STEIN'S COFFEE PALACE / the federal hotel (1897-1972)

 

The Architect

The Federal Hotel, originally built as Stein’s Coffee Palace, was located on the south-east corner of Douro (now Wellington) and George Streets, Perth. Designed in 1896 by J W Wright & Co, it was built by G Nicol in 1897 for Bernard Stein.

Stein was a Russian Jew, born in Warsaw, Poland, and a London bookbinder. His obituary in The Daily News of 14 July 1916 states he arrived in England aged 18 (c1850), emigrated to Dongara, Western Australia, in 1855, and spent a few years on the Greenough Flats before making his way to Perth.

But Stein actually arrived in Western Australia as a convict on the Norwood in July 1867 after being convicted of larceny (theft) in Lancashire. Sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude, he obtained his ticket of leave in 1872 and opened a thriving bookshop on the corner of Howick (now Hay) and Barrack Streets, Perth, at the back of Henry Seeligson’s jewellery and pawnbroking store on St George’s Terrace.

In June 1873 Stein was left in charge of the shop while Seeligson was away in Fremantle for the night. It proved too great a temptation and, with an accomplice, he robbed the store. According to The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times of 31 October 1873 he stole eight silver watches, 24 gold earrings, 14 gold lockets, 13 gold dress rings, six gold brooches, three gold signet rings, six silver pencil cases, 11 silver spoons, and various other articles of jewelry. Found in October with some of the stolen items on his person and much of the rest hidden under floorboards in the bedroom of his shop, Stein pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to nine years with hard labour in January 1874.

Disinclined to serve his sentence, three months later he absconded from the road gang with which he was working in North Fremantle and fled on foot, with another convict, overland to Eucla; a distance of 1600 kilometres. There, they went by sea to Port Adelaide, South Australia, where Stein was apprehended and returned to Western Australia in February 1875 to serve the rest of his sentence.

On his release he resumed his Hay Street bookbinding business and after marrying widow Ann Barnard in 1884, appears to have stayed on the right side of the law.

In 1885 he contracted prominent Perth architect Henry Trigg to expand his business, which now also sold newspapers, magazines and stationery. A few years later he expanded around the corner onto Barrack Street with offices and retail space, one surprising upstairs tenant of which was Henry Seeligson. Known as both Stein’s Chambers and Bernard Stein’s Book Arcade, over the next few years he opened several more profitable arcades in Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie and Boulder. His growing fortune allowed him to become a developer, building shops and offices in prime locations in Perth and Fremantle, as well as several houses in Claremont. Later, he released ‘Steinway’, a land estate in the new suburb of Victoria Park.

The foundation stone of Stein’s Coffee Palace, the pinnacle of Stein’s many developments, was laid on 26 November 1896 and construction continued over the next eight months. With a shop either side, it had a basement accessible from George Street, with billiard room and storage. It had wide, multi-storey verandahs over both George and Wellington Street footpaths, and an imposing corner tower with a lookout at the top. Externally magnificent, the tuck-pointed red brick facade featured decorative moulded cornices, pediments and balustrades.

Its internal proportions were grand and designed to be light and airy. The ground floor, with 15-foot ceilings and a 12-foot wide entrance, featured a 150-seat dining room and comfortably furnished reading and smoking rooms. Each of the 52 bedrooms on the upper floors, a mix of single and double-sized, opened onto the verandahs. Beautifully appointed bathrooms and several sitting rooms were available on each floor.

Construction cost £13,000 and when complete, it was one of the largest buildings of its kind in Perth; a prime example of gold boom hotel architecture.

Coffee palaces, also known as temperance hotels, did not sell alcohol. A liquor licence for Michael Daly, lessee of Stein’s Coffee Palace, was obtained in late-1897 and the property was officially reopened as the Federal Hotel in January 1898.

Destruction

In the early 1960s the land was acquired by the government in accordance with the Public Works and Main Roads Acts in preparation for the construction of the Mitchell Freeway. The Federal Hotel’s tower was removed in 1969 and the hotel was demolished in 1972. Construction of the central section of the freeway, running between the Narrows Bridge and Sutherland Street and known as the Western Switch Road, was completed in 1973.

The hotel’s foundation stone, laid in 1896, was saved from destruction and given to the Royal Western Australian Historical Society where it remains today.