WITH at least fairly high-rise re-development looming for parts of Fremantle, the opportunity might be snatched to remember curious corners of the CBD. Not much is left; many are already long gone, some soon to go.
Rows of unromantic but essential public toilets were recently lost from the service laneway behind the Maya Restaurant in Higham Buildings, where Market Street meets the Terrace. They served customers of the 1914 indoor and outdoor continuous films of the Palladium Picture Palace, now site of a backpacker’s fronting Packenham Street. With them went an offbeat attraction of old brick structures, amusing plumbing and earliest examples of electrical wiring.
Paddy Troy Mall no longer exits onto William Street under the bridging upper floor of Manning’s Buildings, that private lane being closed off several years ago for a shop but Manning Arcade still gives access to it off the High Street Mall. The last old character shop-houses of that sector have long disappeared or been converted.
The narrow space between buildings that connects South Terrace with that mall alongside Soho Kitchen and Pizza Bella Roma is traversable, although partly absorbed by the exotic Kaza Bianca. Parallel with that at the beginning of South Terrace, it is still possible to sneak into the Newport, formerly Newcastle Club Hotel and whip quickly down its long atmospheric central passageway to the mall. A sidelong glimpse inside the toilets is a bonus – of sorts.
Soon for re-development, Wesley Arcade opposite the Post Office, despite from a much-criticised architectural era, has its own kind of secretive charm with its two levels and branching section toward the church wall. The cloistered mood is all the more accentuated now it is almost deserted.
In a similar way, the derided Westgate Mall offers a degree of sanctuary within its north-south orientation, screened from the activity of its aligned Cantonment and Adelaide Streets. The brutality of the architecture conveys a feeling of strength all the more felt amidst the swirling winds and rain of a winter’s day. All soon to go, with few regrets.
Little Tum Tum Tree Lane, home to the Beetroot Café and mostly empty bijou shops except for a florist almost hides, somewhat unloved, inside the elbow of the intersection of Queen Street and High, diagonally opposite Victoria Hall. Here is a gem of quaintness, giving on to such a rarity: open courtyard dining with old walls.
Its gated arch that once gave access to the Johnston Court building car park is now locked and a handy shortcut of less security-conscious times has been denied public thoroughfare. The single story deco-style former Walter T West building next door has character and historic interest, unlike adjacent shops.
The narrow lane alongside Victoria Hall has been built over to create its Hobbs’ Bar and so has sealed off pedestrians from the rear Phanos service lane and access to the end of Queen Street, once a handy disappearing trick detour to avoid bumping into someone you didn’t want to see.
That lane now ends in a large hidden space dominated by a spreading fig tree and might nearly be described as a shady inner courtyard with charming potential but for it being more dominated by essential parking than gardens.
Such surprises are examples of underused open areas and airspace in the very centre of the city. The area around Bodhi’s Bakery at the foot of Ellen Street is another of these; similarly for huge areas of ground-level parking around Johnston Court and adjacent buildings.
Taken in all, a surprising amount of the CBD is underused in this way and offers itself to imaginative and sensitive development to intensify activity in the heart of Fremantle.