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Swan Hotel

201 Queen Victoria St (formerly Perth Road), North Fremantle, 1923, architects Eales & Cohen, builder (part) Richard Rennie, town lot 294

swan hotel

Heritage Council:
The Swan Hotel was originally built as a Roadside Inn in 1888, just to the north of what was then the only river crossing downstream of Perth. The existing hotel served travellers on the vital road link between the colony's two main centres as well as the local North Fremantle population. The hotel, which replaced the original building after it burned down in 1922, continued the same function until more recent times when the distance between two cities was greatly reduced by the use of the motor car. Although much has changed since those early times, the perception of Perth as consisting of two linked cities remains today. The bridge, the road, and the two-storey silhouette of the Swan Hotel all remain today as a reminder of the way in which the city as a whole developed. The role of the hotel in linking and dividing the two cities has been diminished functionally but it is still apparent visually by the hotel's physical presence in the townscape of north Fremantle and the Swan River foreshore. The building remains a focal point of long vistas for two reasons: its location, as the only remaining evidence of the old north Fremantle character among much newer industrial and port related buildings; architecturally, the hotel is a fine example of a building influenced by the late Victorian Italianate style which was the characteristic style for public buildings in north Fremantle in the early 20th century. It is expressive of a time when WA people were losing a desire to express their Britishness and beginning to develop a regional architectural expression. The overall composition of the hotel is Classical and refined, and the attention to detail and design, and the workmanship in particular is quite accomplished. There is fine brick detailing along string courses, at window heads and sills, and on chimneys. The highlight of the stucco work is the two swan emblems on the front facade. The broad sweep of the tiled roof is counterpoint by decorative ridge tiles and finials, and by scrollwork under the eaves.
There have been two hotels on the site currently occupied by the Swan Hotel. The Swan Hotel first appears in the 1888 Council Ratebook, with the owner listed as Frederick Mason. The hotel is advertised in The Inquirer, on 4 April 1888 as having every accommodation for visitors and wines, beers and spirits of the best quality. The old hotel is clearly visible as a two storey building in several photographs taken in the nineteenth century looking north across the Fremantle bridge. A closeup photograph (c 1894) shows a two storey building of parapet construction, with a cantilevered upper verandah. The old hotel was strategically positioned beside the road just to the north of what was then the only river crossing downstream of Perth, a timber bridge built by convicts in 1867. No doubt the hotel was a popular watering hole on the way to or from Perth, which in the nineteenth century would have been a dusty trip lasting several hours if travelling by road. The Fremantle/Perth road was a vital link between the port and the administrative centre of the colony and as the twin centres evolved, suburban development grew along the interconnecting road and railway. The perception of Perth as consisting of two linked cities remains today. There were several road bridges built over the Swan River in roughly the same position as the original 1867 bridge. In 1898 a wider bridge was built alongside and on the downstream side of the old bridge. In the early years of the twentieth century the old convict bridge was renovated and levelled out to allow for the new tram service, which commenced operations in 1908. This bridge continued in service until 1939, when the present bridge was completed. The new Stirling Bridge, upstream of the old bridge, was opened in the 1970s but the 1939 bridge still provides the main access route to the Fremantle city centre. However, the old hotel was apparently destroyed by fire and replaced by the one which exists today. The WA Mining, Building and Engineering Journal reported the near completion of the construction of the new hotel in its issue dated 21 December, 1922. The architects were Messrs Eales and Cohen and the builder was probably R Rennie. Mr Bill Hill of no 4 Hevron Street, North Fremantle, who was born in 1905, has some recollections of both the old and the new hotel. Mr Hill remembers one day in his youth seeing a horse drawn ambulance pulled up outside the old hotel and the licensee, Mr Watson, being taken away to hospital, where he later died. Watson is listed as the licensee up until 1921. This would indicate that the fire that destroyed the old hotel would have been during 1921 or the very early part of 1922. The existing hotel is of brick construction, built on limestone foundations and with a terracotta tiled roof. The two main facades of the hotel feature some very accomplished decorative stucco work, including two swan emblems, similar to those which appeared on the parapets of the old hotel. There is a timber verandah at the rear of the hotel. From an inspection of the limestone foundation, it appears that the hotel is partly set on foundations of the old building and partly on new foundations. There is a mixture of rough random rubble limestone and cut blocks. Architecturally, the hotel shows the continuing influence of the late Victorian Italianate or Free Classical style which started in Fremantle about 1900, became popular for public buildings designed by the PWD and was characterised by red tuck pointed brick with stucco mouldings imitating stone dressings. Buildings of this style in Fremantle include the railway station (1906), the post office (1908), customs house, the Phillimore Street fire station (1908) and the Fremantle Technical College in South Terrace (1912). The expression of broad expanses of tiled roofs on the hotel and the general impression of solidity, even heaviness, is particularly characteristic of the years between the wars.
The building is still being used as a hotel. The overall condition of the building is excellent. Some painting is needed to the outside. The fabric of the hotel is relatively intact. The two main facades are virtually unchanged and the only significant external element which is not original is the toilet block at the rear (probably added in 1966). Almost all original windows and doors are intact. Internally, the cellar area has been substantially modified to allow for a new bar and coolroom (1980) and the kitchen was renovated substantially in 1972. The ground and first floor are relatively intact internally, including the main stairway. Australian Heritage Council.

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Photo courtesy SLWA # 314133PD, June 1986 (from Facebook).

Garry Gillard | New: 20 September, 2014 | Now: 19 December, 2020