By Sean Reynolds
In the 1880s Melbourne’s temperance movement spawned grand coffee palaces, alcohol-free alternatives to hotels.
Amidst the opulence in the CBD Newport’s modest coffee palace stood out. Designed to lure an upscale clientele, it offered an oasis away from the polluted, industrialised surroundings and seedy liquor-swilling hotel patrons.
Built ‘circa 1885’ or maybe 1889, or even possibly 1891 depending on which source you trust, the Newport Coffee Palace’s initial glory was short-lived. By 1891 economic decline forced its closure, transforming it into a boarding house for struggling labourers and transients.
In the 1920s, as a sly-grog house operated within its walls, typhoid ravaged its inhabitants due to horrendous sanitation: open channels of human and industrial waste, stagnant urine pools, and a revolving door of questionable tenants. Despite some 1940s upgrades, the palace was infamous for crime, including a dramatic brawl in 1945 between the landlady, her estranged husband and an intervening Air Force man.
Decades later, after many sordid tales, pestilence outbreaks, and a brief stint as a private hospital, the Newport Coffee Palace transformed into the ‘Coffee House Terraces’, boutique townhouses. From disease and discord to a desirable dwelling, the Newport Coffee Palace’s journey to prestige spanned a century.
If you’d like to read more stories about Melbourne’s past, follow me on Instagram @melbourne_ghostsigns.