THE new owners of a once-crumbling building in Fremantle’s historic West End have defended their restoration project.
West End historian and former deputy mayor John Dowson has been highly critical of the revamp of the old Bairds Building at 37 High Street, describing it as symptomatic of the council’s lack of regard for built heritage.
But new owners Shane Braddock and Julie Morgan, who are both architects, say they’ve worked closely with the council and its heritage people to ensure a quality outcome.
The building had been empty for two years before they bought it.
“[Heritage architect] Alan Kelsall worked with us and didn’t let us get away with anything,” Mr Braddock says.
Plans to rip out upper level offices for the family home were dropped on Mr Kelsall’s advice. The couple now live in a rear building and the original office space will be reinstated, including space for Mr Braddock and Ms Morgan.
Restoration uncovered some treasures, including intact pressed-tin ceilings and basalt stone columns — a rare find that had council heritage bods racing in for a look.
Walls that were crumbling due to rising damp have been saved, windows have been reinstated and a box awning will be glass, enhancing the columns and giving a better viewing of the upper storey, Mr Braddock says.
However, the cost of replacing original windows and bullnose verandah was considered prohibitive on a rebuild that has cost around $1 million, the owners say.
Striking a balance with the needs of today’s business owners and colonial heritage is tricky but achievable, Mr Kelsall says.
The Bairds’ building was a good outcome for both, with nothing of heritage value removed.
“It was a good opportunity to strip away…ill-considered alterations…to reinforce the integrity and quality of the important original character of the building and re-establish some of its lost heritage value.”
Ugly 1960s changes to the front of the building made current work necessary: the large aluminium windows were given a tick when assessed under the international Burra Charter, Mr Kelsall says.
Mr Dowson is not convinced.
“[This] is a major redevelopment and it went through under delegated authority, allowing it to be done without scrutiny,” he said, claiming it put at further risk already slim hopes of achieving World Heritage listing for the West End.
by JENNY D’ANGER