TWENTY-TWO years ago the face of Princes Street was changed forever as fire claimed the grand Palace Hotel.
The six-storey Palace Hotel graced the corner of Princes Street and Castle Street for over a century. It was built in 1888 when architect James MacIntyre Henry (later responsible for the Royal British Hotel) simply improvised upon the existing Georgian townhouses at 113-117 Princes Street by creating three additional floors, large bay windows and elegant roof features. The hotel opened in early 1889 after the business relocated from its original premises at 109 Princes Street. The new Palace Hotel was considered a grand addition to Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare and attracted an elite clientèle for a number of years after opening due partly to its stunning views of Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle.
A conversion in the early 20th century introduced a number of shop outlets to the ground floor level of the hotel - including the renowned Melrose’s tearooms.
Although never considered anywhere near as prestigious as hotels such as the Caledonian or North British, the Palace’s imposing scale and distinctive pyramidal twin towers added considerable value to the roofscape of Princes Street and cut a fine, picturesque silhouette when viewed from afar. Sadly, it all came tumbling down following a devastating blaze 22 years ago.
A victim of fire
The Palace Hotel fire started on the evening of June 9 1991 after youths managed to break in to the building which was lying empty at the time. Having set light to pieces of paper to help find their way around in the dark, the teenagers carelessly discarded their makeshift torches in a corridor before making a hasty escape. A taxi driver raised the alarm just after 10pm as he spotted the flames bursting through the hotel’s windows. Fire-fighters were quick to the scene but could do nothing as the ensuing inferno, fanned by an elevator shaft within the hotel’s warren of narrow corridors, consumed the Palace and a neighbouring 18th century house on Castle Street within just a matter of hours. Thankfully no lives were lost as both buildings were unoccupied. However, the blaze and subsequent demolition a few days later had rendered one of Princes Street’s finest buildings to rubble.
7 Castle Street
The gapsite which was left from the Palace Hotel’s demise allowed for the construction of the first major development on Princes Street since the early 1970s. The new office block “7 Castle Street”, featuring several retail units above, was completed in 1995 to an uncomplicated, modern design.
Despite matching the original building in scale, 7 Castle Street is widely considered to fall slightly short aesthetically compared to the once-majestic Palace Hotel.
• David McLean is the founder of the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page