Coffee Palace Fire


Thursday, March 8, 1928
(Contrib. by Don Lethborg)


Railway Coffee Palace Goes Up in Smoke, Relic of Old Walhalla Gone

Traralgon people were treated yesterday to the biggest flare seen here for years. The Railway Coffee Palace caught fire, and for a time it looked as though the whole of Railway Street houses were in jeopardy.

The fire bell went about 3.30, and in a few seconds the whole of the shops in the main street were denuded of customers and shop hands.

The fire took little locating. A huge cloud of smoke directed the crowd to the other side of the Railway Station. Some people thought it was the ramshackle station itself that was ablaze. "Good job", they said, "we might have a chance of getting a new building if that old thing goes."

At top speed - The crowd dashed across the railway footbridge. In a few minutes the whole town seemed to be at the scene of the conflagration. But in those few minutes the flames had taken rapid hold of the old coffee palace building and the intense heat drove the crowd back.

It was soon realised that there was not the remotest possibility of saving the coffee palace, but before the flames got too great a hold, many willing hands went in the windows, and beds, bedding and articles of wearing apparel and furniture were put on the streets.

Many members of the fire brigade were away at the annual demonstration at Geelong, but those who were left behind, and. ex-firemen, assisted by many willing workers performed a great work with the hose.

Better Pressure
The benefit of the larger water main down the street was amply illustrated . There was a very fair pressure, and three jets were played on the fire.

But for the good pressure and the fine work of the fire-fighters, the whole of the small cottages in Railway Street must have been demolished. It was only the east wind that saved the near-by house in which Mr. Everett resides. It was a consistent wind - not a chop in it. It blew west, driving the flames across the roadway dividing Mr. J. Fogarty's place from the burning building. For quite a time people watched a big flowering gum tree in Mr Fogarty's yard.

They wondered would it catch alight and ignite the house alongside.

GOOD-BYE TO GUM  -  At last a great tongue of flame broke through the west side of the doomed coffee palace, and licked the green tree. Gradually the intense heat turned the green tree into a dry one. Jets of water were poured onto the tree to keep it from bursting into flame. Frequently it got alight, but was soon subdued with the water. The hedge caught alight, and shared a similar fate. Then the electric light and telephone poles started to burn.

At last the western wall of the old building caved in, and all that was left of the building was a mass of tangled roofing iron and chimneys.   The tree and the fire-fighters had saved the Fogarty homestead.  It was a great fight, in which the honors of the day were with the fire fighters "It was a fine save".

The coffee palace was composed of several old buildings bought and brought from Walhalla. "I carted them here," said Mr. J.H.Rogers to the writer, as he looked on at the leaping, licking flames doing their deadly work.

Mrs. Lethborg made a dash for her room in which there was a handbag containing 25 in notes. She was unable to effect a rescue, and the money was licked up by the flames along with almost the whole of the family belongings. Mrs. Lethborg will be a severe loser. It is said that only recently she was made an offer for the business on a "walk-in" "walk-out" basis. It was refused.

Photo- Lethborg's Railway Coffee Palace before the fire
(From the Society's archives)