The Sylvania Hotel was described as the most modern in Australia when it opened in 1959 on the site previously occupied by one of Sydney’s most popular and, at times, notorious nightspots.
Oyster Bill’s, which was later renamed Skelsey’s and the Colony Club, was located at the corner of Princes Highway and Port Hacking Road from the 1930s to the late 1950s.
Today, the hotel, without its former attached motel, continues to operate as The Crest alongside Southgate Shopping Centre.
“Australia’s only fully air-conditioned hotel, The Sylvania brings a new concept to a pleasant social pastime,” proclaimed a newspaper ad in 1959.
Patrons were entertained every night by “the fabulous Stan Bourne Show”, a six-piece band “direct from the Gold Coast”.
“Enjoy your drinks in the fabulous surroundings of the vast lounge or sheltered terraces,” the ad said.
“Dance, dine, wine in an atmosphere of murals, music and merriment.”
The new hotel included “world class accommodation” in an attached 26-unit motel.
“Every bedroom is individually coloured planned, each with private shower and toilet,” the ad said.
“This motel-style accommodation is equal to the world’s best… complete with built-in radio and fitted for private television viewing.”
The hotel design was adopted from the US and included a bar area occupying most of the long building, with a full-length counter.
This opened out onto a wide terrace looking over the motel’s sun deck and pool, which was retained from Oyster Bill’s.
The side of this building facing Princes Highway included a mural in coloured tiles, with sprays of water.
The drive-in bottle department was another new concept.
Future stages would include a new style drive-in shopping centre, which preceded Southgate, and service station.
The hotel is just one chapter in the rich history of the prominent location at the turnoff to Cronulla.
In late 1929, Australia’s first motel was built on the site, says Sutherland Shire – A History, by Paul Ashton, Jennifer Cornwall and Annette Salt.
The motel was intended to capitalise on the opening of Tom Uglys Bridge earlier that year, but it failed to appeal and, combined with lower than expected numbers of motorists using the bridge, closure followed within months.
Oyster Bill’s – originally named Bill the Oyster King nightclub and restaurant – was started by a young local couple Bill and Dora Skelsey in the 1930s.
Bill’s father had operated a small oyster kiosk near the Sylvania punt during the 1920s.
Set back from the road, the exotic cave-like structure had a fantasy grotto-style interior, while a separate cabaret area at the rear featured a pool surrounded by reproduction Grecian sculptures.
The novel decor and isolated bush setting, where after hours drinking could take place away from the eyes of licensing police, were all part of the attraction.
To give it a continental flavour, Bill Skelsey affected a “foreign” accent when taking bookings.
After they handed it over to managers to run, it became a haunt for big time criminals and “colourful characters”.
When the owners regained control about 1946, they renamed it Skelsey’s.
The Sun newspaper reported in 1950, “Bill Skelsey’s famous nightclub-restaurant” had been sold for £36,000 ($72,000) to a group of five businessmen.
In 1954, the Propeller newspaper reported the establishment, renamed the Colony Club, had been transformed to “a restaurant of epicurean delight”.
“The Colony Club is now Australia’s largest nightclub, with a seating capacity around it’s dance floors for 480, whilst there is a total seating capacity for more than 1000,” the newspaper said.
“No other night club can offer two dance floors [opening] onto a beer garden and barbecue, which provide an unusual setting for the swimming pool, which is unique for a Sydney night club, and is set in five acres of garden.”
The Colony Club was demolished in the late 1950s to make way for the Sylvania Hotel.