Saturday, 15 March 2014

The People's Palace

Built by the Salvation Army in 1912, the People’s Palace in Townsville was designed to provide low cost accommodation for working class travellers.  In particular, it offered the travelling public an alternative to staying in a hotel, whilst at the same time, shielding them from the temptations associated with ordinary hotels.

The People's Palace, 1965.  Photograph by Alex Trotter, held in CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
By building the People’s Palace in Townsville, the Salvation Army was hoping to make up for the lack of a temperance hotel or “Coffee Palace” in the city. 
First built in Australia in the late 1800s, Coffee Palaces in cities such as Melbourne and Sydney were grand, elaborate buildings.  Multi-storeyed, with heavily ornamented, Victorian style architecture, Coffee Palaces provided additional facilities over mainstream hotels. 

As well as providing accommodation and meals, the larger Coffee Palaces often included ballrooms, smoking rooms, chess and billiard rooms, and reading rooms - where newspapers where provided free of charge.  Most importantly, Coffee Palaces were alcohol-free zones. 
The “palace” concept in the Salvation Army’s People’s Palaces grew out of the Coffee Palaces, and in conjunction with, the temperance movement that was widespread at the time. 

Queensland’s first People’s Palace was built for the Salvation Army in Brisbane in 1910, as a temperance hotel.  Designed by the Salvation Army’s architect, Colonel Saunders, it provided three floors of accommodation, and included a rooftop garden.  Situated close to the Central Railway Station, it was well placed to provide working class travellers with a wholesome accommodation alternative.  Neither alcohol nor gambling was permitted on the premises.
Townsville was only the second Queensland city to have a “People’s Palace”. It was conveniently located on the corner of Sturt and Blackwood Streets, next to the block housing the Salvation Army’s barracks.  It was also within walking distance of the railway station. 
When it opened in October 1912, the Townsville Daily Bulletin described the building enthusiastically as “a substantial addition to the architecture of the city”.  

The People's Palace, corner Sturt & Blackwood Streets, Townsville, 1922.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The People’s Palace could accommodate 50 people in its 36 bedrooms, which included 10 double rooms.  The Bulletin reported that each room was “neatly furnished and fitted with dressing tables, linoleum on the floor and mats beside the beds, whilst gas is laid on in every room”.  
Meals cost 1 shilling and beds were 2 shillings, but according to the Bulletin, those who patronised the People’s Palace “could be sure that every penny of their money would be put to the best use”.

Profits from Townsville’s People’s Palace were to be devoted to furthering the Salvation Army’s program of social welfare, which included both religious teaching, and rescue work.

In his opening speech, the Salvation Army’s Major Suttor, explained that “whatever profit was made from the People’s Palace, or any other institution of the Army, did not go to enrich any individual, but went to assist the needy”. 
The new People's Palace, Townsville, 1967.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In August 1965, the front section of the People’s Palace was sold at auction for removal.  The two-storeyed timber building only fetched £5 at auction, with the winning bidder - a Mr A. Lawson - a demolition expert.  The building was sold to make way for a new, modern brick People’s Palace (pictured above), which still stands today.

Townsville Daily Bulletin, 29 October 1912.
Townsville Daily Bulletin, 21 August 1965.
Cairns Post, 28 October 1912.