When it was completed in 1913, the Royal Hall of Industries at Sydney Showground was the largest exhibition hall in the southern hemisphere. While it is remembered by many Sydneysiders as the showbag pavilion at the Royal Easter Show – before moving to Homebush in 1996 – the building had a secret life for the other ten months of the year…
Initially the Royal Hall of Industries was used as a roller skating rink, then as a temporary emergency hospital during the outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1919, and from the early 1920s, it became one of the most popular dance and jazz venues in Sydney.
The Palais Royale, as it was known, was run by Canadian-born entrepreneur Jimmy Bendrodt in the months between the Royal Easter Shows. Bendrodt was a multi-faceted man about town – he was a roller skater, ice skater, restaurateur, actor, boxer, lumberjack, author, soldier, racehorse owner and athlete. And he was also a popular fixture on Sydney’s entertainment circuit, responsible for bringing out a range of popular American dance and jazz acts to Australian shores.
He later oversaw the conversion of the Royal Hall of Industries in another incarnation as an ice skating rink – the Ice Palais– which was short lived due to the outbreak of the Second World War, when it was requisitioned by the military for use as the rather less enticing AIF District Accounts Office.
The Trocadero dance hall opened in 1936 on George Street, and soon took the mantle as Sydney’s premier dance hall. Like the Palais Royale, the ‘Troc’ was run by the charismatic Bendrodt.
Two of the most popular jazz and dance acts at the Trocadero in the late 1930s were band leader Frank Coughlan and the Trocadero All Girl’s Band although many other acts were imported from America in this period. During the Second World War, the Trocadero became a Recreational Centre for both American and Australian Non-commissioned Forces Personnel. By the early 1940s, it was attracting up to 5000 couples every weekend. One of the main attractions was the racy jitterbug and swing dancing, made popular by visiting American servicemen.
The Trocadero became less popular in the 1950s with changing and competing tastes in popular culture – mainly TV and rock ‘n’ roll music. The ‘Troc’ was closed in 1971 and demolished four years later to make way for the Hoyts multiplex cinema. No sign of it remains. But if you find yourself at Fox Studios, maybe seeing a band at the Hordern, you’ll espy the Royal Hall of Industries aka the Palais Royale next door…