The Fire-Prone Criterion Hotel

FitzmauriceSt [RW98_25](6)b
Millenet’s Criterion Hotel and Bellair’s Commercial Hotel side by side in Fitzmaurice Street, during the 1891 flood (from the Gormly Collection, RW98)
The Criterion Hotel, located next to the more substantial Commercial Hotel (later Romanos), was established in 1870 by James Markey. Markey, an Englishman, who had arrived in Wagga by the late 1850’s, was also licensee of the Prince of Wales, New Ferry and Squatters Hotels at various times.

Markey purchased the one acre site, which included extensive stores and a commodious dwelling, for £1800 in March 1870. He converted the existing dwelling, which consisted of seven bedrooms, a large drawing room, pantry, kitchen, servant’s room, laundry, offices and underground cellar into “the equal of any hotel out of Sydney”.

A publican’s licence was obtained in May 1870. The Bar and Commercial Rooms commenced operation on June 2, but the opening of remainder of the Hotel was delayed until July 23. Remarkably, and quite unfortunately for Mr Markey, the Hotel was burned to the ground that same night.

Mr Markey recovered from this devastating loss and rebuilt the Hotel upon a much grander scale. Within 18 months of the fire, the Criterion had been transformed into one of the more elegant hotels in Wagga, boasting 36 rooms and featuring a system of plunge and shower baths.

The hotel changed hands many times over the next seven years, with the license passing from Markey to John Clark in 1872 and then transferring to John Perrin, Samuel Gorman, Michael Gorman and eventually to Harry Moxham in 1878.

In 1880, with Moxham as licensee, the Criterion was once again in the news, this time caught up in a much more destructive fire.

By 1883, the hotel was being run by Jean Henry Millenet, who had arrived in Wagga from France during the 1860’s. Millenet, who had operated a bakery during his early years in Wagga, was licensee until 1913, when he relinquished control to Peter Sullivan. He died in Wagga on December 1, 1917.

The Criterion served the public of Wagga until May 24, 1960 when it closed. The furniture and equipment were auctioned on June 7 that year and the building itself demolished in December 1961.

Criterion Demolition001
The Criterion under demolition late 1961 (Tom Lennon Collection – RW1574/330)

 

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