’Brien, who came from a family of hoteliers.
She immediately set about restoring the once grand hotel back to its place as the finest in the city.
Legend has it that on taking control on June 18, Louisa swept in and sacked the entire staff.
Within 48 hours, she had repainted the interior and hired new staff, including Louis (Lewy) Cotton as head waiter.