Potts Point and Sydney’s east are living, breathing neighbourhoods, constantly changing and evolving.
Peel back the layers, and there are some fascinating tales of lost and forgotten landmarks to discover.
The forgotten trams of Sydney’s east
Sydneysiders once made their way around our city via more than 300km of tram tracks, with lines connecting the city to Potts Point, Kings Cross, Rushcutters Bay, Darlinghurst and the eastern beaches.
Sydney’s earliest trams were horse-drawn, steam-powered, or cable-driven, but one of the first electric lines was built here in the east in 1890, running from Waverley to Randwick. The Rushcutters Bay Tram Depot followed in 1898 on the site of the present-day Vibe Hotel on Bayswater Road. By their heyday in the 1920s and 30s, trams transported thousands of passengers on the Watsons Bay, Woolloomooloo, Bondi, Bronte, and Coogee and Clovelly lines every day, but the Kings Cross tram was the busiest in Sydney. City workers would take the tram, which ran every minute, to the Cross for lunch. William Street became infamous for its traffic jams as trams competed with cars, buses, taxis, and electric trolleybuses for space on the road.
The eastern suburbs’ tram lines were closed in 1960, but there are still a few reminders of their existence. The saying ‘shoot through like a Bondi tram’, meaning to leave quickly, comes from the Bondi express trams that didn’t stop at Paddington in peak times. And if you keep your eyes peeled, you might notice metal tram rosettes, once used to anchor the support wires for the overhead wiring above the tram tracks, still present on building facades along the old tram routes.
Tamarama’s Wonderland City
It’s hard to imagine now, but more than a century ago, Tamarama Beach was the site of an amusement park. Originally called the Royal Aquarium or the Bondi Aquarium, the park opened in 1887 with an aquarium, seal pond and shark tank. In 1906, the site was taken over by William Anderson, who opened Wonderland City. Modelled after New York’s famous Coney Island, it included attractions such as a rollercoaster, a haunted house, a double-decker carousel, a skating rink, Alice the elephant and other animals, and an airship called the Airem Scarem that carried visitors from cliff to cliff via a cable high above the beach. More than 20,000 Sydneysiders visited Wonderland City on its opening day.
The amusement park was built only 12 feet (3.6m) from the high tide line, which meant there was only a very narrow strip of beach for public use. As the years went by, interest in Wonderland City waned and upset from swimmers and locals about the lack of beach and water access grew, and the end was in sight for the amusement park. It closed for good in 1911.
Today Tamarama’s pleasure ground past is remembered by Wonderland Avenue, on the north side of the beach.
The lost mansions of Potts Point
One of Sydney’s oldest urban areas, Potts Point is home to plenty of gorgeous heritage buildings. But over the years, some of them have been lost to history, such as Grantham House. Built-in the 1840s on what is now St Neot Avenue, Grantham House was a sandstone edifice that looked more like a castle than a home. It was knocked down in 1937 to make way for two apartment buildings, one of which is named after the old stately home.
Fitzroy Gardens was once the site of several grand old Potts Point mansions, including one called Maramanah. It passed through several owners after it was built in the 1840s and was used as a rec centre for servicemen during the Second World War. Several servicemen and their families squatted in Maramanah when they found themselves homeless amid the post-war housing shortage. The City of Sydney took over and ran Maramanah as a hostel until it was demolished to make way for Fitzroy Gardens in 1954.
Potts Point’s forgotten nightclubs
Potts Point and Kings Cross have long had a reputation for glamour, and in the 1960s, one of Sydney’s premier nightclubs, the Silver Spade Room, opened on Macleay Street. Situated in the chic and sumptuous Chevron Hotel, it attracted a veritable who’s who of entertainers. Everyone from Shirley Bassey to Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald to Sammy Davis, Roy Orbison to Jimmy Barnes performed in the glamorous club over the years. The Chevron Hotel was demolished in 1985 to make way for another hotel, and today residential building Ikon stands in its place.
Another Kings Cross nightspot that is no more is the Carousel Club. Built-in 1963 on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Roslyn Street by notorious ‘Mr Sin’ Abe Saffron, it was designed to house the iconic drag revue Les Girls. The Carousel Club gained infamy as the last known place visited by newspaper publisher and activist Juanita Nielsen before she disappeared in 1975. Today the Carousel Club site is home to the Empire Hotel.
Kings Cross’s Sweethearts Cafe
Many a tourist has visited Kings Cross in a futile attempt to see the long-gone Sweethearts Café, made famous by the 1979 Cold Chisel song Breakfast at Sweethearts.
Chisel songwriter, keyboardist and long-time Cross local Don Walker was inspired to write the song by a café he used to frequent called Sweethearts. He remembers the café as being very small and run by a Yugoslavian family. In the 1970s and 80s, it was situated among the Cross’s strip clubs and sex shops and visited by pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers. As well as attracting the lost and lonely, the café had such a reputation that when Rudolf Nureyev was in Sydney, he would have his coffee at Sweethearts, according to Walker.
Sweethearts was originally located at 45 Darlinghurst Road, where McDonalds is today. After that site was demolished in the late 80s, it moved across the road, where it lasted until the early 90s. Today the site is occupied by the Potts Point Hotel, where the rooftop bar is called Sweethearts Rooftop in tribute.
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Photo credit: Wikipedia