Fremantle Stuff > Buildings > Owston Building

owston mapOwston Building

William Owston, a shipowner, owned Owston's Building, 1903, at 9-23 High Street, occupying almost all of the space on the southern side of High St from Mouat St to Cliff St. The Roma Restaurant is still here, having opened in about 1940. It was taken over by Nunzio Gumina when long-term owners the Abrugiato family sold out, and the name changed a little to Villa Roma. In 2015, he opened a restaurant with his own name, Nunzio's, at 20 Essex St: it was formerly called The Essex. The Roma has been opened again in 2016 by Abrugiato family members, again changing the name slightly to Cucina Roma. Unfortunately, they have replaced the Laminex furniture that was one of the period features of the Roma.


Captain William Owston established the firm of Pearse and Owston, shipowners and importers of Eastern produce. The firm owned a number of vessels, including some coastal ships. Lots 31 & 32 were owned jointly in 1876 by William Owston, W. S. Pearse and George Pearse. The 1880 records show Pearse and Owston also owning portions of lot 19. At Owston's death in 1903 the property passed to William Mason Owston, his grandson (1881-1946).
The complex was constructed on the site of the old Sandover building and was complete in 1903. Designed by F. W. Burwell and built by Richard Rennie, there were eight shops on the ground floor and six flats above them, originally with a spacious two storey verandah on two sides.
From the 1940s to c2005, 9-13 was Roma Restaurant (established c1940 in Fremantle by Frank and Nella Abrugiato and family). This was run by the same family until its closure and in its time became a much-loved Fremantle 'institution'.
In 2002, 15 was Life Editions Bookbinders; 17 was Marine Surveyors, Magazines & Journals, Tax Accountants & Graphic Design; 19 not in use; 21-23 was Notre Dame University.
In 2009, No 19 is Blink Cafe.
Physical Description
Two storey rendered building, separated on the fa├žade by pilasters with ashlar effect, separating the building into eight sections. There is zero setback from the pavement. A roof parapet exits above the moulded cornice over nos. 9,11,13,15, 17 &19 (missing over 21) with low pier balustrading and two pediments. The centre pediment has the 'Owston's Buildings' name and 1903 imprinted in the stucco. The arched windows on the first floor have stucco architraves; the ground floor shop fronts have largely been altered. Pressed metal underside of the verandah is appropriate to the era, but possibly not original.
A Heritage Assessment was prepared in Aug 2009 by Philip Griffiths Architects for a DA submission to Council (DA0369/09) for retrospective approval of installation of an air conditioning unit.
Statement of Significance
The place is of historic significance as an example of a commercial building in the Old Port City of Fremantle dating from the gold boom period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The place is significant because, when viewed from the street, it is a substantially intact example of a commercial building which contributes to the very significant Old Port City of Fremantle. Social significance for associations with the Roma Restaurant established in the 1940s and representative of the role of the Italian community in the commercial development of Fremantle. The place is of social significance as evidenced by its classification by the National Trust.
May be remains of Sandover Building.
Heritage Council.

References and Links

Heritage Council page

Garry Gillard | New: 26 May, 2016 | Now: 11 February, 2019