For 50 years it’s been the hotel of choice for princesses, politicians and pop stars. In 2016 the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth is celebrating its landmark 50th anniversary and taking a look back at the journey of one of Australia’s best hotels.
There has been a hotel bearing the name Wentworth in Sydney, in one incarnation or another, since 1855. It began as a boarding house at No 3 Charlotte Place, a short distance from the hotel’s current site. The name comes from the building’s original owner, William Charles Wentworth, an explorer, author, barrister, journalist, politician and leading figure in the young colony of New South Wales. By the 1930s the hotel had expanded to have more than 100 rooms and a grand ballroom ballroom that was the centre of Sydney society. In the 1950s the hotel was owned by Qantas and operated as the airline’s city terminal, a place where travellers would check in before being taken to the airport to board their flight.
Qantas quickly outgrew the original hotel and it was decided that a new property would be built at Chifley Square. Construction began on 1 July, 1963, and the new hotel was a classic symbol of the jet age; sleek, modern, innovative. This would be a hotel like no other in Sydney, with a bold, semi-circular design and an enormous copper awning that swept three metres out over the footpath. It would cost four million pounds (or $13 million) to build.
On the night of December 13, 1966, the Wentworth Hotel at Charlotte Place closed its doors for the final time. At 9.30am on December 14, less than a kilometer away at Chifley Square, the doors swung open on the next generation of the city’s grandest hotel.
Chief Concierge Tony Facciolo described the opening night of the Wentworth Hotel as bedlam. As many as 20,000 eager Sydneysiders spilled through the doors over the first weekend, eager to see inside this fascinating new building. Staff were overwhelmed and by Monday morning private security guards stood at the entrance. Only guests would be welcome inside.
From the very beginning, the new Wentworth was at the centre of Sydney’s social scene. In the 1960s magazines like Vogue were using the stylish, modern property was being used as a backdrop for high-end photo shoots displaying the cutting edge of fashion. The inaugural ARIA Awards were held at the hotel in 1987. John Farnham won six awards on the night and a little band called Crowded House was chosen as best new talent.
The Queen has visited the Wentworth four times and many members of the royal family have also been guests. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins stayed at the Wentworth during their post-moon landing world tour. Princess Charles and Princess Diana famously danced in the ballroom in 1983. Movie stars, heads of state, VIPs and even the Pope have walked the hotel’s corridors.
Over the years the property has been managed by the world’s most prestigious hotel brands. From 1982 to 1995 it was the Sheraton Wentworth Hotel and from 1995 the property was known as The Wentworth – A Rydges Hotel. In 2004, almost 40 years after it was built, the Wentworth Hotel would again open its doors under a new name, the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth.
Under the Sofitel name, Sydney’s most famous hotel would go through the most incredible transformation in its history, while at the same time preserving its unique heritage. The property would be imbued with the quintessentially French elegance of the brand and embrace its ‘Life is Magnifique’ philosophy.