Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

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Bleak House Hotel

97 Beaconsfield Parade, Albert Park

Location

South-eastern corner of Beaconsfield Parade and Victoria Avenue, Albert Park

Memories

The hotels's name described it all - totally exposed to the vagaries of the weather sweeping across the bay, it could be delightful on a balmy spring or autumn day.

But mid-winter, "Bleak" was the operative word unless one was well rigged out in heavy clothing, although once inside, I seem to remember a roaring log fire soon thawed out the old bones.  The dining room stretched along Beaconsfield Parade, most tables overlooking the beach to the right of the image - again Delightful or Bleak depending on the weather!

History

The Bleak House took its name from Charles Dickens’ ninth novel, published in instalments between March 1852 and September 1853.

The hotel was built for the prominent real estate agent, James Buxton, who resided in the property adjacent to the site and opened early in 1883, the first licensee Jeremiah W. O'Brien who transferred his existing licensee from the much smaller Builder's Arms hotel in Boundary Street which closed at the same time.  O'Brien went on to hold the license of the Bleak House for just over twenty years

Although perhaps lacking the grand style of the Hotel Victoria and Beaconsfield Hotel to the south, the Bleak House was designed for accommodation purposes as much as for the usual bar hospitality with visitors attracted to the bayside and the indoor baths that dotted the beach front along Beaconsfield Parade.


History

The Bleak House took its name from Charles Dickens’ ninth novel, published in instalments between March 1852 and September 1853.

(Above) the Bleak House, circa 1950 (below ) circa 1905

The hotel attracted little attention other than a couple of convictions for Sunday trading, but it was brought to the attention of The Argus readers in an unusual way.   Rather than the usual reference to the granting of a license or an advertisement for staff, the hotel became known through a letter from John Apperley, a resident at the hotel, thanking all that had assisted in the rescue of he and his wife after the 2,000 ton steamship Cheviot ran onto rocks at Port Phillip Heads and sank with the loss of 35 lives.

The hotel was also mentioned the following year as the site for inspection of plans for the filling of land in Danks Street, South Melbourne, some 10,000 cubic yards being estimated as required, the advertisement adding "Emerald Hill omnibuses now run to the hotel ".

For the connections of most of the newer hotels near or on the beachfront and Middle Park, the Licensing Board hearings of 1926 were little more than nuisance value in having to seek legal assistance, but for the owner-licensee of the Bleak House, Thomas Dorgan, the hearing left him with some invaluable legal advice.

It was suggested by Dorgan suggested that a lock-up shop in Victoria Avenue adjoining the hotel was part of the freehold and could be used if expansion was required.

This prompted the Bench to ask how the property had been removed from the licensed premises. Dorgan revealed he had sub-let the shop when he purchased the hotel a couple of years earlier, but under questioning confessed that he had never approached the Licensing Court to excise the shop from the licensed premises.  The Bench suggested that while it may be considered "a red-tape situation", if someone entered the shop with a bottle of beer after six o'clock, Dorgan was liable to prosecution and suggested he seek immediate legal advice.

The hotel was described in the hearing as a "good site enhanced by the cable car terminus and waiting room opposite in the Avenue", 24 rooms on a site 132 by 170 feet, well furnished with large dining room.  It was noted the hotel had nine permanent boarders, chiefly retired people.

Perhaps the Bleak House had a few moments of fame (or perhaps infamy) in 1942 when an American G.I., Private Edward Leonski was found guilty of the murders of three women and subsequently hanged. His first victim's body was found in the Albert Park Reserve, Leonski apparently strangling her after drinking whisky all morning and afternoon at the Bleak House

The premises since 1998 have been known as the Beach House Hotel; perhaps a positive name change given few today would remember the origins of the somewhat depressing "Bleak" House and now extends as a single story gaming area along Victoria Parade (probably the shop referred to in the 1926 hearings).

The façade has been modernized without the original structure being significantly altered and the section just visible to the extreme right of the 1950 image above has been either re-modelled or rebuilt with a glass frontage and acts as additional bar and function area