The opening night of the Wentworth Hotel can best be described in the words of Chief Concierge Tony Facciolo: “It was bedlam.” As well as hotel guests, as many as 20,000 people spilled through the doors over the first weekend, eager to see inside this fascinating new building. They explored the hotel from top to bottom, leaving a mess in their wake that required the cleaning crew to be tripled. By Monday morning, hotel management was overwhelmed and called in a private security firm to guard the entrances. Only hotel guests, their visitors and anyone doing business in the hotel were allowed in.
Plans were in place for an official opening event, but a huge global airline strike made it impossible.
Management was undeterred – the hotel was already such a roaring success that it was firmly established on the Sydney social scene.
The hotel’s first official event was on New Year’s Eve 1966, just 17 days after it had opened. Held in the ballroom, the party promised non-stop music from three top bands from 8pm to 1am, complete with a mirrored ceiling over the dancefloor. Supper was served at 10.15pm with the Wentworth’s special New Year parfait and a full range of drinks. All this for just $5 a ticket. Sydney’s premier party location was born.
A s well as offering the highest quality accommodation and stylish guest facilities, the Wentworth quickly established itself as Sydney’s leading conference venue. The new hotel featured a self-contained, independent Convention and Banquet Centre with a separate entrance and a range of flexible event spaces.
The huge two-storey pillarless ballroom with its mirrored ceiling was the hotel’s most impressive venue. It could seat 1,200 in lavish comfort with 65 speakers set around the room for an immersive acoustic experience. The ballroom could be divided into five smaller sections using soundproof partitions and seven other function rooms of varying sizes were available. As well as its impressive spaces, the Wentworth was one of the first hotels in the city to offer state of the art technology for events. Organisers could make use of a public address system, slide and movie projectors, tape recorders, spotlights, microphones, closed circuit television outlets and multi-lingual translation facilities. They could screen direct outside broadcasts and direct telecasts into the function rooms, and a special hoist was built into the facility to move cars and other heavy equipment. As well as the high-tech gadgetry, the Wentworth Hotel had an expert team of specialists on hand to create a smooth, professional performance.
In March, less than three months after the hotel’s opening, the Wentworth hosted its first function with the Black and White Committee, a fundraising organisation that raises money for Vision Australia’s Children and Family Services. This event, a luncheon and fashion parade, would mark the beginning of a decades-long relationship between the Wentworth and the Black and White Committee. The committee’s annual ball was held in the ballroom for many years, the highlight of which was the Derby where guests raced cardboard horses across the polished floor.
The exterior of the Wentworth Hotel was undeniably grand. There had never been a building like it in Sydney. Yet when respected trade journal Business came to inspect the bold new venture, it was the hotel’s interiors that it found most striking. In March 1967, the journal printed its first review: “Sydney’s new Wentworth Hotel has achieved quick fame, mainly through the boldness of its semi-circular shape and the striking attraction of its giant copper awning [but] there is little doubt it will achieve more permanent and more rewarding fame from its impressive interior appointments.”
While the materials and furnishings of the hotel were of the highest standard, it was the innovative design of the Wentworth that gave it an unparalleled feeling of luxury. The entrance to the hotel was the first sign of what was to come, with the huge copper awning sweeping down from three storeys above and leading guests into the marble and granite-clad lobby. Imaginative features, from the vast pillarless ballroom to the circular shape of the bathrooms, gave the hotel a sense of spaciousness not found in similar properties.
“What makes the hotel outstanding is the imagination that has gone into its design,” wrote Business. “To maintain an imaginative consistency throughout a building of this size is clearly a monumental achievement for the designers – yet whatever one does in this hotel, whether it is eating, drinking, bathing, entertaining, arriving or departing, the designer’s creativity is evident.”
It was the small touches that set the Wentworth apart from other hotels in the city, like the hideaway clotheslines, individually-controlled air-conditioning, telephones in the bathrooms and windows that really opened. These features were available across all rooms in the hotel, from bedrooms to suites, an egalitarian touch that was much admired.