History: The Mountain Heritage (The California)

The late 1800’s saw the emergence of a tourism industry for the Blue Mountains, which by the early 1900’s was probably the largest regional tourist area in Australia. The Blue Mountains International reputation grew as a result of the exposure of it’s natural charms at the New York Film Festival. By the 1920’s and 1930’s the mountains was firmly fixed as the honeymoon capital of Australia, and indeed was promoted in the UK as the ‘playground of the Commonwealth.’

The Mountain Heritage, formally known as ‘The Califormia’, was built back in 1908 by Herbert Preston, a wealthy Sydney businessman whose many interests included Australasian representation for the Swiss based coffee and chocolate company, Nestle. The astute businessman followed the age-old real estate adage of ‘location, location, location.’

The site Herbert Preston chose to build his grand ‘coffee palace’ was perfectly situated on a commanding ridge with breath-taking views of the rugged cliff faces and tree-filled canyons of the Jamison Valley and beyond. Little did Preston realise that those dramatic views which stretched out more than 100kms to the south past ‘The Gib’ at Bowral, would become part of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Listed Wilderness in 2000, thus protecting their uniqueness for all time.

The property quickly became the favourite haunt for the stars of stage and screen and played host to famous business and political leaders.

In September 1935. The Herald reported that the property was ‘the largest and most palatial guesthouse in the southern hemisphere, with hot and cold water in each room, a neon lighted ballroom, inhouse entertainment and a permanent orchestra’.

During World War 2 the property was taken over by the Department of the Interior to provide accommodation for female munitions workers at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory and was later purchased by the Australian Government to house British Naval Personnel and their families who were recruited by the Australian Navy to work on the new aircraft carriers HMAS Sydney and HMAS Melbourne. During this time the property was renamed The Naval Guesthouse.

The early history of both Sydney and The Blue Mountains is displayed at The Mountain Heritage in what is possibly the largest private collection of historical photographs in Australia.

In I991, ‘The California’ was renamed ‘The Mountain Heritage’ following the first major refurbishment, to truly reflect the history and ambience of yesteryear.


The Building Called The Mountain Heritage…

A unique physical location demanded a unique building, so American architect Legge was engaged to create what was the largest timber framed building in the Southern Hemisphere. The 2 and 3 storey structure originally called ‘The California’, was clad in Californian Redwood and stained in a deep burgundy colour called Indian Red. We have tried to remain faithful to the original colour schemes today.

The unusual castle-like tower with it’s sandstone battlements was built to house the Palm Court Room which is now known as the Tower Room. The circular structure also ensured that the Winter Westerly winds deflected off the building and a huge 4 storey oblong brick structure at the rear acted as a key to anchor the building while allowing it to flex slightly. At the time, it was the leading edge technology, as were the internal ceiling and wall linings and the unique metal truss system which created a large ballroom that was pillar-free.

The balcony and battlements were favourite locations for the entertainers of the 1920’s and 30’s when guests enjoyed Saturday afternoon concerts followed by dancing in the ‘neon lighted ballroom’ during the evening.

Today the sweeping timber staircase, leadlights and doors, gold leaf decorative cornices, and the beautiful marbleised and sponged decorative paint finishes by Leura artist Siita Rivas captures the original romance and elegance of the property.

Much of the secondary buildings named Gawlers (behind the present swimming pool and now boasting our two Valley View Suites) was demolished to provide parking, as was a building at the rear. Of course when The Mountain Heritage was built, the idea of motor cars for the masses was only a dream and most people arrived by steam train or horse drawn coach.

While there are many historic and interesting buildings in the Blue Mountains, The Mountain Heritage provides a unique experience due to it’s contruction, it’s architecture, it’s locational orientation and it’s interpretation of the natural and  man-made environments. It also provides the highest standards of today’s services, facilities and is Australia’s only remaining Grand Guesthouse still being used for it’s original purpose.

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