The Illawarra Mercury reporting team is bringing you a weekly series of behind-the-scenes insights, exclusive to our subscribers. Today, Kate McIlwain tells the story behind the story of Hilda's Bar.
Like many people in Wollongong, up until this year, I knew the Hotel Illawarra mostly for its dark and sticky "retro" dancefloor.
Sure, the outside of the pub often looked stunning lit up in the evening light when I was making my way home from work, but I'd paid little regard to its history - assuming all that had been forgotten when the ground floor of the pub was gutted to make way for the night club.
But this week, that all changed as I learnt about Wollongong trendsetter and trailblazer Hilda Gertrude Condon and her reign as the hotel's first licensee, starting in 1938.
With the help of current managers Nikki and Ryan Aitchison, and Hilda's granddaughter - who grew up overlooking Keira Street in an apartment on the pub's first floor - I uncovered the story of a colourful Wollongong character who had almost been forgotten.
You can read about it - and the pub's newly named Hilda's Bar - in this week's Weekender Magazine feature, or online as part of our subscriber only content.
As part of my research for the story, I got to have a peek through the first floor of the pub which has been closed off to public access for many years. Under an approved development application, Nikki and Ryan have plans to turn it into functional space: including a rooftop cocktail bar and hotel rooms.
But for now, it remains almost as Hilda Condon's family would have left it when she died and they sold the pub in the 1960s. The family's apartment at the front is mostly intact, and some of the old hotel rooms have the original tiles and fittings (some of them gathering dusty in the corner of the room.
The curved walls, wooden staircase and muted paint colours are just as they would have been when the pub opened in 1938, when the Mercury described it as being "magnificently appointed, and indeed almost palatial, and everything that is necessary for modern comfort has been provided".
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