The Rex Hotel empire

Ainslei Hotel, Canberra in 1930, became the first Rex hotel in 1950.
Ainslei Hotel, Canberra in 1930, became the first Rex hotel in 1950. Picture: Australian National University

DURING the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Rex Investments, a division of real estate company, L.J. Hooker, established a number of pubs around the suburbs of Sydney and regional Australia.

The Rex Group’s first hotel was in Canberra and trades today (November 2014) as the Mercure Canberra.

The building occupied by the hotel was built between 1926-27 as one of eight hostels designed to provide accommodation for public servants in preparation of relocating the Australian parliament from Melbourne to the new national capital, Canberra.

Following the adverse impact of the Great Depression in 1932, a liquor license was granted to building lessee Ernest Spendlove. The building was renovated and shortly thereafter re-opened as a public house.

Spendlove sold the hotel to to Rex Investments in 1950, and the name was changed to the Hotel Ainslie Rex. Another change of ownership saw the hotel renamed “Olims” in 1989, a name which remains in common use locally.

Prior to the sale, a 87 room extension was completed in 1987 and the bar and restaurant areas were remodelled. The hotel began market itself as a function centre, opening conference rooms. The beer garden was built in a distinctively more modern architectural style, disrupting the building’s façade facing Limestone Avenue.

In 2011, the hotel was rebranded by operator Accor Hotels as Mercure Canberra and underwent a $8 million refurbishment, hoping to draw more International guests.

A proposal which would have seen an extra 125 rooms added to the hotel encountered strong opposition from the National Trust of Australia due to the impact of the proposal on the building’s aesthetics and heritage significance. The proposal was subsequently scaled back.

Here is a look, though extracts from newspapers of the time, at some of Rex Investment’s early pubs.

(With thanks to Wikipedia)

[Canberra Times Friday 9 December 1960]

Decade of Expansion

Railway Parade Hotel, Kogarah C1930, also became another Rex pub.
Railway Parade Hotel, Kogarah C1930, also became another Rex pub. Picture: Supplied.

Rex Investments Pty. Limited, a division of the L. J. Hooker Investment Corporation Limited, which operates “The Rex at Canberra,” was originally incorporated as a proprietary company in November, 1937.

The first active association of Rex Investments with the hotel trade was in 1950, when the company purchased the Ainslie Hotel at Canberra from the Federal Government.

The company acquired the Railway Parade Hotel at Kogarah in November, 1950.

This hotel is now known as the Kogarah-Rex.

Early in 1951, Rex Investments acquired two properties in Macleay Street, Kings Cross, then known as Oriana and Baroda. Building regulations and restrictions prevented an immediate start to work on these properties. However, permission was granted for the reconstruction of Oriana and it was decided to proceed with this and retain the completed venture as the residential section of the proposed Hotel Rex.

The Pagewood-Rex Hotel in Maroubra Bay Road was opened on November 16, 1953. The Cammeray-Rex at the corner of Miller and Amherst Streets, was the next Rex hotel to be completed. It was opened for business on May 31, 1954. [The next Rex Hotel, was actually the Thirroul Rex Hotel, in October 1953 – see below, Mick]

The Rex chain of hotels was next expanded in June 1956, with the opening of the Bondi-Rex at the corner of Glenayr Avenue and Beach Road. The Miranda-Rex was opened on October 23, 1957 and on September 1, 1959, the Gymea-Rex was opened. The Brookvale-Rex was acquired last year and has since been enlarged to cope with a rapidly increasing trade.

All Rex hotels and motels are controlled by the board of directors and exclusive staff of Rex Investments Pty.Ltd. and Rex Motels Pty. Ltd., the directors of both companies being Messrs. J.F. Flitcroft, chairman; A. T. George, deputy chairman; L. J. Hooker, D. H. B. Adams,  N. R. Pulver, N. F. Hen-wood, Roland Hill. The chief executives of the Hotel and Motel Divisions are: J. B. Agnew, generalmanager; G. J. Aldridge, operations manager; R. C. Simmons, secretary.

 [Canberra Times  Friday 9 December 1960]

There’s A Lot To Like At The Cross

The Rex Hotel, Kings Cross 1964
The Rex Hotel, Kings Cross 1964. Picture: Supplied.
Rex Hotel, Kings Cross, 1960s. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

One of the best-known hotels in the Rex chain is the Hotel Rex, 58 Macleay Street, Kings Cross.

Many overseas and interstate visitors, including Frank Sinatra and other famous artists, have stayed there since it was opened in 1951.

The hotel is immensely popular with local people, its best-known features being the Canberra Lounge, American Cocktail Bar and Sidewalk Cafe.

The Canberra Lounge has recently been redecorated and refurnished, in keeping with the hotel’s policy of providing the best in comfort, service and facilities.

Nightly entertainment, under the direction of Ron Fabri, is a feature of the Canberra Lounge. Two floorshows are staged every night, Monday to Saturday. Pops

and Latin-American music have proved favourites with patrons.

The Embassy Restaurant at the Hotel Rex is acknowledged as being among Sydney’s best.

The continental menu, including such, specialties as Chicken in the Basket, Silver Chicken and Chateaubri and, is recognised by gourmets as Sydney’s finest.

  • The Hotel Rex, Kings Cross no longer trades and is an apartment building.

 [Sydney Morning Herald  Tuesday 18 August 1953]

Artist impression of the Pagewood Rex 1953
Artist impression of the Pagewood Rex 1953
Pagewood Hotel, Pagewood, 1960s. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

New Pagewood Hotel

The design on the right is that of a new hotel being built for Rex Investments Ltd. in Maroubra Bay Road, near the corner of Bunnerong Road, Pagewood.

Plans provide for the accommodation and amenities of a first-class hotel, with ample sunshine, ventilation, and comfort.

Special attention is being given to outdoor drinking facilities and the lounge, saloon bar and public bar will have easy access from the street, with separate access on the eastern side to a beer garden.

All public sections have either a northern or eastern exposure.

The building will be setback 15 feet from the building alignment, and the bedrooms will be on the first floor.

Of brick with reinforced concrete floors, the building will be faced with texture brick. The facework to Maroubra Bay Road, at bar entrances, will be in ceramic terracotta.

Special attention will be given to landscape gardening and lawns.

The guests’ entrance is screened from the public areas, and the main staircase leads direct from the entrance hall to the first floor residential bedrooms.

It is expected that the hotel will be completed by the end of November.

The architects are Messrs. Samuel Lipson and Kaad. Rex Investments Ltd. already control the Hotel Rex, at Kings Cross, and the Ainsley-Rex, at Canberra.

  • The Pagewood Rex now trades as the Pagewood Hotel.

 [The South Coast Times Monday 5 October 1953]

The Rex Thirroul
The Rex Thirroul. Picture: Supplied

Thirroul Rex Hotel Opens October 19

The new £160,000 Thirroul Rex Hotel will be opened on Monday, October 19 and this fine new building has aroused much favourable comment. It is splendidly appointed throughout. Licensee of this hotel will be Mr. Jack Ramsey, who will be well known to many in this district, for he was born in Bulli and spent most of his early days on the coast. Son of Mr. and Mrs, W. Ramsey he was educated at Wollongong Technical College and played League with Thirroul. Then for a time he was with the NS.W. Railways and won the amateur lightweight boxing championship of the railways. After service in World War II he went into the hotel business and has been licensee of Newtown and lately at Rosebery. He and his wife and two children have now taken up residence at the new hotel which is owned by Rex Investments Ltd.

  • The Thirroul Rex Hotel now trades as The Beaches Hotel.

The Pagewood Hotel, 1950s. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University. Inset; Publican: Geoffrey Donnelly.

[Sydney Morning Herald Friday 16 July 1954]

Police Seek Missing hotel keeper

Police last night were looking for a Sydney hotel licensee, Geoffrey Donnelly, who has been missing since midday last Tuesday.

Donnelly, 39, is the licensee of the Pagewood-Rex Hotel, Maroubra Bay Road, Pagewood.

His wife, Mrs. Edna Donnelly, said last night that he telephoned her from the Australian Eleven Hotel, Redfern, at 12.50 p.m. on Tuesday.

She had not seen or heard from him since.

Mrs. Donnelly said: “He has never done anything like this before and I am completely baffled.

“He hasn’t got a car, doesn’t drive, and I have no idea where he could be.

“All our friends have been searching for him but without success.”

Detective-Sergeant W. Armstrong, of Daceyville, is in charge of inquiries.

[Sun Herald Sunday 18 July 1954]

 Hotel Man Returning

Police said yesterday they had discontinued the search for Geoffrey Donnelly, 39, licensee of the Pagewood Rex Hotel, Pagewood, who was reported missing on Tuesday.

His wife, Mrs. Edna Donnelly, told police yesterday that she had received a telegram from him stating that he was on his way home.

Mrs. Donnelly said the telegram was sent from Maitland, N.S.W.

 [Argus (Melbourne) Friday 29 October 1954]

Ninth hotel for Rex

Rex Investments Ltd. would commence building two new hotels next year, Mr. L. J. Hooker, said at the annual meeting in Sydney yesterday.

This would raise the company’s chain to nine hotels, including the St. Mary’s Rex which should he trading in January,

Profits for the current year are being maintained.

The building division is accepting contracts to build hotels for outside interests.

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Categories: Australian Capital Territory Hotels, NSW hotels

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6 replies

  1. The Pagewood Rex Hotel was my base for 5 years as band leader, compere and vocalist. From 1959 the Casuals were employed from Tuesday to Saturday nights with a Saturday afternoon matinee. We played standards and Top 40 for dancers and featured a floor show every Saturday night. Jack and Vonnie Hindmarsh were the publicans and the hours were from 7pm until 10 pm nightly. Saturday had a one hour close from 6 pm until 7 pm so that drinkers would go home for dinner. We would enjoy a free meal in the dining room where we would join Ansett- ANA pilots and hosties who would stay at the venue. Band members were Brian Turvey, Jack Hadfield, John Dodds and Gordon Holmes. We cut tracks for EMI on the Columbia label and had success with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA” and Bo Diddley’s “Crackin’ Up” which made the 2UE Top 40 in September 1959. Our early competition was Col Joye and the Joy Boys who were employed at Percy Cheers’ s Maroubra Junction Hotel. Wonderful memories!
    Alan Dale

    • Wow,stumbled upon this looking up my family history,Jack Hindmarsh was my grandfather.The Pagewood Rex was where my parents met.My father Bruce married one of Jack’s daughters Janice.I was born in 1964 and have many great memories of growing up in pubs with my grandfather Jack,he was a great man.My earliest memory is the Cammeray Rex,I could tell you a great story about what happened after closing time around the island bar.

  2. Further to working at Pagewood we also did a 6 month booking at the Wiley Park Rex where the hospitable Horrie Swan was publican and motored down to the Thirroul Rex for Sunday performances with mine hosts Shirley and Kel Forde. Must say the Rex chain was very much a large part of my life.
    Alan Dale

  3. Great page Mick. Keep up the good work.

  4. Aarons hotel Rex? When was this taken over, I worked there as an apprentice chef in the early sixties then was moved to the Kings cross Rex.

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