Heritage-listed, gold rush-era Ballarat coffee palace receives $700,000 conservation grant

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The former Reid's Coffee Palace, Ballarat, designed by Tappin and Gilbert (1886).

The former Reid’s Coffee Palace, Ballarat, designed by Tappin and Gilbert (1886). Image: Heritage Council of Victoria

The Victorian state government has announced a $700,000 grant for conservation works and other upgrades to the heritage-listed former Reid’s Coffee Palace in Ballarat. The building is currently used to provide low-cost, long-term accommodation for up to 60 vulnerable and disadvantaged people as Reid’s Guest House. 

One of Ballarat’s oldest buildings, Reid’s Coffee Palace was constructed in 1886 and designed by architecture practice Tappin and Gilbert, with extensions designed by Tappin, Gilbert and Dennehy built in 1888. While the facade is still in acceptable condition, the hand-painted ceilings, art nouveau stained glass windows and other decorative finishes on the building’s interior are in varying states of deterioration. 

The coffee palace was opened by Joseph Reid, a German immigrant who opened a bakery to serve the influx of migrant workers attracted by the gold rush. 

The Heritage Council of Victoria’s statement of significance on the property says that “internally the stairwell with its hand-painted murals on the ceiling and wall panels, its clerestory glazing and entrance arch is a particularly fine space.”

In 2012, Reid’s Guest House manager told The Courier that the cost of maintaining a heritage building was difficult for the owners of accomodation aimed at people on low incomes was difficult.

Coffee palaces, which were intended to be like pubs that didn’t serve alcohol, were established at the height of the temperance movement – a period which intersected with the gold-rush in Victoria. Australia’s largest coffee palace, the William Pitt-designed Federal Hotel and Coffee Palace, was once located at 555 Collins Street in Melbourne’s CBD before it was demolished in 1973 to make way for the modernist Enterprise House office tower.

The Charles Webb-designed Hotel Windsor on Spring Street in central Melbourne once hosted the Grand Coffee Palace, and is the largest extant building in Victoria to have once hosted a coffee palace.  

The funding for the conservation works will come from the $30 million Living Heritage Grants Program, which, among other projects, is currently being used to fund work on the preserved 1885 ship Polly Woodside and Ned Kelly’s house in Beveridge.

“Heritage sites like these aren’t just bricks and mortar, they’re our very identity,” said Richard Wynne, Victorian Minister for Planning. “Reid’s Coffee Palace has a proud past, and now we’re giving Reid’s Guest House an equally secure future.”


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