Before the Qudos Bank Arena and the Sydney Entertainment Centre hosted our pop stars, the world’s crème de la crème would perform on Macleay Street, smack bang in the middle of Potts Point in the Silver Spade Room at the Chevron Hotel (also known as The Chevron-Hilton hotel).
While the hotel has all but disappeared, its history is very much enmeshed in Potts Point and surrounds. Read on to learn about the former Sydney institution.
81 Macleay Street used to be a stately home called Cairo. It had two lawn tennis courts and a large garden, and was converted into flats then a function centre before property developer Stanley Korman (known as the man who put Surfers Paradise on the map) decided to build The Chevron Hotel on the site.
The Chevron was planned in two stages, and dubbed “Sydney’s Glamour Hotel” in the press when it opened its first 14 storeys to the public in 1960.
John Smith, the general manager, was trying to introduce Australia to a new concept of accommodation, with 24-hour room service. “For much too long most Australian Hotels have been pubs with bedrooms,” he said.
The Chevron had everything you would expect from 1960s state-of-the art design: an inbuilt wall radio, individually adjustable air conditioning and fresh-air vents, and “gold” toilet seat covers.
When the hotel opened traffic jams formed on Macleay Street, with Sydneysiders driving past to catch a glimpse of the modern marvel.
The second stage of the hotel, an additional 21 floors, was due to be completed in 1962. But thanks to the credit squeeze of 1960 and developer Korman’s allegedly overcapitalising on the hotel, The Chevron went into receivership in 1961. For a long time there was a gigantic hole where the rest of the hotel was supposed to be (a second tower was eventually added).
Not everyone loved the look of the hotel. The Chevron was derided by Robin Boyd in his seminal book The Australian Ugliness.
But The Silver Spade Room was definitely the establishment’s key drawcard and the hotel itself was a popular haunt with celebrities. The Bee Gees stayed in the Louis XIV suite in 1971. The Rolling Stones stayed at the hotel in 1973 and Sir Robert Helpman patronised the hotel when he was in Sydney. The Mango Tree, a film that starred Helpman, contained scenes shot in The Chevron.
The Beatles were not so lucky. They were turned down as guests in 1964 due to potential issues with crowd control.
The Silver Spade Room
The Silver Spade Room was named after Conrad Hilton’s biography The Silver Spade. The 600-seat space was decked out in chandeliers, mirrors and silver décor. The Australian Women’s Weekly described the décor as “elegantly expensive.”
It was considered one of Sydney’s finest nightclubs, although pickings were slim. In 1970 The New York Times had said that Sydney only had two venues worthy of an international caliber of entertainment: Chequers and the Silver Spade Room.
The Silver Spade room featured a nightly cabaret show and hosted numerous high-profile events, such as the TV Week Logie Awards in 1961 and 1963, the first International Bake-off competition and the Milk Board Baby Contest in 1968.
It was best known for its dinner and show packages spotlighting international stars – anyone who was anyone played at the nightclub.
The Bee Gees launched their trajectory into the US market from the Silver Spade Room after their manager convinced Carson “Wayne” Newton, a US performer playing at the venue, to listen to the music of Barry Gibb.
The list of performers who graced the stage of the Silver Spade Room is long. It includes:
- Eartha Kitt
- Johnny Ray
- Shirley Bassey
- Sarah Vaughn
- Nat King Cole
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Sammy Davis
- Roy Orbison
- Hoodoo Gurus
- Jerry Lewis
- The Carpenters
- Jimmy Barnes
- Judy Garland
- Tom Jones
The legendary rock-star hangout was recently resurrected in Australian TV Series Love Child. Set designers converted an abandoned hospital in Parramatta into the legendary Silver Spade Room to film scenes for the 1960s-themed show.
It was also a set piece in Hidden Sydney – The Glittering Mile, a theatrical performance staged in the former World Bar in Kings Cross in 2016.
These recreations will no doubt keep on coming as any dramatic reference to Kings Cross’s disco days is incomplete without a mention of the iconic Silver Spade Room.
The demise of the Chevron Hotel
Over the years the original allure of The Chevron faded and it was demolished in 1985 to make way for another hotel. For many years it was the Nikko then the Landmark Parkroyal Hotel.
Today Ikon sits in its place imbuing Macleay Street with a quieter type of glamour.