Coliseum Antiques – A Short History

Coliseum Antiques opened in October 2004.

The Coliseum building was purchased by the present owners in 2002.  It was dilapidated to say the least. A picture speaks a thousand words; so this is what it looked like.

The Coliseum, was built by the Maley family in 1921. It has been sympathetically restored with many of its original features being retained. The stained glass windows were repaired, the floorboards sanded and polished, the awning rebuilt and the original honey pine shelving maintained. Even the window scrolls with their TC insignia (purloined by Leo Maley from the Civic Theatre) were remade and put back in the windows. The back wall of the shop was opened up and a large extension was added, to fit in all the antique dealers. Many people don’t realise that this part of the building has been added on. The ‘new’ floorboards came from the Johns’ building and the pressed metal ceiling came from the Winns’ building. Both these buildings were well known Newcastle department stores in Hunter Street, before they were turned into apartments in the early 2000s. It’s rather special that a part of them live on at The Coliseum.

Several years later, after this enormous amount of work was completed, the owner won The Landcom Lower Hunter Heritage Award.

Leo Maley’s beloved Coliseum is once again a special place, an iconic building, standing proudly in Mayfield West.  The doors that were firmly closed on faded goods and abandoned shop fittings for more than 20 years, are now opened widely and daily to Coliseum Antiques’ customers. Lots of our customers comment on how beautiful the antique shop looks. Hopefully, the Maley family approves. 

Do you remember Leo?

Many Novocastrians still recall the memorable character who owned The Coliseum before it became an Antique Centre; the infamous Leo Maley.  Leo Maley and his parents before him, ran The Coliseum as a mixed goods store. They sold groceries, hardware, kerosene lamps, clothing and the hats that Mrs Maley made. Newcastle’s first self-serve supermarket was The Coliseum.  The turnstile was a repurposed bicycle wheel (truly upcycling at its best!).

As a young man Leo appeared to be successful. He was awarded a Master of Science from Sydney University in 1948 and rumor has it that he worked on the rocket program at Woomera in South Australia. Leo was an only child and was very close to his mother. He never got over her death in 1951 when he was 31 years of age. After his father died in 1967, Leo became more and more eccentric, reclusive and anti-authoritarian. He had inherited a significant amount of money and shares, 3 residential properties and The Coliseum. However Leo didn’t maintain any of the properties, refused to pay utility bills or taxes, rarely opened the shop and barely looked after himself. During the 30 years before he died in 2001, there were more than 70 articles in the Newcastle Herald about him. They were mostly about Leo’s battles with the Newcastle Council over the terrible states of the properties he owned and rented out, and the deterioration of The Coliseum. Leo always represented himself in court and tested the patience of many judges. (One judge called him a sanctimonious old crank.) In 1983, Leo was gaoled for 18 months for the misappropriation of a $360.00 cheque in a tenancy dispute. He came out of goal a broken man but still refused to pay his bills and the services to The Coliseum were cut off. For the last 13 years of his life, Leo lived without electricity, water and sewerage in his derelict building. Leo’s outstanding bills and the ensuing interest mounted up to the point where he was declared bankrupt, 3 days before he died, aged 80 in December 2000.

The rumours about Leo’s wealth, that he always denied, were true. After he died it was found that he had over $300,000.00 in liquid assets as well as the properties. There was no will and no family to inherit the remaining money, so in the end it went to the bureaucracies that Leo had spent his whole life fighting against.