Imperial Hotel, North Sydney: In the shadow of the Harbour Bridge pylon

imperial hotel north sydney fairfax collection C1932

Imperial Hotel, North Sydney, C1932. Photo: Fairfax Collection.

alfred st milsons point google

The site of the former Imperial Hotel, Milsons Point. Photo: Google Streetview.


Imperial Hotel North Sydney 1930 NBA ANU

Imperial Hotel, North Sydney, 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University


charles waterhouse

Charles Waterhouse

Standing in the shadow of the northern pylon of the Bridge is an old building, now known as the Imperial Hotel, which has a romantic as well as an historic connection with the great structure and the North Shore in the early days.

The licensee, Mr Charles Waterhouse, is a descendant of one of Sydney’s early settlers. For years the hotel has been a place where bridge workmen have cooled their sweated brows during lunch and knock-off times.

Between drinks they swapped yarns and told of their escapes and achievements during their day’s work up on the job, sometimes over 400 feet in the air. But on occasions, when one of their mates was missing, having met a watery death earlier in the day, their beers were sipped in silence.

Often a mate of an unfortunate workman, picking up his beer, would walk to the bar door and survey the spot, hundreds of feet up, where he saw his pal alive for the last time. Even though their jobs are ended, many workmen will still visit this hotel to bring back memories of the days on the Bridge.

The building is one of the few remaining landmarks of Milson’s Point in the ‘eighties. Though hundreds of buildings were demolished round Milson’s Point to make way for the Bridge, this one, though only a few yards from the massive pylon, by a fortunate circumstance, managed to escape the demolisher’s hammer.


It was erected in 1843, being then known as the Lily of St Leonards, named after a black gin, who be-longed to the Lavender Bay tribe. About 50 years ago the property was purchased by Mr Charles Waterhouse, father of the present licensee, who made additions to the property.


The Waterhouse family are well known in North Sydney. They are descendants of Mr Tom Waterhouse, who came to Australia as an officer in the army, and settled at Parramatta over 120 years ago. He had two sons. The younger mysteriously disappeared, and the other, Charles, went to live at Lane Cove, where he opened up the Green Gate Hotel and acquired considerable property. He had eight sons and three daughters.

– Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Saturday 19 March 1932.

Imperial Hotel Milsons Point North Sydney 1949 anu

Imperial Hotel, North Sydney, 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University

The Waterhouse family transferred the license of the Imperial Hotel to Chatswood in December 1959, enabling the newly built Charles Hotel to open. 

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Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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2 replies

  1. Love your stories, Mick. Today’s one on the Imperial has me curious about the 1959 photo at the bottom, seems a total rebuild or something. Gary

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