Freo's View


Posted in architecture, city of fremantle, heritage, Uncategorized by freoview on May 10, 2017


Union Stores


Freo’s View reader Kel sent me some photos and complained about the condition of the historic Fremantle Unions Stores building on the corner of High and Henry streets, saying he feared the conservation work the City had conducted was not done properly and the same deterioration might happen to the Townhall.

I asked the Heritage Department of CoF for a detailed response and received this reassuring explanation:

Since 2012 there has been an ongoing programme of works to conserve the Union Stores, to address various compliance issues and to upgrade services.
– 2013 – A safe roof access system was installed to allow for regular maintenance of the roof, gutters and air conditioning and also for undertaking conservation works in the following year.
– 2014 – Urgent structural repairs carried out to the parapets and gables. Parapets and gables conserved along with the deteriorated projecting flat surfaces of window sills, cornices and parapet copings. Street verandahs (reconstructed 1987) repaired and strengthened.
– 2015 – Electrical distribution board and fire systems upgraded and the rear verandah (1987) repaired and strengthened.
– 2016 – Ventilation of the basement improved to reduce damp and humidity to protect ground floor timbers and reduce problems with rising damp.

These works are part of the orderly process for the conservation and care of the City’s portfolio of heritage assets. The intention is to address building conservation in a manner that considers levels of urgency, economies of scale, correct sequence and good conservation practice. Many of these items of work will not be conspicuous but are vital to the conservation and long-term sustainability of these important heritage buildings for present and future generations.

Future works are planned to continue the conservation of the building facades once the moisture has evaporated from the walls and the damaging salts have migrated to the surface.

2014 Urgent Conservation Works
During 2012 and 2013 the poor condition of the rear of the parapets of the Union Stores was discovered and remedial works were planned for 2014. These parapets had become unstable due to the deterioration of the soft clay bricks – deterioration that had been exacerbated by well-meaning but inappropriate repairs in the 1980s as well as the painting of the building facades from the 1960s onwards.

Like the Fremantle Town Hall, damaging salts and moisture had seeped into the walls through hairline cracks and were trapped in the walls by cement render and plastic paints. The entrapped salts and moisture led to the deterioration of the soft clay bricks and lime mortar of the wall itself and caused embedded iron pins in decorative mouldings and structural bolts and plates to rust and expand causing cracking in the walls. To address this problem the paint and cement renders were removed to allow the walls to breathe and new repairs made use of breathable lime mortars, hydraulic lime renders and lime wash finishes.

However, the construction and condition of the Unions Stores was different to the Town Hall and required a different approach for its conservation. Removing the paint from the parapets was more difficult because the stucco surface was softer and in poorer condition. Also the early use of calcimine paint and lime wash on the building meant that although the walls could breathe well, not all of the pigment could be successfully removed.

The biggest difference however, was the volume of salt escaping from the walls. Almost immediately after the removal of paint and cement render from the parapets of the union stores large amounts of salt began to crystallise on the surface of the parapets. Within the same timeframe there was only a small amount of discolouration from salt at the Fremantle Town Hall. While the appearance of salt on the surface is good because it shows that the walls are healing themselves, when there is a large amount of salt it needs to be managed to minimise damage to the surface of the stucco. For this reason a sacrificial coating of lime wash was applied to the surface of the conserved areas so that the salt would crystallise on the lime wash causing it to decay rather than the stucco. The building was then left to gradually dry out expel the salts before any further works were undertaken.

Now in 2017 the salt crystals and some of the decayed lime wash has been washed off the Union Stores leaving the parapets looking somewhat patchy but in much better physical condition. This means that when further conservation works are undertaken in the future they will not be affected by salt damage.

We expect that the Fremantle Town Hall will suffer some deterioration from escaping salts as the walls breathe again but it will not be as significant as the Union Stores. Also, because the removal of paint from the stucco at the town hall was more successful, when there is some deterioration it will be less obvious as it will be the same colour as the surrounding stucco.

The Fremantle Townhall will officially be unveiled on Friday May 26 at 11.30 am at the start of the Heritage Festival. It looks absolutely stunning!

3 Responses

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  1. kel said, on May 11, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Thanks for this Roel.

    The Town Hall finish looks good at the moment

    Can I suggest that we wait a few years before offering any accolades to anyone (as you suggested) given the surprise comments on the finish by the Citys Heritage Architect.

    I was informed that the Town Hall scaffold costs alone was well over $750,000 and that was a few months ago.

    Lets just watch it and the Union Stores Building for a while.It is there for all to see.


    Esplanade Reserve Toilet Blocks.

    Both Toilet Blocks on the Esplanade are “again” being completely redesigned internally and refurbished including new tiles and cisterns etc throughout. This must be at a high cost.

    We recall these were completey refurbished not long ago at a cost of around $500,000.
    The Toilet block near the Carriage Cafe was fenced off for 10 months for works then.
    The extra heavy doors fell off their hinges within a few weeks and have been a disaster ever since. Bad Design!

    Heritage Consultants to the City of Fremantle must be effectively managed by the City to ensure we are getting value for money and cost control is fair and reasonable.

    Also “Cost Plus” works and contingency forecasts can be runaway costs if not managed effectively.


    Take a look around the West End at Notre Dame`s huge portfolio. Haven`t seen this type of stop start refurbishment by them. They look good and more importantly they get on with it.

    Thank you

  2. freoview said, on May 10, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    That is all on record in agendas and minutes and you can find those on the City’s website Kel.
    I also reported many months ago on what the Townhall costs were. From memory $ 3,1 million.


  3. kel said, on May 10, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Hi Roel,

    Many thanks for following up on this issue with the City of Fremantle Heritage Department on your blog.

    This explains the shoddy appearance of a job which one would have expected to have been completed considering the many months the scaffold was erected around the building. (Check it out up close)

    We can only accept the response of the Fremantle City of Fremantle Heritage Department above is an accurate account of past proceedings.

    Heritage Buildings refurbishment is an expensive exercise and for this reason one would expect that the Fremantle Ratepayers are fully informed of the extent of works to be completed and the timeline but above all the costs of completed works.

    One has to wonder:

    1) What is the costs of works to date of this unfinished work on the UnionStores Building.

    2)What was the costs of the exterior refurbishment of the Town Hall (Scaffold was up for over 1 year) initial budget was for $1.25million and last I heard it was $2.6million.

    Perhaps someone in Council or the Mayor could advise here on this blog Roel?

    Thank you

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