Heritage recognition for Paragon Cafe

The cafe's owner Robyn Parker amid the art deco glory of the Paragon.
The cafe's owner Robyn Parker amid the art deco glory of the Paragon.
One of the beautiful back rooms at the Paragon.

One of the beautiful back rooms at the Paragon.

The Paragon Cafe in Katoomba, which celebrates its 100th birthday next year, has been placed on the NSW Heritage Register.

Owner Robyn Parker was delighted with the news which recognises the treasure that is the art deco cafe. She will now go one step further and try to have the iconic cafe placed on the national register.

"It is hugely prestigious. It is limited to a list of about 100 items and includes the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge," she said. "The Greater Blue Mountains is listed but no individual item."

Ms Parker said there were nine possible criteria for listing and she was convinced the Paragon could meet three of them: the artistic, industrial and cultural categories.

Artistic because the cafe, with its distinctive wooden art deco saloons, was designed by Henry White, who also designed the State and Capitol theatres in Sydney. And the statuary in the cafe was designed by Danish sculptor Otto Steen, who also worked on the AWA building and the War Memorial in the city.

On the industrial front, the entire 1920s candy-making factory established by the cafe's founder, Zach Simos, still existed upstairs in the building. And culturally, "we feel that we encapsulate the migrant experience as nothing else does", Ms Parker said.

Professor Ian Jack, senior fellow at St Andrew's College at the University of Sydney, agreed.

"Cafes run by migrants from the Greek islands played a very significant role in Australian cultural life in the first half of the 20th century," he said.

"The Paragon in Katoomba was one of the earlier and most successful of these cafes in country towns. It enjoyed continuity of ownership under Zacharias Simos and later his wife Mary for 70 years from its opening in 1916.

"The good taste of Zac and Mary led them to employ distinguished architects, designers and artists to develop and enhance the building in Katoomba Street during the 1930s and 1940s, while their devotion to quality baking and confectionary-making was reflected in the high-class industrial equipment which they imported from America and Europe. All these elements are still present in the Paragon today and fine chocolates are still made upstairs."

Professor Jack said the cafe's listing was "an adornment to the State Heritage Register".

Ms Parker is hoping national listing would protect the cafe's future and encourage some sponsorship or financing which would help maintain the ageing building and fulfil her dream of restoring the candy-making factory.

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