The coming of the railway to Warrnambool was the main impetus for the erection of the Grand Ozone Coffee Palace in 1890. Officially opened in November 1890 by the Governor of the Colony, the Earl of Hopetoun, this was a splendid occasion in Warrnambool and a reported 6,000 people greeted the Governor at the railway station (the population was only 6,289 at the time).
Thomas Randall was the lessee and proprietor of the Ozone Coffee Palace from 1894 to 1907 (changing the name to the Ozone Hotel in 1895) and the time he was the manager has been termed the ‘golden years’ of the hotel. His experience of English, Continental and Indian life well fitted him for his position. He was a popular resident of Warrnambool and was accorded a fond farewell when he left for Melbourne in 1907. Mrs. Lillias Thome was then the proprietor until 1910 when John Alfred White took over.
After disappointing financial returns the Ozone Hotel closed in 1915, and remained closed until 1920.
In 1920 the Ozone Hotel was sold and re-opened as the Hotel Mansions. The property was completely renovated to include more extensive electricity, sewerage, gas radiators, telephones and a ballroom for 500.
After six years as a licensed hotel the Hotel Mansions was offered for sale to a group of Melbourne investors in 1926.
Several licensees managed the Hotel over this period, but then on February 23rd 1929 the most spectacular fire in Warrnambool’s history completely destroyed the Hotel Mansions. At 1.45am the fire started in the Mansions Theatre. Despite the best efforts of the fire brigade the fire quickly gutted the theatre and dance hall and spread to the upper floors.
There were 60 people in the hotel at the time but fortunately all escaped with their lives.
Following the fire the owners were given three days to dismantle the blackened walls remaining and explosives had to be used to bring down the sagged and crumpled ruins. The Hotel Mansions Buildings had been insured for £32,000 but the damage was estimated at about £100,000.
In 1929 the owners were granted a temporary licence and then in 1930 were given permission to re-build. The new hotel, named the Hotel Warrnambool, was opened in March 1931.
- Extract from ‘An Artistic Triumph’
by Elizabeth O’Callaghan
Grand Ozone Coffee Palace