Our Hotel History, Scenic Hotel Southern Cross
In 1880, James and John Watson leased land in High Street from Mr John Sidey for an annual rent of ₤1965. The brothers had previously owned and operated the Royal Hotel, the Empire Hotel and Watson’s Commercial Dining Rooms/the Commercial Hotel between them. The site on the corner of High and Princes Street was to become their greatest, and grandest, investment.
Designed by Italian born architect Louis Boldini, the Grand Hotel cost over ₤40,000 when it was completed in 1883 and was lauded as one of the most well appointed establishments in the Southern Hemisphere.
Scenic Hotel Southern Cross was designed and furnished to provide the ultimate in hotel experience with only the highest quality of materials used. Mosaic inlaid floors, glass domes and majestic pillars gave the entrance a true sense of grandeur. Modern Otis elevators and Shacklock stoves further set the hotel apart from its contemporaries.
Luxuriously appointed and “…furnished with a degree of luxury and taste seldom seen except in the leading hotels of Europe.*” the hotel has hosted many famous guests. Yehudi Menuin, Sir Lawrence Olivier and several members of royalty have ascended the grand staircase and crossed the intricate Minton Tiles, as have many of today’s top sports teams and personalities from across the globe.
The Watson brothers successfully operated the hotel for ten years until 1893 when they were forced into bankruptcy as a direct result of escalating rent increases. While the brothers owned the hotel, the land remained subject to an annual rental. Due to a ‘ratchet clause’ in the lease, the rent charged was directly linked to the profitability of the establishment. The Watson’s good fortune was, ironically, their downfall. Legislation was later reviewed and changed to prevent such activities as a consequence.
*Excerpt from Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1901