The Pacific Hotel, shown in its heyday in 1909, was a true East End landmark sporting wide, sunny verandahs. Picture courtesy of Newcastle University’s Cultural CollectionsTHE Pacific Hotel is no more. And that’s a pity. This old Scott Street pub, known over time by three names, was an East End landmark for 78 years, before being demolished in mid-1966.
In its heyday the large, three-storey building was very grand and imposing. Nine slender cast-iron footpath columns supported two broad verandahs above with intricate iron lace panels and bullnosed iron roofs.
The 19th century beer palace simply seemed too massive and permanent to one day simply disappear overnight. But it did.
And before it went, the old pub slid into a shadow of its former glory. After the Pacific Hotel closed in 1960 the verandahs were torn down and it became derelict.
After vandals struck, its broken windows stood out like sightless eye sockets amid a sea of flaking paint.
Soon tales rose of the pub’s possible sinister past long before, back in the last days of the windjammers, around 1900.
East End folk also began reminiscing about other incidents in the hotel’s colourful past. Like the time one of the city’s new electric trams suddenly jumped the rails early one morning, mounted the footpath and barged in through the hotel’s front doors. Shocked local residents soon milled around.
Memories of the old demolished hotel though are fast fading. By 1981 the site had been transformed with a Housing Commission development of 20 aged care units called The Sandhills.
The shabby hotel as it was before being demolished in 1966.
Recently, this column received a telephone call from Julie Lomax, of Redhead. She had a historic picture of the Nobbys Surf Club crew on a picnic tour bus in 1937 and did I want to see it? Of particular interest to her was that her father, the late Norman Santamaria, also featured in the picture as a surf club sponsor.
“He was among, I suppose, the last publicans to run the old Pacific Hotel on the corner of Scott and Telford streets, in Newcastle East,” Lomax, now in her early ’80s, said. “I was very young when I was there, but still recall the facade being covered with yellow or orange tiles. The hotel’s licence went to the Golden Eagle Hotel, at Gateshead.
“The Nobbys Surf Club crew would have all drunk at the Pacific. It would have been their local hotel, so that’s the link with my dad. The Pacific also had a big, black cellar, I remember, where my father strictly forbade me from going down alone. I later think someone was even growing mushrooms there to sell up in the public bar.
“Anyway, every time I’ve been back to the city’s East End, I driven around looking for the tunnel said to come up from the hotel in the very early days. I’ve never found it, though.
“My father must have been there in 1936 for around four years. He then bought and ran a fruit shop called Mac’s in Hamilton’s Beaumont Street for perhaps eight years, then operated the Exchange Hotel, not in Hamilton, but in Hunter Street, near Civic. That became the Blue Peter Hotel.
“Later, father retired to Hawks Nest where he sold fruit and vegies before running a taxi service. Looking through some old family newspaper clippings I’ve kept I thought it was funny to see how things change. My father must have had one of the first gaming, or poker, machines in Newcastle – so the authorities took him to court,” Lomax said, smiling.
“Considering most hotels probably couldn’t stay open without them today, dad was in court in 1936 for having just one.
“The news headlines read, ‘Mystery machine’ and ‘Is it a game of chance?’
“My father’s defence solicitor argued it wasn’t a poker machine and there was no evidence it was unlawful. The machine operated on four sixpences. The court decision was reserved.
“Dad had two black marks against his record. The first was failing to keep the bar closed during prohibited hours – presumably after closing time – and for having supplied an unlawful machine, one poker machine. It now makes you laugh.
Julie Lomax with photos featuring her publican dad, Norman Santamaria. Picture: Phil Hearne
“But it’s tough running a hotel.
“Maybe that’s why I was sent away to a convent school during my early years. They wanted to protect me. Both my parents were Italian and mum, called Giselda, once caught two guys in the liquor storeroom at the Exchange Hotel where she was punched in the head by one of them.”
The family’s East End pub started life as the Imperial Hotel in August 1888, before becoming the Brighton Hotel in 1889, then the Pacific Hotel in 1908.
Up until 1914, the Pacific was one of Newcastle’s leading hotels for country visitors because of its spacious rooms, wide sunny verandahs, huge dining room and excellent cuisine.
But when other Newcastle hotels began to modernise, the Pacific began its long, slow decline. The once first-class hotel again become the haunt of seamen from the four corners of the globe, according to Herald reporter Allan Watkins in the 1960s.
By then, the pub had closed. No longer did patrons crowd the bar, play darts or tease the barmaids. Only the pungent smell of stale beer and decay lingered.
In the “bad old days”, circa 1900, both bar and billiards room walls had been decorated with cedar framed wax match strikers. The iron posts outside had held metal rings for hitching horses. The gloomy, cobwebbed pub cellars, interconnected by brick archways, gave rise to images of fireplaces roaring in mid-winter with rough bunks set up along the walls and drunken seamen snoring off hangovers.
An electric tram jumped the rails and ended up at the hotel’s front door on the corner of Scott and Telford streets in 1923.
Writer Watkins said down there among eerie shadows it was easy to imagine in the days of sail when crimping (abducting sailors) was rife. And that maybe some sozzled seamen were coshed, then left in these same cellars to be taken under cover of night aboard a ship short of crew.
The hotel had at least 12 publicans over 78 years and three name changes. The last licensee was “Barney” Pearce who vividly recalled how the hotel had rapidly decayed after its closure; an iron roof was torn off in a gale and upstairs ceilings began to fall in with the rain.
Pearce uttered the Pacific’s epitaph when he said, “the old pub seemed to know it was going off”.