In 1916 The Paragon Café was established at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales by Greek immigrant Theo Simos and his family. It became an enormous success, and far more than a café. The art-deco interior still features a banquet room, and a ballroom. Young men courted their sweethearts with the Paragon’s boxes of hand made confectionery and society brides ordered a wedding cake from the café for their big day.
As the name suggests, there was nothing to rival the Paragon, although it was once almost destroyed by a runaway motor vehicle.
1924 – UNDER ASSAULT BY A BLACKHEATHEN BOLTER
Katoomba Daily Thursday 4 December 1924
Consternation was caused among the 40 persons quietly enjoying their coffee and cakes at the Paragon Café, Katoomba Street, about 10.30 on Tuesday night, when a motor car, belonging to Mr Milton G.M Beadman of Blackheath, ran amok and unannounced crashed into the northern window of the premises, creating great havoc.
It appears that the car had been left outside the Classic Fish store, and for some reason at present unknown began running backwards.
As it careered down the hill, which at this point is somewhat steep, it speedily gathered speed until without warning it turned, mounted the footpath, and smashed into the handsome frontage of the Paragon, ruining three of the splendid plate glass windows and cracking beyond repair one panel of the adjoining windows.
In addition, much damage was done to the cake and sweet stands, but following the precedent established by Katoomba inhabitants no pilfering is to be recorded.
No pilfering? Given the reputation of the cakes and chocolates at the Paragon, the restraint of the public was admirable
To the credit of the Simos family everything was back on track in time for the Christmas trade. The Katoomba Daily ran a feature on local shops on December 20.
Full preparations have been made by this firm for the Xmas trade in the cake and confectionary departments. Their cakes have already achieved universal distinction…..In the chocolate department they hold a wide range of handsomely boxed goods that when emptied of their contents make splendid and lasting handkerchief or oddment boxes. One of the nicest we noticed is priced at 50/-. It has two trays filled with the choicest chocolates and when emptied would prove a worthy ornament to any dressing-table or side-cabinet.
THE PARAGON FULLY RESTORED TO GLORY!
A write-up in The Farmer and Settler, October 27 1938 gives an idea of the Paragon at the height of its fame;
Decorated wedding cakes receive special attention. They have been made at The Paragon for many society weddings on the Blue Mountains and in other parts of Australia. At an exhibition in London, when competitors included pastry cooks from all parts of the British Empire, Paragon took the prize for a quality mixture wedding cake. Numerous prizes have been won at exhibitions in Sydney’
Home-made biscuits are packed in decorated tins with mountain views, representing a souvenir that is as appetizing as it is unique.
Dancers are lured by the ballroom, which has a spring floor of the latest type. Neon colored lights on the frieze tone with the miniature stage. Many hundreds of squares of gold mirrors, the excellent taste of Italian walnut glass topped tables, and the luxurious seating accommodation in Dunlopillo, combine to make the room a scene of comfort and beauty. Like its trade-mark – the Orphan Rock -the Paragon stands alone.
A FAR GREATER THREAT
In 2018, high rent and the need for urgent repairs to the heritage listed building meant that the final operator of the business did not renew her lease. Sadly, the Paragon has now closed. We can only hope that this much loved cultural treasure is able to rise like a mythical Greek phoenix and continue to delight us. The photo below was taken at a function I attended during the last months of the Paragon.
While I was taking the photo below, two elderly couples arrived and were shocked and disappointed to find the old place closed. They had travelled a long way to Katoomba hoping to revive happy memories of visits to the Paragon in the 1960s.
Katoomba, like the whole of the Blue Mountains, suffered badly during the bushfires. Now of course, the local economy is in even deeper trouble due to the Covid19 pandemic. But there is good news. Work is reportedly underway on the restoration of The Paragon. It will be a huge task, to be completed under strict heritage guidelines.