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William Street Precinct (East)

William Street Precinct (East) – originally called Hutt Street – contains the largest group of commercial buildings north of the railway line, predominantly dating from the 1890s to the 1920s and which, from the outside at least, have largely been left as they were originally built although some facades have been remodelled.  The buildings can be defined by two significant boom periods – the 1890s and the 1920s and combined have landmark significance due to their location at the northern gateway to the city centre.  Individually they are also significant in representing the work of some of the most prominent architectural firms in the State.   

By comparison to other main arterial streets in Perth, Hutt Street did get off to a slow start.  Development was slow mainly because it was so far from the Swan River which was the main transportation thoroughfare for the city.  The area was also low lying and swampy and subject to regular flooding from the many nearby lakes which were gradually drained and even filled in to enable development.   However, it was the construction of the railway line that would have a significant effect on the character of this part of the city, and which would mark the beginnings of the growth of the area as a commercial centre.   

By the 1890s Hutt Street like many other streets in Perth had changed its name – to William Street – and like so many other streets, it rapidly developed in response to the discoveries of gold in the eastern goldfields.  There were shops such as laundries, grocery shops, furniture dealers, fruiterers, butchers, tailors and hairdressers which were run not just by the descendants of the original British colonists, but also the new migrants including Asians and later Italians, as well as a burgeoning “red light area” with many brothels being set up in in the Northbridge area.  The diverse social and cultural mix of people who are drawn to this area, the ethnic diversity of the buildings’ tenants as well as the produce sold from them also gives the precinct a strong characteristic not really found anywhere else in Perth, apart from Chinatown on James/Roe Street.  The buildings’ uses in the precinct also reflects the prevalence of the many nearby nightclubs, restaurants and cafes. 

Detailed Description

William Street Precinct (East) – originally called Hutt Street – contains the largest group of commercial buildings north of the railway line, predominantly dating from the 1890s to the 1920s and which, from the outside at least, have largely been left as they were originally built although some facades have been remodelled.  The precinct physically reflects the development boom which occurred north of the railway at the turn of the century as a result of the gold rush prosperity and the associated growth in population. 

The buildings can be defined by two significant boom periods – the 1890s and the 1920s and combined have landmark significance due to their location at the northern gateway to the city centre.  Individually they are also significant in representing the work of some of the most prominent architectural firms in the State, such as Oldham and Cox; Oldham, Boas and Ednie Brown; Hobbs, Smith and Forbes; E Summerhayes and R Summerhayes; Hobbs Winning, and Harold Krantz.  The early establishment of William Street as an eclectic blend of commercial, cultural and ‘immoral’ activities shaped its early character, and the present diverse social, cultural and commercial mix is a continuation of its growth in development from the turn of the 20th century. 

By comparison to other main arterial streets in Perth, Hutt Street did get off to a slow start.  Although recognised as a thoroughfare from 1847, even by the 1870s Hutt Street had not been surfaced and was still little more than a track.  However, there were still some significant developments to occur here such as the Perth Gaol (1854) and Perth Girls’ and Infants’ School (1877).  But development was slow mainly because it was so far from the Swan River which was the main transportation thoroughfare for the city.  The area was also low lying and swampy and subject to regular flooding from the many nearby lakes which were gradually drained and even filled in to enable development.    

In the late 1870s, plans to construct a Fremantle to Guildford railway commenced with the first train running by 1880.   It was the construction of the railway line that would have a significant effect on the character of this part of the city, with the line effectively dividing Perth into north and south.  Although initially considered an impediment to development, the beginnings of the growth of the area as a commercial centre can be partly attributed to the establishment of the Railway Station on Wellington Street in 1881.  Even though it was on the south side of the railway line and faced onto Wellington Street it still drew a lot of commercial activity to the north side of the railway line.   

In the late 1880s, Hutt Street was still flying under the radar, but by the 1890s Hutt Street, like so many other streets in Perth, rapidly developed in response to the discoveries of gold in the eastern goldfields, namely in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie/Boulder.  In 1897, many of the street names were also changed by the City of Perth.  Hutt Street was renamed William Street, and the northern and southern sections in either side of the railway line were now linked.  Being close to the railway line, during this period the majority of the buildings erected were shops such as laundries, grocery shops, furniture dealers, fruiterers, butchers, tailors and hairdressers which were run not just by the descendants of the original British colonists, but also the new migrants including Asians and later Italians.  There was also a notable amount of residential occupation at this time with some free-standing or detached private residences as well as private boarding houses, and many of the two storey commercial buildings had residential apartments on the first floor.  By the early 20th century, William Street, particularly south of Aberdeen Street, had become a busy commercial and cultural centre.  But it also had a reputation as a “red light area” with many brothels being set up in former houses along William Street and in and around the whole area bounded by Roe, James and Aberdeen Streets.   

The construction of the Horseshoe Bridge in 1903 had a major impact on the role of William Street as an arterial road. Although the bridge was unpopular in some circles, mainly because the shape of it meant that pedestrians had to walk a great deal further to get over the railway line, the bridge had a favourable impact on businesses in William Street as access between the northern and southern parts of the city was no longer dependent on railway traffic, and there were no more delays at the William Street crossing. 

Some of the outstanding buildings on this east side of the street include the Rechabite Hall, Perth Hostel, Taylors Buildings, National Bank and Rosen Buildings.  Taylor’s Buildings was built in 1896 and used for a variety of commercial purposes with one of the longest tenants being Hang Lee’s laundry.  The Perth Hostel is an early landmark building especially due to its three-storey height.  It was originally built in c1903 as the Perth Coffee Palace but was adapted and operated for many years as an inner city residential hostel for disadvantaged persons.  It was remodelled giving it the present Inter-War Art Deco façade.  National Australia Bank was erected in 1921, designed by architects Hobbs Smith and Forbes. The current façade was added in 1954 and is a good example of small scale, Post-War International (or “Moderne”) commercial architecture in Perth.  The original façade was understood to have matched the parapet detail of the neighbouring Rosen Buildings which was built in 1923 and designed by architect F. W. Upton.  The Rechabite Hall was one of the last significant buildings constructed on this east side of William Street.  It was built in 1924 by the Independent Order of Rechabites, a temperance and friendly society who were prominent in the 1920s and 1930s in Western Australia and who had a significant impact on the community of the time.  It was also a concert and dance hall and place of entertainment which very much characterised Northbridge in the late 20th century and which would continue on in many ways into its adaptation as a popular independent theatre venue up until the early 2000s.  The Rechabite Hall is a good example of the work of Edwin Summerhayes and of the Inter-War Free Classical style, showcasing classical elements and detailing.   

The diverse social and cultural mix of people who are drawn to this area, the ethnic diversity of the buildings’ tenants as well as the produce sold from them also gives the precinct a strong characteristic not really found anywhere else in Perth, apart from Chinatown on James/Roe Street.  The buildings’ uses in the precinct also reflects the prevalence of the many nearby nightclubs, restaurants and cafes.

Location