An icon of Freo ready to be reborn

Weekend West

24th October 2015.

Bringing an old building to life after years of neglect can be painstaking.

Such has been the case with the $68 million refurbishment and redevelopment of Fremantle's iconic Dalgety Wool Stores - a project that is essentially creating three apartment blocks within the building's existing brick shell.

The end result will be 183 one and two-bedroom units, with exposed original brickwork, century-old jarrah beams and warehouse-style framed windows. 

The apartments, designed by architects Cameron Chisholm Nicol and to be known as the Heirloom development, will include topfloor, split-level spaces that offer harbour and ocean views from the building's western side.

A key part of the challenge for builders Built has been preserving the building's historic fabric.

Central to this has been recognising its role as the centrepiece of the State's wool history for most of last century.

The wool stores were built between Queen Victoria and Beach streets in 1923 for 75,000. A top floor was added in 1944.

From this top floor, giant hoists (or "wool elevators") were specially made to lift 160-240kg bales of wool from the basement.

According to the project's interpretative strategy report - compiled by Hocking Heritage Studio, in liaison with the State Heritage Office - wool bales were usually moved around the building using manual labour or forklifts.

But to move bales between floors, the elevators were used.

"These machines powered by electric motors were located on the top level of the building," the report said.

"Simple timber frames guided the bales which moved on a chain mechanism. There are four wool elevators remaining within the building and they are in a varying state of repair and intactness." With the hoists in such a bad condition, it was decided to restore one, using parts from the other three. Built commissioned the Fremantle Men's Shed to do the restoration work.

Spokesman Rob Chapman said two men had been working on the project in the two months since the hoists arrived on site in 58 pieces.

"Its been a bit of a jigsaw," Mr Chapman said. 

"We have been in touch with a number of Fremantle locals who used to work in the building to gain an insight into how the machine operated.

"And we have also spoken to other organisations across Australia who had similar machinery," Mr Chapman said. "There's been lots of challenges along the way.

"We had to remove thick layers of grease. And match each component together perfectly." Hocking Heritage Studio director Yen Nee Goh said the hoist would be displayed in the main entrance corridor of the finished building.

She said it would be another significant feature in a unique heritage project.

"There will be nothing like it in WA," she said.

Built contract administrator Jason Edmiston said the project was a juggling act between the sensitivity of a significant heritage building and creating contemporary residential apartments.

Mr Edmiston said there were many interesting and challenging aspects to the development, from discovering and digging up a rail line that once ran through the basement of the building to constantly adapting design details to accommodate deterioration.

"This iconic project has brought together some of the best in our industry from the developer and the consultants, right through to the subcontractors and suppliers - a lot of whom have a personal connection with Fremantle and the building," he said.

"Heirloom will set the benchmark for the adaptive reuse of a heritage building, and will be a catalyst for the revitalisation of Fremantle's West End."

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