Whitewash at the U.S. Laundry

While one would not think it today, American forces had a large presence in Fremantle during the Second World War.  One of the final vestiges of that era is threatened with demolition if Fremantle Council’s Planning Services Committee (PSC) gets its way.  The building in question is the former USA Laundry building located at the Fremantle Arts Centre.  A modest building with a modest use but none the less an important part of Fremantle’s social history.  The place was built by the Americans from Oregon that they brought from America, so it represents a rare remaining example of the cultural heritage of that period and is unique in its construction.  Issues recognised by the Council’s Heritage Planner whose report recommended refusal of application for demolition from Western Australian Museums (WAM). WAM used the building as Restoration Laboratories for 35 years (1970-2005) they decided it was unfit for their workplace use 2005.  At PSC on 12th January a representative from WAM spoke enthusiastically on the need for demolition due to its derelict nature, as a result of WAM neglect & a sad indicator of their stewardship.  Apparently, If WAM application for demolition is approved the Council gets the vacant site for use by FAC.

Previous Council debate on this application centred on the cost of renovation and possible use for the building rather than the crucial aspect of what Heritage values the building has.  This is a most unfortunate example of double standards, Council is (suitably) unforgiving when refusing the Dept of Housing & Works requests for demolition of Hilton homes based on buildings poor state of repair, posing an asbestos risk and not being appropriate for their use; yet Councillors are using the same arguments for an application relating to a building on the FAC site.

The role of Councillors is to provide leadership, not to management; ratepayers pay senior managers large amounts of money to do that.  If the Council truly believe demolishing buildings of significant cultural and built Heritage values shows leadership, then the Fremantle Society has its work cut out in 2011.

Please get in touch on 0417 901 809 or president@fremantlesociety.org.au if you have any personal interest in, or stories of, the site or the WW2 US Navy era in general.

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