Sunday, May 25, 2014

Then and now: When American jet-set and Beatlemania came to town

Can you believe that this blue-tiled beauty….
The Southern Cross Hotel in all its glory. Photo:
…was demolished to make way for this beacon of blandness?

Admittedly, by the time it was closed in 1995 (demolition came a few years later), the Southern Cross Hotel  was past its prime, its blue tiles having long since given way to a drab brown façade, but surely its historical significance alone should have ensured its survival?

Designed by Welton Becket, the architect responsible for mid-century LA landmarks such as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Capitol Records Building, the Southern Cross Hotel boasted more than 430 rooms, eight restaurants, Melbourne’s first-ever ten-pin bowling alley (in the basement, no less), a massive ballroom and a shopping plaza. Its vividly coloured interior was masterminded by Neal Prince, director of interior decorating for the Intercontinental Hotel Corporation. 

Wilawa Cocktail Lounge. Photo:
Southern Cross Hotel plaza, as photographed by Wolfgang Sievers. Photo: NLA

Lifestyles of the rich, famous… and fab

Such was the excitement about this flashy American-style establishment located on Exhibition Street between Bourke and Little Collins, that its August 1962 opening was even broadcast on local TV! Ushering in a new era of world-class accommodation and customer service, the Southern Cross Hotel quickly became the place to stay for visiting dignitaries and celebrities, hosting the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Roger Moore, plus a cavalcade of prime ministers and presidents. Over the decades, it was the venue of choice for the Logies, the Brownlow Medal and various Liberal Party shindigs.

But the Southern Cross Hotel’s main claim to fame was for hosting The Beatles, who stayed there during the Melbourne leg of their 1964 Aussie tour (almost 50 years ago to the day).

John and Paul saying g'day to the heaving throng, June 1964
No less than 20,000 screaming fans crammed the surrounding streets trying to catch a glimpse of the Fab Four — a spectacle that was televised live for those who didn't make the scene. I can’t think of a single star who could pull that off today. But the appearance of John, George, Paul and Ringo on the Southern Cross’s balcony caused pandemonium, and sealed the hotel’s place in history.
Can you imagine this many teenyboppers turning out for One Direction?
After they left, enterprising staff tore up their bed sheets and sold the strips — marked with the name of the Beatle who’d slept on them — to raise money for charity. I wonder if any survive to this day?

Neville Waller, photographer for Everybody's magazine, captured The Beatles hanging out in their twelfth-floor digs.

Nice sandals, George

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