Although not the first brick building to be built in the town, the Federal Coffee Palace is the oldest remaining brick building in Yarram (Victoria, Australia). The actual construction date is uncertain, but some historical records show that it was built in 1888 by Charles Stockwell for James Buckley, whose initials are on the corner facade. The date of 1901, also on the facade, is not the date of construction as is generally thought, but the year of Federation of Australia. Quite a number of buildings were adorned with this year giving respect to the historic occasion. It is significant to note that the township of Yarram Yarram was gazetted on 8 December 1893.
|This photo was apparently
taken sometime between
1888 and 1905/6. Note the
Federal Coffee Palace on
the right. Although difficult
to see in this image, there are
only two windows on the
front. This was therefore the
first half of the building, built
in 1888. The Yarram Hotel is
on the left, now the DCNR
building. The scene is looking
north along Commercial
Street (now Road).
The building was constructed on land made available at a major land auction, on 18 November 18, 1885. The land, facing Commercial Street (as it was called then) between James Street and Devon Street, was part of Yarram Park, the vast estate of the Nicol family. Blocks were auctioned by Mr. A. Gellion. The initial building, on the corner of James Street and Commercial Street, consisted of a thirty-foot frontage along the main road. This first building can be easily identified as it did not include the section with the arches. (Note the photographs).
The Federal Coffee Palace was built as a hotel for James Buckley, but the Yarram Hotel, opposite in Commercial Street, was granted a renewal of its license and Buckley's new building was opened as a boarding house and adopted the name Federal Coffee Palace. Such a title was not unusual. Each major town had a 'coffee palace' which appears to have very little to do with coffee, nor were many regarded with any likeness to a 'palace', but they did indicate a teetotal establishment which catered for travellers. (Melbourne had its famous Federal Coffee Palace, later Federal Hotel I believe, pulled down for 'development' some forty years ago). Yarram's Federal Coffee Palace was run by Edmund Buckley, James Buckley's father, and it is sometimes thought that he was the builder and owner of the property. This may well have been so, however legal deed documents available document the first entry on 24 November 1899 with James Buckley as being the owner. James became a leading citizen in the town and a councillor. It is generally thought that the building was built by Charles Stockwell for Buckley.
|Commercial Street, looking
north from James Street, from
the same position as the above
photograph. Note that the
Federal Coffee Palace on the
right is larger and has five
windows along the front.
The photo is undated, but
In 1905 or 1906 (the date has only been established from photographs), James Buckley built the section of the building characterised by its three arches, facing Commercial Road. John Adams, in From These Beginnings, states, "James Buckley ... had planned a large two-storey building ... boasting a frontage with arches and cemented pillars and a generous balcony linked with his Federal Coffee Palace". Unfortunately, Buckley never went through with the balcony, but he did 'join' the two buildings together upstairs. If you look closely at the front of the building above the arches you can see the original bolts that Buckley had planned to hold his balcony.
Men's clubs were the major venue for entertainment in those days, and the Yarram Club, with Jack Stockwell as secretary, moved from its original venue at Stockwell's Coffee Palace (at the site of the current Yarram Club building), to "Buckley's buildings on the corner of James Street in 1906". (This assists the dating of the building).
Perhaps it should be mentioned at this stage that the Stockwells and the Buckleys were owners of large tracts of land and buildings in town. On 19 October 1887, Charles John Stockwell opened a new accommodation house in town, the Yarram Coffee Palace with nine bedrooms, Yarram's first brick building. Stockwell was a stonemason and, when he was unable to find a good brickyard, he turned to some good clay in James Street near where he made his own bricks for the building. (The Yarram Coffee Palace has frequently been confused with the Federal Coffee Palace, aided not inconsiderably by the fact that the Federal Coffee Palace was for a time, later, called Yarram House, and signwrit accordingly).
|Back to Yarram Parade in 1932, in Commercial Street,
Federal Coffee Palace on the left centre, and the Strand Theatre
at centre, both on the corner of James Street and Commercial
|Aerial view of Commercial Street (Road), the
through the township of Yarram. The Federal Coffee Palace is at
about 1.00 o'clock from centre.
Edmund Buckley was a neighbour to Henry Bodman at Trenton Valley, and grazed a total of 23,020 acres and in common with other squatters, held runs over a large area. Kenneth Cox writes in Land of the Pelican, "He represented a class who were bold and adventurous, gamblers unafraid iof risks, who held dominion over large tracks of country during times of drought and prosperity. In one season they scarcely knew the extent of their wealth, followed by years of struggle and depression during which they were kept afloat by money-lenders and creditors." His father Edmund Buckley (Snr) was thrown from a horse in 1859 and killed, whilst returning from the second Agricultural Show at Tarraville. James Buckley died in St Kilda in December 1923, and was buried in Brighton Cemetery.
In its one hundred years, the Federal Coffee Palace has seen a number of owners, but throughout, even to this day, it has provided 'permanent' rooms for boarders. It is a credit to Stockwell and the builders of the time that the building is still in an extremely sound condition. Stockwell probably obtained the bricks for the Federal Coffee Palace from the same clay quarry in James Street where he obtained bricks for his 'coffee palace'. It should be noted that the Federal Coffee Palace is triple-brick for the first storey, and then double brick for the upper floor.
As there was no need for a public bar area, which presumably was to be located right on the corner of the building (on James and Commercial Streets), this prime site became a shop. A history of the tenants of the corner shop is somewhat difficult to determine. It is documented that Ernest L. Grano had come to Yarram in 1904. His brother Fred Grano opened a tobacconist and fancy goods shop in 1909 while his wife opened a cafe the previous year. A photograph, generally reputed to be taken in 1902 of "the police band marching down James Street towards the Commercial Road corner", shows very clearly that E.L. Grano was a grocer and ironmonger in the Federal Coffee Palace corner shop. (It also showed J.S. Wood as proprietor of the Federal Coffee Palace). Obviously there is something remiss with these dates. The Grano shop lasted well into the 1930s, perhaps longer. It was at one stage home for a seamstress business, and in later years was used as the resident for the proprietors of the Federal Coffee Palace. For some ten years, until May 1997, the premises were tenanted by Keith Mills, veterinary surgeon.
Pride of the early owners was the large billiard room behind the aches fronting Commercial Road. To this day the 19ft x 27 ft room still retains its original narrow-pitch corrugated metal ceiling and timber dado walls. The single billiard table was mounted, not directly on the baltic floor, but securely on eight concrete stumps flush with the floor. These may still be seen in this excellent room. It is not known when the last game of billiards was played in the room, and what use was subsequent made of the room - and whatever happened to the billiard table? The previous owners of the building partitioned the large room into two sections and used this as part of their residence, in conjunction with the self-contained flat behind the room. The partitions have now been removed and the old billiard room is used a book depository for Oceans Enterprises, publishers and distributors.
Ownership of the building, and proprietorship of the Federal Coffee Palace as a boarding house, changed hands several times. It is recorded on the Deed of ownership that Lily Elizabeth Buckley and Josephine Monica Buckley, spinsters, assumed ownership on 27 July 1910. Their relationship to James Buckley is not recorded - possibly sisters, or maybe daughters. On 20 September 1916, an advertisment in the Yarram Standard stated : "Mrs Weir has pleasure in announcing that she has leased the Federal Coffee Palace and hopes to receive the liberal support accorded her predecessor."
Lily survived Josephine and the deed was placed in her name on 20 June 1946, together with Angela Merie Chenhall, 'married woman'. It is believed the Chenhall's ran the boarding house up to the time when the McConville's took over. Mavis June McConville, 'married woman', was noted on the deed as of 21 January 1957.
On 13 April 1967, Henry Claremont Pyke and Mary Ada Pyke were recorded as ‘Yarram Boarding House Proprietors'. The McConvilles and the Pykes are remembered to this day as having run an excellent boarding house during the peak development of Yarram. Their rooms were generally full, particularly in the fifties and sixties when Yarram was undergoing positive growth. Many of the rooms were taken by couples, the men working on the railways, the timber industry, building, and on the land. There are many interesting stories to tell of these years, but this is not the place for such scandal.
On 2 January 1974 Frank Wanka, 'shoe repairer' and Maria Elfreda Wanka, 'married woman', became Joint Proprietors. Elfreda ran the boarding house with Frank establishing a honey business, the bees in the back yard perhaps not totally appreciated by the townsfolk. By now the concept of the boarding house as a major means of accommodation was dwindling, and the number of residents diminished accordingly. By the time writer and publisher Peter Stone bought the building on 27 November 1990 the whole top floor, with some thirteen bedrooms, was devoted to only three boarders. Peter Stone and Wendy Bouker initially resided in one of the groundfloor units before moving upstairs and commencing wholesale renovations. Boarders are still taken in, in a separate self contained wing along Commercial Road with four bedrooms. Meal are no longer served - the 'boarders' have all the appliances to be self contained.
It is interesting to note some specific features of the building - or should we say, buildings. Remember that the construction consists of two buildings built at separate times. This can clearly be seen, both in its design, and construction. Initially, when the first building (on the corner) was constructed, Stockwell probably realised that there would be another separately-owned building built next door abutted to his, so internal bedrooms were fitted with skylights but no windows. The original skylights are still there but windows were installed probably at the time of construction of the second building in circa 1906. These 'renovations' can be clearly recognised and were pointed out by an historic-building expert from Canberra. From a design point of view, it seems strange to some that on entering the front door from Commercial Road, under the arches, one enters a short corridor - which leads out to the back yard. Only one other door leads off the corridor - into the old billiard room. This corridor also contains a large window from the first building, an opening that was clearly built as an external window. It is not possible to go from the groundfloor of the first building to the 'billiard room' in the second building without first going outside. (A covered walkway now provides weather protection). All this seems to be poor design until the history of the building and its construction is realised.
Upstairs, the 'joining' of the two buildings is not as obvious but on close inspection, it can be seen that an entry was simply made in the outside wall of the first building to form a corridor into the second building, this completely linking the two buildings. This has resulted in two corridors that are at right angles to each other, paralleling James Street and Commercial Road. The 'join' is noticeable if you look closely at the skirting boards. This section of the building has not been remodelled as yet. The two separate wings of the building have provided the opportunity to isolate, for privacy and sound, the main residence from the self contained unit that houses the boarders.
It should be remembered that when the buildings were constructed, no electric light nor plumbing was available. Gas was however fitted for lights and in one room only, the remnants of the gas fitting, a small pipe extending from the ceiling, is still to be seen. Electric power was later installed, around the 1920s probably, and rather unsympathetically at that. The original cloth and rubber-covered electric wires were housed in metal conduit and fixed to the internal walls from a network in the roof. Some of these conduits were 'disguised' in wooden formwork. The building has now been completely rewired. The original upstairs area of thirteen bedrooms was once on only one electric circuit. This may have been fine for just electric light, but as more and more electric appliances came on the market, especially electric heaters, it became totally inadequate. Now the upstairs area is on four circuits.
The original plumbing was to todays standards quite a disgrace. In order to provide two toilets on the upper level (male and female), it was decided to bring in the pipes from outside the existing rear wall of the second building (the Commercial Road wing). One toilet however had to be accessed from a bathroom in the first building (the James Street wing) that had no external wall and abutted the second building. The solution was to knock a hole through two sections of double brick - the 'joining wall' of the two buildings. This was most unsympathetically done and the resulting bathrooms were like a rabbit warren. This has all been remodelled with new toilets and bathrooms constructed in a much more sympathetic manner. Indeed, the bathroom of the main residence is now one of the main features of the building, with a dado wall made from the baltic pine from the original partictions. The original cast-iron bath, since recoated, remains in the new bathroom.
Major remodelling was done to the building sometime around the 1920s, the date being determined from the materials used. The original floors and ceilings are all of baltic pine. Lathe and plaster is the main medium for internal wall construction, and this continued up until the 1920s. The requirements of a boarding house are of course different to the needs of an hotel and the downstairs area was extensively remodelled. The original floor plans are not available, and it is difficult to determine where the original internal walls were. The main entrance to the proposed hotel was, presumably, from the corner of James and Commercial Streets. This would probably have been for the public bar area, with the main residential entrance in James Street. This later entrance would have opened into a large foyer. Until recently, the entrance area was partitioned into bedrooms. The current owners have demolished the walls to provide a large and now attractive entrance to the main residential area from James Street.
Further extensions to the building took place possibly sometime after 1920 - this being the large self contained flat that borders James Street, with its 12ft high ceiling. The flat had an entrance into the main downstairs area of the original building, but is now boarded up by the present owners to isolate the area into a self-contained flat. It is understood that the large living room in this unit was once the main dining room of the boarding house.
The external areas include the large 'stables' of some 30ft x 40ft, now concreted throughout, with an external entrance from the lane behind the block, and from within the back area. This is an ideal garage and workshop/storage area for which it is currently being used. The extrernal entrance to the lane is boarded up. This was actually the entrance for the stage coach which would come in from the laneway. (The stage travelled from Sale and on to Leongatha, with the overnight at Yarram). There is also another storage shed, and a covered garden-tools area. Interestingly, when the current owners were working in the unloved backyard, they found teeth and bones. Somewhat alarmed, they were soon to realise that the bones were those of a horse,but the teeth were human. It turns out that a dentist, Bill Ottie, had once plied his trade from the small shed (which is lined) and disposed of his surplus teeth by simply throwing them out the window. The backyard is now covered with Besser pavers. A second area is grassed and paved, with a clothesline and fruit trees. One of the flats has a small private garden/entrance off James Street. There is also a huge well, some thirty-feet deep and at least fifteen feet in diameter, narrowing to a 'neck' of three feet. This is permantly filled with water at the natural level of the water table. It was used for rubbish until the 1960s, but now has a heavy concrete cover. Incidentally, the concrete 100-Mile post to Melbourne is down this well. But that is another story.
The Federal Coffee Palace was in a sad and sorry state when taken over by the Stone-Boukers. A large hand-painted 'Honey For Sale' sign greeting visitors to Yarram coming in from the south, giving rise to the building been known for these latter years as 'the honey house'. The building had not seen a coat of paint for many decades. Indeed, whoever painted the bulding in the first place should hang his head in shame, as the original brickwork was tuck-pointed. It was probably first painted in the late thirties/forties. A complete facelift has given new life to the building, with a coat of sadly needed paint, and the 'restoration' of the original name FEDERAL COFFEE PALACE along the Commercial Road fascade. (The name was also along the James Street side but this has not been redone). An exciting time was had with the painting of the original coat-of-arms on the building. This is in the tradition of the times, with the shield bearing a ram's head, sheaf of wheat, anchor, and sailing ship. The shield is guarded by a kangaroo and an emu. An attempt to determine the original colours failed as the official coat of arms for Australia was only established in 1906. The current owners however copied the colours of an identical coat-of-arms on the old market building in Adelaide.
To improve the property, as the current owners live in the building, gates and fences were installed, the back yard paved, the roof replaced (in part) and the remainder attended to, the stables waterproofed, electricals replaced, a complete new plumbing system installed from the meter, two new hot-water appliances installed, a huge slow-combustion heater installed, a new staircase built at the front of the building (giving private access to boarders), walls demolished where required to expand the small original bedrooms into serviceable living areas, two new kitchens installed, two bathrooms installed and a new residence foyer constructed. The prime concern of the Stone/Boukers was to ensure that the self-contained flats were in first class condition before concentrating on their own residence.
The Federal Coffee Palace at the moment is configured as follows: a large private residence with private entry from james Street into a large foyer and stairwell, leading upstairs to an open dining room, kitchen, and a corridor for entry to two bedrooms, huge 15ft x 15ft bathroom, a library and a very large 30ft lounge. Downstairs, off the foyer, are two more bedrooms, one used as a private study. The 'boarders area' is accessed from the front stairwell (just behind the arches) and enters into a long corridor in the Commercial Road wing, giving entry to four small bedrooms, a bathroom and a lounge-kitchen area. This area is completely self-contained from the main residence. Their are five distinct areas downstairs, including the previously mentioned main residence entry.
On 3 December 1997, the Federal Coffee Palace Restaurant opened on the ground floor of the building. This cafe/wine bar/coffee shop has been constructed from scratch after completely gutting what was previously a veterinary office. The new modern kitchen proivides superb light meals and full a la carte. The seating area and wine bar section is bright and charming. Mine host Tristan Morton-Pedersen and wife, chef Sandra, designed and renovated the area to provide Yarram's only fully licensed restaurant and wine bar.
As previously mentioned, there is a large billiard room behind the arches, and behind that is a large self-contained single-story two-bedroom flat with a huge 27ft lounge/kitchen area, and a bathroom, and storeage room. Access to the billiard room is available from the flat, or could be boarded off as required. Another single-story self-contained flat is located on the James Street side, consisting of a huge lounge and Koonara heater, large kitchen and two pantrys, bathroom, and a rather small bedroom. There is also a laundry downstairs.
There is still remodelling work to be done in the main residence. All other areas have been remodelled and repainted and simply require reqular normal maintenance. The beauty of all this is that, nomatter how much effort is put itto the building, Yarram's Federal Coffee Palace will live for at least another hundred years.
The building is located at 303-305 Commercial Road, Yarram, Victoria, Australia, on the corner of James Street, at the southern end of the main township.
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