The Establishment of the Historic Brisbane Restaurants
The inspiration to purchase and establish our Historic Restaurants was only made possible by our unstinting dedication and hard work during the previous seventeen years. There were no secrets to our success, no lottery wins, inheritances or bonuses, just plain old fashioned hard work. In saying that I must confess to one secret, that is a secret recipe for the most unforgettable chocolate soufflé. A recipe shared with me by the head Chef of one of the most famous Hotels in Paris. A special recipe I will share with you later in the book. As a young woman I started work in 1960 at the young age of fourteen, always with two jobs and much dedication to everything I tackled. My Mother was very proud of me and used to say, this is how life works, if you work hard every day and you will reap the rewards, life will pay you back threefold.
My first business venture was the lease of a Gentleman’s Boarding House in Mount Isa in 1970. In 1967 we returned to Brisbane from London only to find the economy was not good and jobs were scarce. We decided that it would be better to return to Mt Isa to live and work. Our first son, Christopher was nine months old. Harry applied for his old job back with Mount Isa Mines as the foreman of the Lead Smelter and we moved back to Mount Isa where our second son Richard was born. That same year, the Verona Hotel and Restaurant advertised for an Office Administrator, I applied and started work for Joe Viente, a very colourful hard working Italian jack of all trades. Mount Isa was a rough and ready mining town in those early days and Joe had established one of the first up-market Hotel and Restaurant complexes in the area. My starting wage was $45.00 a week and after paying the Mt Isa Kindergarten $25.00 a week I managed to save $20.00 a week. The result was that after one year I had saved the princely sum of $1,000. An advertisement for the lease of a block of Gentleman’s Serviced Rooms appeared in the North West Star Newspaper. The current owners who lived in Brisbane required $2,000 security to secure the five year lease. I did my sums on the business proposition, developed a business plan to accommodate 28 residents and went along to see the Manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Miles Street Mt Isa. The response to my request for a loan of $1,000 was a short empathic NO, you are a woman and only 23 years old, we don’t lend to women. I was devastated but undeterred, I went straight across the road to the National Bank.
The Bank Manager was no other than the now famous name in Banking, Nobby Clark. I put my business proposition to him. His response was surprising. Nobby said are you the young lady who has had her pram retreaded four times at Curly Dans Bike Shop? I said yes, how do you know? Nobby replied everybody knows that you walk three miles every day from Townview to Mount Isa Mines Kindergarten with your two children in the pram and then go to work at the Verona. As far as I am concerned you can have $1,000 every day of the week. So with Nobby’s unstinting support and invaluable assistance I started my first business.
In 1970 we returned to Brisbane where we owned and operated several similar Boarding Houses. As well as physically running the businesses which was very labor intensive, I had a second job, either at Multiple Sclerosis or in the Officers Mess at Yeronga Military Barracks. All our hard work paid off and we started to accumulate some savings. Our boys were still young and in early 1977 we decided to enquire about the availability of a freehold restaurant. I had a passion for cooking and very much enjoyed the challenge of the hospitality industry. In June 1977 an advertisement appeared in the property for sale section of the Courier Mail for an historic freehold restaurant at Cleveland, the Old Courthouse. The purchase price was $90,000. We made an offer of $85,000 which was accepted and we became the new owners in July 1977. The Courthouse was in urgent need of sensitive restoration work to preserve the original building and extension.
It soon became apparent that the decision to purchase the Old Courthouse Restaurant in Paxton Street Cleveland on the shores of Moreton Bay was a truly amazing opportunity to preserve an iconic early colonial building and ultimately a very wise business decision. The Courthouse was built in 1853 by Francis Edward Bigge – squatter, timber merchant, parliamentarian and erstwhile publican at Cleveland in the new Colony of Queensland. Cleveland was originally foreshadowed to be the Capital of Queensland.
Sadly in 1977, the very same year as our purchase of the old Courthouse, the Queensland Government demolished two very important heritage buildings, the Old Supreme Court in George Street and the Belleview Hotel also in George Street Brisbane. The unnecessary demolition was a tragic decision. Both buildings were very important examples of the development of early history of Brisbane. The history and craftsmanship of the gracious that were used in their construction were
The wreckers got to know me, and although I gave them a hard time for demolishing these wonderful buildings, they contacted me and I managed to purchase some fabulous beautiful hand crafted building materials. Historically we were surrounded in Brisbane’s central business district by an environment that could do nothing but inspire us to believe in the beauty and history of our city and ourselves.
The magnificent large blocks of hand cut and chiseled porphyry stone I managed to salvage from the old Supreme Court demolition site were adapted to build the new extension and the walls in the gracious Courthouse gardens facing onto the shores of Moreton Bay. The inscription that identifies our restoration work is engraved into the beautiful porphyry stone wall in the main dining room. If these walls could talk there would be many a tale to tell of Supreme Court Cases dating back to 6 March 1879.
The history of the Old Supreme Court is of particular interest to me. In 1959, the year I completed Scholarship at Ascot State School, my Aunt Ethel took me on a visit to the City to have a look at the School I was to attend, that being Domestic Science High next to Parliament House in George Street. We wandered up George Street into Queen Street where we purchased a Vanilla Milkshake at the Palms Cafe, boy did it taste good.
We then made our way back to George Street to the Old Supreme Court. We sat on the large stone steps facing the Brisbane River to finish our milkshakes, whist Aunt Ethel relayed stories of famous cases which had been before the Court.
The decision to build the Supreme Court in George Street was decided in 1870. In the mid 1870’s, a hundred years before I purchased the Old Courthouse Restaurant, the site on George Street was selected and the prominent colonial architect, Francis Drummond Greville Stanley was commissioned to design the first Supreme Court for Queensland. He drew up plans for an elaborate neoclassical two story building.
These original plans featured stone floors and other sophisticated detail. They were later modified for financial reasons and in 1875 John Petrie successfully tendered to construct the building. The Supreme Court has played a central role in the operation of justice in Queensland since it was founded. On 6 March 1879, the new Supreme Court opened in George Street Brisbane.
Sadly by 1976, less than 100 years later this magnificent building’s days were numbered. In July 1977 when I visited the demolition site to purchase the Porphyry Stone and some cedar windows from the wreckers I noticed that they were burning old Supreme Court Judgments, Court books and old Court Documents. The wreckers were emptying the Court documents out of filing cabinets from the Judge’s Chambers down a hole which had been burnt through the Court Room floor setting them alight. I immediately registered my disgust and climbed down under the floor and stamped out the fire.
In the back seat of our old VW I had some farmers broccoli boxes, I gathered up the half burnt documents and packed them into the boxes. The majority of the documents were historic Supreme Court records and Judgments, with the hallmark pink cord and wonderful descriptive hand writing, dating back to 1880. The origin of many were Judgments by the Chief Justice in regard to cases all over Queensland, in particular those in Charter Towers.
I treasured these interesting historic records. Thirty four years later I donated these amazing historic Court records to the Supreme Court of Queensland Library in celebration of the “150 years of the Supreme Court of Queensland” In 2011, the Queensland’s Supreme Court celebrated its sesquicentenary.
The Supreme Court Library catalogued the collection, providing a copy for my reference “Inventory of Donation from Ann Garms OAM to The Supreme Court of Queensland Library. Storage: The donation consists of 116 items encompassing 4251 pages. The majority of the collection is comprised of copies of pleadings, Judges Notes and affidavit from the Supreme Court dating from 1891 – 1903. The donation is stored in the Rare Books Room on Level 4 of the Supreme Court Library. The inventory of the donation from Ann Garms OAM is located electronically at: L;/Collection Management\Donations\2011 Ann Garms\Ann Garms OAM Donation.”
It was a delight to know the records had been returned to their rightful place in history. I must admit they made very good bedtime reading.
The Chief Justice’s Briefs and Judgments, all handwritten in the most beautiful script were particularly interesting. Many were in regard to gold mining leases. It was also very pleasing in 2011 to receive the personal acknowledgement from the Supreme Court Librarian. At the time I thought how fortunate it was that on the cloudy Sunday afternoon I happened to stop at the Old Supreme Court and was able to extinguish the fire in time. The main dining room at the Old Courthouse Restaurant incorporating the beautiful porphyry stone is a favorite for Conferences, Wedding celebrations or just a special dinner for two. We felt justifiably proud of our achievements in providing such an enjoyable environment for our customers.
That same year, 1977 from the ruins of the Belleview Hotel demolition site I rescued four beautiful stained glass leadlight windows and the fireplace which I also incorporated into the restoration of the original 1853 Old Courthouse and later Petrie Mansions Restaurant. In 1980 we developed our second Restaurant in the magnificent row of Terrace Houses, situated at 242-246 Petrie Terrace Brisbane, known as Petrie Mansions. Two years prior the Brisbane City Council had issued a demolition order on the previous owner, the Terraces were in such a serious state of decay.
It was a pleasure to save and restore such a magnificent set of Terraces. The Petrie Mansions building is considered by historians as one of the most important rows of Terrace Houses to be built in Brisbane. Consisting of three very large double story Terrace Houses, which by 1887 standards, were unusually grand and spacious. The terraces were built from Sandstone blocks, locally hand-made rough cast bricks. The large imposing windows and doors were hand crafted out of cedar logs.
The staircase from the main Terrace House, that being the one on the left had long ago been stolen. It was therefore a great opportunity to be able to replace it with some of the timbers, stair treads, handrails and banisters I had rescued from the demolition of the beautiful cedar staircase in the old Supreme Court building.
The third restaurant, the iconic and much loved Historic Roseville Restaurant, was established in 1982 at 56 Chester Street
Newstead, formally Teneriffe. Nestled on one acre we found the wonderful sandstone and brick residence known as Roseville House. It was also desperately in need of extensive restoration. In 1979 when we purchased Roseville it was in danger of being demolished.
The one acre of land it stood on was considered a prime redevelopment site for forty units. The land was previously part of a large parcel of land purchased by the famous Brisbane Architect James Cowlishaw in 1870. In 1870 Cowlishaw purchased Montpelier House and nine acres of land at Bowen Hills. The Cowlishaw land incorporated the site on which Cloudland was built. Cowlishaw extended the magnificent residence known as Montpellier which was originally designed by Christopher Porter.
James Cowlishaw Esquire was well respected and recognised as a prominent architect and builder in the Colony in the 1880’s. When Cowlishaw purchased most of the land on Teneriffe Hill he sold the one acre of land Roseville stands on to prominent Queen Street glassware merchant George Meyers in 1885. That same year 1885, George Meyers commissioned James Cowlishaw to design and construct the one-storey rendered brick residence with a Ballroom and sandstone wine cellar. He also adapted the magnificent hand chiseled blocks of sandstone into the foundations and structural walls.
The sandstone was quarried from the cliffs at Kangaroo Point. The wide, hallmark Cowlishaw verandahs surround the home. The Meyers family took up residence in 1887. James Cowlishaw was born in 1834 and died in Brisbane in 1929. He was a Director of the Brisbane Courier until 1873. He was appointed the Managing Director of the Brisbane Telegraph Newspaper in 1878 and later Chairman of the Telegraph Newspaper Company, a position he ably occupied from 1879 to late 1885, just prior to designing Roseville.
In 1985, exactly one hundred years after Cowlishaw was commissioned by George Myers to design and construct Roseville, we received the National Trust of Queensland Award for Excellence in Heritage Preservation. In developing Roseville into a Restaurant we also purchased and restored the original Coachman’s Cottage standing on the right and the large adjoining Colonial home on the left of Roseville in Chester Street.
More importantly James Cowlishaw was a prominent member of the Legislative Council where he was a nominee in the Upper House for forty-four years, from 1878 to1922. He was unashamedly a strident Conservative and very objectionable to anything that resembled a socialist or socialist views.
James Cowlishaw founded the Brisbane Gas Company in 1864. He also designed one of my favorite George Street buildings, which fortunately still stands today, the wonderful Harris Terrace. James Cowlishaw certainly accomplished the brief provided by George Myers when he designed and built Roseville. As part of our Superannuation Investment strategy we started to invest in prime Brisbane riverfront properties including rental units and homes in Highgate Hill with Brisbane CBD views.
In 1989 we established our fourth Restaurant in a wonderful Art Deco Commercial building at 48-52 Costin Street Fortitude Valley, the Tivoli Restaurant and Theatre. This fine building was an excellent example of Art Deco Commercial Architecture in 1917, formally Adams Fine Cakes and Bakery. The configuration of the building was ideal for a Restaurant & Theatre. We purchased the vacant block next door for the Restaurant carpark. The Valley is about 1 km from Brisbane’s CBD. The majority of households consist of couples without children (nearly 70%) and over 95% of dwellings in the area are units. There are very few stand-alone houses. The Valley is known for great dining and nightlife. One of the great benefits of the location related to the availability of free street parking. We negotiated agreements with Kone Elevators and the Teachers Credit Union for over 200 car spaces in their car parks.
In developing our show concepts we were fortunate to employ Mr Alan Slater in the role of advisor and Musical Show Producer. Alan had a distinguished career, he composed his own music whilst assisting with orchestrating a live 5 piece band each evening. Initially we had opened with a partner who was also experienced in staging shows, this partnership did not work. Shortly after opening we received eleven complaints about his unsavoury conduct. The complaints from staff concerned incidents of sexual harassment of the female staff. This unacceptable conduct simply could not be tolerated under any circumstances and he was asked to leave. This matter and the Arbitration process are detailed in Chapter 11 together with supporting factual evidence and staff statements.
For the theatrical staging, performance, props and visual composition of the sets and scenery for each show we employed a Chorographer and stage designers to collaborate with Alan. The shows Putting on the Ritz, All That Jazz, Cabaret, Forbidden Broadway to name but a few together with the production of La Chat Noir produced by Robin Archer was a superb example of the quality and indeed high standard of the theatrical performances we staged at the Tivoli Theatre. The background to Robin Archer’s show was very interesting as Chat Noir was established in 1912 as a cabaret by the singer Bokken Lasson and her later husband, the well renowned writer Vilhelm Dybwad. It was designed and modeled after the Paris cabaret Le Chat Noir from the 19th century.
We were fortunate to audition some excellent dancers, some of whom performed with us for many years. Two of our dancers obtained very prestigious positions with the Moulin Rouge and Lido in Paris. Alan Slater was a superb pianist and musician who orchestrated the musical performances for each show. As he had commenced duties prior to our opening, he assisted with the theatre set up and Show planning. Alan was very complimentary of the suitability of the Tivoli premises as a Theatre with a wide elevated stage, arched Proscenium and Fly Tower. And importantly our ability to design the spaces to accommodate all aspects of the Theatre complex and Hospitality requirements including the Dining and Restaurant Bar areas.
The long and expansive floor spaces with the vaulted ceilings were ideal for the Restaurant Bar Area. The major walls of the Adams Bakery building were ideally placed for the theatre concept with a purpose built Stage and Proscenium, therefore eliminating major structural works. The area when the stage is now situated was the entrance to the underground ovens. We discovered dozens of old baking trays and cake tins together with old cooking utensils. Prior to our purchase, the building was used by the State Library to store precious books. The area that is now the Tivoli kitchen was lined with cork to prevent moisture affecting the books. Adams Bakery was not confined to baking but operated superb retail outlets from 1917 and later in the Brisbane Arcade. Photos of those early days reveal a well fitted out retail outlet displaying layers of delicious cakes, lamingtons, apple pies and pastries.
As a young girl I enjoyed many holidays with my Aunt Ethel who lived in Fifth Avenue, Wilston. My Aunt had a passion for Adams Cakes, especially their butter sponges, fairy cakes and lemon butter buns. They were absolutely delicious. I remember very fondly Aunt Ethel preparing the butter sponge for afternoon tea. She smothered it in fresh whipped cream topped with passion-fruit picked from the vines that grew on her garden fence.
The Tivoli is a multi- purpose Hospitality Entertainment Venue with a liquor license for 1,500 patrons. The extensive areas of open space with the high vaulted ceilings of the long room adjacent to the original location of the Adams Cake display counter made an excellent Restaurant Bar area. We opened the doors of the Tivoli Restaurant & Theatre to the public in August 1989 with the first live show, Putting on the Ritz which featured the French Can-Can.
This was followed by our live Dinner Shows, Forbidden Broadway from New York, All that Jazz, Robin Archer in La Chat Noir, lunch with Geoffrey Rush, the launch of the Queensland Opera Season, the Myers Fashion Parades, an evening with Maryanne Faithful, Suzanne Leachier, Tommy Emmanuel, José Feliciano, the launch of Powder Finger’s CD, Live Bands and International Artists, Jazz Concerts and events, Corporate launches, the New Zealand Travel Expo and many many more. Prior to the purchase, in my role as Chair of the College of Tourism & Hospitality at Southbank I conducted extensive research into the concept in consultation with Mr. John Garnsey of Garnsey Cleminger. After our market research was complete Mr. Garnsey and the Key indicators supported the proposal and reinforced our collective view that post Expo 88 Brisbane was very receptive to all forms of entertainment. Mr. Garnsey was subsequently retained to advise on the development, costings and implementation of the Tivoli concept, business structure and viability, advertising and promotions. He was a well respected consultant who developed an excellent business plan, concept and show and price structure based on research of the market, including ticket prices, advertising and promotion schedules which were adapted to ensure our success. This of course is true in the normal sense, but I was to encounter a problem which I was unable to overcome, no matter how hard I worked.
Media Reports have consistently praised the Tivoli for its versatility and capacity such as “The Tivoli Theatre venue, which has played host to local musical heroes like Powderfinger and The Go-Betweens as well as major international tours, remains a much-loved part of Brisbane’s venue-rich Fortitude Valley, forming a key part in the entertainment precinct’s capacity range, hosting a potential crowd of 1,500 sanding or 700 seated. There are a lot of venues that have tried to compete and tried to replicate the Tivoli but it remains the premier entertainment venue, noting that support for the Tivoli comes “not only from the people who frequent the venue but even from the people who perform there.”
The Regent Theatre
In designing the Tivoli Theatre and our home I incorporated wonderful plaster pieces I rescued from the Regent Theatre in Queen Street Brisbane and the amazing Plaster Angel Air Vents from Her Majesty’s Theatre. Her Majesty’s was two doors from the Regent Theatre in Queen Street. The Angel Air Vents I adapted as the air vents for the air-conditioning on the Mezzanine Level and in the Bar.
These wonderful pieces were also incorporated in the main Bedroom and the Dining Room in Tintagel. Despite our untiring dedication and the best laid plans of mice and men we were powerless to overcome the major business challenge which confronted us almost immediately on opening the doors of the Tivoli Restaurant and Theatre in August 1989.
From the day we opened the doors, we were fortunate to employ some amazing young people at the Tivoli. It is a very popular venue for all age groups but to our delight the young Brisbaneites also embraced the Restaurant and Theatre concept. Many of the aspiring young people we employed over the years went on to achieve significant success in the Hospitality Industry. Over the thirty plus years I have been involved in the industry and in particular from 1982 when I campaigned to have the first training College constructed in Brisbane. The amazing College of Tourism & Hospitality at Southbank, fondly known as COTAH. I have constantly been surprised and inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of those who have a passion for our industry. Hospitality is not an easy business, the hours are long and in fact one has to posses an intelligent eye for detail with a good sprinkle of common sense and importantly not be afraid of hard work. In the early days of the Tivoli I was approached by Wavell Heights High with a view to placing work experience students at the Tivoli. One such work experience student was Damian Heads of Channel 10’s Ready Steady Cook fame. Damian was a celebrity guest presenter at a recent Industry Training Association Function I had the pleasure of attending at COTAH. Damian relayed an interesting story of how the Tivoli work experience led him to enter the industry as an apprentice chef. With much laughter from the audience, Damian explained that he started off at the Tivoli as a car park attendant, being promoted to kitchen hand and his big break came when I promoted him to Follow Spot Operator during the live Paris shows, this he said was an awesome experience for a young man.
Damian is a credit to the industry. His entrepreneurial spirit and outstanding success is testimony to the opportunities that present themselves by having the right approach and work ethic that reward those who dedicate themselves to achieving their goals. It was this same dedication that saw us achieve extraordinary success from the early days in Mount Isa to the opening of the Tivoli Restaurant & Theatre in August 1989.
We were to say the least horrified to be confronted with the same debilitating phone problems we had experienced at Roseville from 1983. This was devastating to say the least, the phone problems were even worse than we had experienced at Roseville. The Tivoli is licensed for 1,500 Patrons and as a Live Theatre was in fact 100% telephone dependent. Patrons did not simply walk in the door they always made a prior reservation by phone.