Fremantle Stuff > Buildings > Synagogue
1902, 92 South Terrace, corner of Norfolk St (now Parry St)
The WA Hebrew Congregation was established in Fremantle August 1887, and services were conducted in 1891 in the Barracks on South Tce. The site of the synagogue, on the corner of Norfolk St (now Parry St), next to the Barracks, was acquired in 1895, tho the building was not erected until 1902. The centre of Jewish activity in Perth moved to Perth, and services in Fremantle were discontinued in 1910. The building functioned as a synagogue for only eight years.
The site was sold to the Department of Defence in 1916, used as an immigration centre. It was bought by the Council in 1969 and leased to various businesses, before being sold in 2004. The owner in April 2018 has been trying for a number of years to get a hotel up, with a four-storey new building at the rear of the old one. But he is now (31 May 2018) putting it for sale at auction.
By 1912 the synagogue was being used as part of an immigration centre.
The ﬁrst meeting of the Fremantle Synagogue was in the guard room next to the barracks (in South Terrace). In 1887 Benjamin Solomon convened a meeting of a few Jewish people to discuss the need for a religious home. The ﬁrst chairman of a group to form a Jewish Community was Lawrence Alexander. Alexander was a well known identity around Fremantle. I have the receipt book of that group people gave their 2/6 and 2/-, to start this community. It is quite a nice collector's item to hold, the butt of the receipt book. ...
I was fascinated also to ﬁnd out that the Fremantle Council has in its minutes discussion of a place of worship for a Jewish church. ... The site for that was the corner of South Terrace and Norfolk Street. It had on it a small building known as the old guard house, which ultimately became the Eighth Base Hospital. The old guard house was an important building in Fremantle in its day....
The Fremantle synagogue, even once it got under way, never had a minister. It only really ran for two or three years. I believe it had the high holy day services; the main important Jewish services like the Day of Atonement, New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and Good Friday. They had those and they had some good people who would take a service but they didn’t have a minister of religion. So it never really got off the ground for the reasons I’ve just mentioned. It obviously ran into ﬁnancial problems because the people drifted away, so then they had a building and a congregation but no minister, and they had trouble paying the bills. The Perth Hebrew congregation had got under way and this was a competitor. They were not amused that this little congregation down here in Fremantle was called the Western Australian Hebrew Congregation. However that was the story of the synagogue in Fremantle. It’s a bit sad because yes, it did have services, and yes, it was built for religious purposes, but it never really got under way. Eric Silbert 1991: 81-83.
Murray Edmonds' slide from 1972, Fremantle Library #ES00150, showing the Norfolk St (now Parry St) side of the building, with 1925 garage on this side of 1932 shops.
October 1972 Parry Street facade of former Synagogue bulding, corner South Terrace and Parry Street. Designed by Oldham and Eales, it was the first purpose built synagogue in the state. Elias Solomon, a trustee of the local Hebrew congregation, Federal Member for the district and former Mayor, laid the fountain stone on 8 January 1902 and Mr J McCracken completed the building some months later. By 1910 the Jewish population had mainly moved to Perth and the synagogue was sold. In 1924 William Beer occupied and operated an auction mart from the premises. Sometime in the 1920s a brick corrugated iron rear addition and garage (1925) were completed. In March 1932 Beer acquired ownership of the property and Council approved plans on 20 June for a new brick frontage. Known as Beer’s Buildings, the work was completed by A.H. and H.A. Thorpe of West Perth, at a cost of 650 pounds. The building was acquired by Council in 1969 and leased to for various commercial purposes over the years (Barri’s Rugs, Skid Rose, a clothing outlet and gallery, and various cafes/restaurants). Council sold the building in 2004.
Skip Watkins' 1985 photo, Fremantle Library #E000169. The (now disused and about to be demolished for yet another carpark) Stan Reilly Centre is to the right of the church, on the site of the former Barracks, with Fremantle Hospital extreme right.
The synagogue in 1985, occupied by Barri's Complete Rug Centre. Beer's Buildings - as may be seen in the moulding in the corner facade - had been built in 1932 in front of the synagogue, right up to the street corner. Note the 1925 garage on the left.
Skid Rose, a frock shop, kept the street number (92) on the corner, but did not highlight the name of the (Beer's) building. The garage is still there.
There was also a restaurant here at one point. I think this is in the right order.
An excellent view from the northwest, in somewhere around 2010, of the 1902 synagogue showing its relationship with the 1932 buildings to the west (right) and the associated buildings to the east (left) which have recently been removed as part of the current rebuilding as a hotel.
The Beer's sign is obscured by a neon sign proclaiming its identity as a Cafe - which it had by ceased to be by the time this photo was taken. The garage has gone.
In 2016 permission was given for a hotel, something like what is planned in the drawing above, to be built at the rear of the existing building.
Fremantle Herald, April 27, 2018
Is the heritage-listed Fremantle synagogue set to become a restaurant selling pork belly or bacon and eggs?
The owner of the former synagogue was in the midst of turning the iconic South Terrace property into a hotel, but heritage regulations have hampered his progress and he’s decided to put it under the hammer next month.
The interior of the synagogue has been renovated and there is development approval for a four-storey building at the rear of the site.
Real estate agent David Lightfoot says there has been a lot of interest in the property, including potential buyers keen to use the space for bars, restaurants, function rooms and even offices.
“The sellers have spent a lot of time, money and effort getting development approval for the hotel,” he says.
“Somebody could come along and make the most of what has already been approved, or seek approval for a whole range of other uses.”
The property is in the entertainment precinct and is listed as “no zoning”, which permits an array of uses subject to council approval.
The former synagogue was the first to be built in WA in 1902.
The site was sold to the Department of Defence in 1916, and over the years it has been a clothing outlet, cafe and carpet shop.
Fremantle council sold the synagogue in 2004.
It will go to auction on May 31.
The only photograph of the interior I've ever come across.
This is the latest (8Jan2019) information about what what might happen next to the building:
The Old Synagogue In Fremantle Is About To Get A Delicious Makeover
It's full of bullshit including 'there are plans in the works to bring it back to life with a new restaurant and bar that will blow your mind.' ... Personally, I prefer my mind un-blown.
Update 2019. The City Council has approved the latest plans for the building (above). Here is part of the news release.
A proposal to breathe new life into an iconic Fremantle heritage building has been approved by Fremantle Council’s planning committee.
The plans approved by the committee last night involve converting the old Fremantle Synagogue, on the corner of South Terrace and Parry Street, into a new restaurant and hospitality venue.
It will feature four different offerings on the one site – with a restaurant, multi-level beer garden including a rooftop deck, basement cocktail bar and a casual front bar. ...
The old Synagogue is in a very prominent location in Fremantle but has been vacant for a number of decades, so it’s exciting to know something will finally be happening with that site. ...
The Old Synagogue was the first synagogue built in Western Australia and is on the State Register of Heritage Places. The redevelopment proposal is supported by the State Heritage Office.
The 117-year-old building operated as a synagogue for only eight years. It has since been used for a variety of purposes including an auction mart, rug shop, clothing outlet, art gallery and a cafe.
Following last night’s approval by the Council’s planning committee the proponent is now required to make an application to the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor for an appropriate liquor licence.
Wendy & Ari Antonovsky, notes about the synagogue in their Heritage Walk.
Silbert, Eric 1999, 'Jewish personalities of Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 1: 77-91.
Garry Gillard | New: 23 May, 2016 | Now: 20 March, 2019