What is the future for the historic Commonwealth Hotel?
THE meticulous process to restore a historic Ipswich pub to its former glory is well underway but its future use is not yet clear.
The 110-year-old Commonwealth Hotel, also known as Murphy’s Town Pub, is being refurbished at a cost of about $6 million.
It has been carefully deconstructed with pieces of the old pub stored off-site to be restored and repaired.
By early December the building’s original panels will be brought back to site for installation to the facade.
A new 8.5 metre brick wall is being constructed on the western side of the building, which will take one month to complete and require more than 20,000 bricks.
The original bricks are being cleaned in the council’s off-site depot and stored alongside the original timber from windows, doors, the veranda and floors.
TMJ Architects director Peter Johnston is the project architect.
He has an extensive history with restoration projects, particularly in Ipswich.
“The front will be straightened and then panels will be lifted in later this month or early December,” he said.
“The front facade was cut into pieces and taken away to storage.
“There’s an awful lot of work that has to be done before with the inclusion of steel structures and all these sort of things to stabilise it all.
“Builders have been on-site for about two months getting all the background stuff right.
“It’s taken a long time to set up to get right.”
This current process only involves restoring the “shell” of the building and the council will then lease it to an external operator for a full fit-out.
“We’re not putting it back as a hotel,” Mr Johnston said.
“We don’t know what any tenant may want to use it for.
“I think council would like to see it become a hotel but until a tenant has a use in mind, there’s no point doing a fit out.
“The facade will be finished and the inside will be left as an empty shell.”
The building contract finishes in April.
Since 1934, the Johnston family has owned the Ulster Hotel up the road on Brisbane St.
It was designed by the same architect as the Commonwealth and built in the same year.
A metre-and-a-half of water went through the Ulster during the 2011 floods and it has been home to the Memories of India restaurant since 2018.
“We did a complete reinvention and tried to make it contemporary but still maintain the character,” Mr Johnston said.
“So we own a building that is so similar (to the Commonwealth) in very many ways, it’s not funny.
“I’ve done a lot of work through Ipswich and Brisbane and everywhere really doing that sort of thing.
“In the early 1980s, an awful lot of Ipswich’s character was taken away.
“Everything from the mall dates from the early 80s largely, except for a couple of buildings on the western side of Nicholas St.
“Unfortunately the Commonwealth Hotel was absolutely gutted in the ‘80s in a major renovation. A lot of its heart was torn out.
“We’re trying to make the building reflect its heritage so people can understand what it used to be but still be useful and have an ongoing life for a long time to come.”
Deputy mayor and Ipswich Central Redevelopment Committee chair Marnie Doyle said about $3.5 million has been spent to underpin the site and to install temporary bracing to keep it stable.
“Ipswich residents will recall that over the years (the pub) had suffered a significant crack in its facade due to subsidence which made the building uninhabitable,” she said.
“Council (is) keen to retain the iconic pub for future generations.”
Mr Johnston said it was incredibly fulfilling to complete projects like this.
“It’s about creating something interesting out of something that’s often been neglected for a very long time,” he said.
“Architecturally it’s really challenging because you’re trying very hard to keep the character of an existing building but you often need to reinvent the current use or a use that works in an old form.”
Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.