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First Luxury Hotel by Qantas Airways Ltd

Feel Magnifique

Q antas was first and foremost an airline and had no desire to enter into the hotel business, an industry it knew little about. In the 1940s it was common for airlines to operate a city terminal where most travellers would check in.

They would then be taken by bus to the airport to board their flight. By the start of 1950 Qantas was in desperate need of a larger premises for its Sydney terminal, and there was a dearth of commercial office space in the city.

At this time the international conference market was an important part of Qantas’ business. As such the new Wentworth hotel was designed with a dedicated floor of conference and event facilities that would be among the best in the country. The self-contained Convention and Banquet Centre offered flexible spaces, state of the art technology and expert staff to create world-class events.

After much searching, Qantas executives turned their eyes to the Wentworth Hotel. A terminal and offices could be built into the hotel’s Palm Court lounge, providing passengers with both an easy check-in and first-class accommodation before or after their journey. At the end of 1950, Qantas Wentworth Holdings was successfully floated on the Sydney Stock Exchange and a new era began for the Wentworth Hotel.

Sadly, the arrangement was short-lived as Qantas rapidly outgrew the existing Wentworth building. A new headquarters was built on Chifley Square, just a short distance away, and the booking office and passenger terminal facilities moved there. This too quickly became subsumed by the airline’s expansion and Qantas looked to build a new tower on the Wentworth site, which still stands today as Suncorp Place.

While management recognised the need for extra space, it felt that demolishing the old Wentworth without building a replacement would leave Sydney’s hotel industry at a serious loss. Qantas would not be able to guarantee its passengers accommodation in a city with just a handful of high-end properties. A new hotel was needed. At the time, there was little confidence in the Australian tourism industry and developers showed no interest in partnering in such a project. So Qantas decided to go it alone and build its own five-star hotel, right beside its Chifley Square headquarters.

From its inception, this would be a hotel like no other in Sydney. American architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, in partnership with the Sydney firm of Laurie and Heath, developed a bold, semi-circular design for the building with an enormous copper awning that swept three metres out over the footpath. The horseshoe shape was designed to ensure rooms on Phillip Street would not be too close to the street and would instead look over a raised central garden courtyard. It would cost four million pounds (or $13 million) to build.

The new hotel was a classic symbol of the jet age; sleek, modern, innovative. It showed that Australia was capable of providing the same standard of luxury accommodation that the new wave of international airline passengers had come to expect around the world.

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