Katoomba has long been the weekend escape for Sydneysiders – in fact, as far back as the late 1920s (when one in every four Australian families owned a car), city dwellers have been coming to this pretty town in the Blue Mountains National Park for an easy getaway. And while the Three Sisters might be the headline act, a tour through the streets of Katoomba and its surrounds reveals the region’s many architectural treasures and hints at what it might have been like during those optimistic, entrepreneurial post-World War 1 years. Follow this trail – easily tackled on foot – to see the best Art Deco buildings in and around Katoomba.
Everglades House and Gardens
Strolling through the gracefully designed 5.2 hectares of gardens at Everglades House and Gardens, and taking in the spectacular views over Jamison Valley, is a must – but be sure to stop into the tearooms as well. This Moderne-style 1930s building used to be the home of one Henri Van de Velde, an importer/exporter who was also a fitness fanatic, which is evident when you see the 1930s-style steam chamber still intact in the brilliant orange-tiled bathroom; upstairs there’s another bathroom with a giant spa. And across the garden you’ll find a squash court, built in the style of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier – it is now a galley.
Leuralla Toy and Railway Museum
This 20th century mansion was once owned by wealthy businessman Harry Andreas, it’s design influenced by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. All the construction here was carried out by hand; the timber work alone took two years to complete including the wood panelling, sideboards, cabinets and tulip motif chairs.
Inside is the toy collection of Andreas’ grandson, Clive Andreas Evatt (who passed away in 2018), and his wife Elizabeth, who launched the Leuralla Toy and Railway Museum in 1983. This significant 20th century toy collection comes from those toys played with by the children and grandchildren of Andreas, some made by his skilled hand. Other toys were bought during the travels of Clive’s uncle, Herbert Vere ‘Doc’ Evatt, the former ALP leader and President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The Savoy picture theatre building
In 1925, it was a dancing venue known as Palais de Dance; in 1929, it was a roller skating rink. But it was this building’s incarnation as a picture theatre that saw it make its mark. Architects Crick and Furse were called in to transform it into a theatre and in December of 1936 The Savoy was unveiled. The first picture shown? Swing Time starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. A fire gutted the lower parts in 1982 but the building has since been given new life by Avalon Restaurant and Cocktail Bar – upstairs offers sweeping views across Leura village and the Jamison Valley, while the lounge bar downstairs has a cosier vibe.
This ‘Grand Old Lady’ of The Blue Mountains, The Carrington (pictured top) opened in 1883 as The Great Western and is the only 19th Century grand resort hotel still in operation in New South Wales. In 1992, Geoffrey Leach, a building contractor, began the long process of restoration. Vast Victorian oil paintings went off for cleaning, Ming vases were dusted off, chandeliers were cleaned and rehung, clocks were returned to working order and pieces of furniture were copied for the guest rooms (the bedheads even have the CH logo). All up, it’s a superb restoration.
If you wander into any one of the many antique emporiums in Katoomba you’ll likely find interesting paraphernalia from the 20s and 30s, but if you’re short on time head straight to Macarthur’s Arcade on Katoomba Street – it’s home to a host of antique wares and downstairs is Mr Pickwicks Fine Old Bookshop. The Macarthur family once ran one of Australia’s earliest radio and televisions stores out of the building and you can still see the original tiling and wrought iron work.
The Paragon café (02 4782 2928) on Katoomba Street was once a renowned cocktail lounge with a sprung floor for dancing. In 1925, owner Zac Simos engaged the office of Henry White, architect of the State Theatre, to reconstruct the building in Art Deco style; a Banquet Hall was added followed by the Blue Room, which was created in the style of ocean liner interiors of the time. Sculptor Otto Sheen produced the alabaster friezes depicting Greek mythology figures for the front dining area of the restaurant. The Paragon also features a leadlight shopfront – traipse down Katoomba Street and you’ll spy many other examples of glazed shopfronts dating back to the 1920s.
Bethany Gospel Hall
Wander down Waratah Street to see the brickwork of the post-war Bethany Gospel Hall. Built in 1953, it’s a fine example of ecclesiastical design, with steeped and herringbone brickwork that was created by parishioners Frank Bailey and Frank Price. The sign above the entry arch is truly sacred.
One of the grand hotels of this town is the Palais Royale on Katoomba Street. In 1934, the owner of the Palais Royale, Mrs Marsh, won second prize in the State Lottery and she used the thousand pound windfall to add a second storey and create the Grand Ballroom - a magnificent mirrored space reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles. Katoomba’s best dance contests and charity balls were once hosted here.
The Simos family, owners of the Paragon cafe, had this Streamline Moderne-style home built in the early 1940s. Designed by G.N.Kenworthy, who was renowned for his Art Deco buildings throughout Sydney (the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace is one), the Olympus is a curved beauty on Cliff Drive that features a garden summer house and a Corinthian-columned pergola.