From the 1890s, guesthouses dominated the residential tourist scene in Katoomba.
Visitors stayed for a week or more. Home-cooking, hot and cold water, open fires, carpets, proximity to the railway station: all were desirable.
Eldon advertised being "centrally situated, without hills", while the Burlington emphasised its licensed dining-room. At their guesthouse, visitors enjoyed dancing, tennis, table-tennis, billiards and "indoor games" like charades.
Guesthouse proprietors found that their visitors delighted in fancy-dress dances and these were held weekly in establishments like Milroy and Homesdale. The dances were fun but competitive. Prizes were awarded in various categories from best-dressed to most original. Prize-winners names were even published in The Katoomba Daily in the 1930s. At Homesdale, a prize was always given to each child present.
Touring Jenolan Caves with the obligatory Hartley photo was essential. Some guesthouses supplied cars for their guests, but independent tourist car operators prospered in Katoomba in the first half of the 20th century. At Milroy, in the 1930s, cars left at 9.30 each morning, conveying visitors to the beauty spots around Leura and Katoomba.
Walking the scenic tracks and picnicking in the valley were also popular. Sometimes, however, danger lurked. In 1910, two young women and a man from Manly left their guesthouse in Katoomba at 10am to picnic for the day around Leura Falls, the Federal Pass and Katoomba Falls, reported the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, January 14. Darkness fell, their absence was reported and search parties looked for them all night. They were finally found, cold and frightened, at midday.
After a day in the bush, card evenings, concerts and dances were always popular evening entertainment. A ballroom was a much-used possession and advertised widely.
In 1934, Mrs Marsh, of the Palais Royale, won second prize in the 237th State Lottery. The thousand pounds enabled her to add a second storey and create the Grand Ballroom - a magnificent mirrored space reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles. This feature was used thereafter for dance contests and to support local charities.
Herbert Preston's 1908 California (Mountain Heritage), requisitioned in World War II by the Department of the Interior, provided accommodation for the Lithgow Small Arms Factory female munitions workers. Later, it housed British Naval Personnel who worked on HMAS Sydney and HMAS Melbourne and their families. It reverted to a guesthouse in 1991.
Ironically, the 1930s temperance hotel, the Metropole, was, in the 1980s the venue for several licensed bars but the guesthouse re-emerged in 1989.
Although many guesthouses have disappeared and others, like the Sans Souci, have converted to other uses, some still provide a touch of an "olde worlde" era in Katoomba today.
- Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society