Our Story - The Royce

Sunday 23 June 2024
2:36am AEDT

Melbourne's quintessential boutique hotel experience

Our Story

The Royce is located on Melbourne’s grand boulevard St Kilda Road, which has acted as a major spine of the city for close to a hundred years. The Royce site and the historical building we see today, once housed Melbourne’s original luxury automobile showroom, a time of golden age and glamour. The new Royce is inspired by this former time, bringing back the grandeur, indulgence and uncompromising quality.

Inspired by the golden age of hotels...

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The Royce Hotel site has a rich history of service to travellers and tourists that begins in Melbourne’s glorious Golden Age when the city was dubbed “Marvellous Melbourne”. Prior to the grand building that stands here today, resided one of Melbourne’s many Cable Car Engine Houses.

From 1888 it serviced holidaymakers and day-trippers that would ride cable cars all the way from the CBD to the city’s playground at St Kilda Beach. The ingenious tram system gripped onto steel cables and was hauled by gigantic wheels across the various engine houses on the route, a completely manual system. Located on the city’s most prestigious boulevard, the leafy St Kilda Road, the Engine House was at the heart of an intricate transport web with more than 600 tram sets travelling along 75km of track and covering 17 routes. Melbourne and Melburnians were going places. At its peak the city had one of the largest cable car networks in the world, alongside San Francisco and Chicago.

With the advent of the electric tram and the revolutionary motorcar, nicknamed the “horseless carriage”, the huge cable wheels finally ground to a halt in the 1920s. The abandoned Engine House was put on the market and levelled to make way for the landmark building that was to become the Royce Hotel. The original cable tunnels and wheel pits still reside under the floors of the Royce, an echo of the building’s enterprising past and commitment to world-class travel experiences.

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The Royce Hotel building (what you see here today), began its life as an opulent car showroom commissioned by racehorse owner, motoring buff and pioneering car dealer, Charles Kellow. Reputedly the first person to own a car in Melbourne, Kellow handpicked the high profile site on Melbourne’s grand boulevard to highlight the elite status of the luxury American and British motorcars, including Rolls Royce, Bentley and Packard that he was importing.

Kellow commissioned prominent Melbourne architect, Harry A. Norris, to design his new monument to the motorcar. Norris was a champion of Spanish Mission style and was responsible for the iconic Nicholas Building, Curtin House and Majorca House in Melbourne’s CBD. Norris created an extravagant showroom and offices that embraced the excesses of the Roaring 20s and set a new standard in luxury for commercial establishments in the Southern Hemisphere.

Opening in 1928, the car salon had all the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood Hills mansion, with a lofty gold ceiling, marble stairs with an iron balustrade, a palm fountain, Spanish style tiling, faience detailing and copper and wrought iron chandeliers. More like a ballroom than a showroom, walking into the space in the 1920s was like entering a theatrical world of fast cars, movie stars, and flowing Champagne. That is until the Great Depression cooled everyone’s engines.

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The Second World War saw the Royce Hotel building then known as Kellow House, drafted into military service. The grandeur and flamboyant decoration in the luxury showroom must have felt strange and exotic to the government officials and military staff who worked there. The building was transformed into the headquarters for the Royal Australian Air Force Records Section and then employed as a recruiting centre.

In 1949 the State Electricity Corporation renamed the building Rubicon House and once again the Royce address was on the cutting edge as the SEC began a progressive program of power research and development from the building. The site came full circle in the 1970s where high performance vehicles were again the focus when Rubicon House was occupied by the Department of Civil Aviation.

The architectural and historical significance of Kellow’s original showroom was recognised with a Heritage Victoria listing in the 1980s. This ensured the protection of the ornate Spanish Mission features when the building was redeveloped as the luxury Royce Hotel in the 1990s. In recent years, a stunning renovation draws inspiration from the Hollywood flamboyance and the spirit of indulgence of the Roaring 20s. A lavish ballroom, indulgent eateries, an over-the-top bar and opulently appointed rooms mark a return to greatness for The Royce.