A Tale of Two Hotels
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". So begins Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. A Tale of Two Hotels is not so long, but for Fremantle, important.
The hotel pictured first, the Newport, has just been purchased by Silverleaf's Gerard O'Brien, adjacent to the 28 shops he already owns in the Manning Estate. His Fremantle empire now becomes a real worry, given the mediocre quality of his projects and the inability of Fremantle Council to negotiate optimal outcomes with them.
The sale of the Orient Hotel to Andrew Forrest could be good news.
Seen here on the corner of High and Henry Streets thanks to Google, with a partial verandah restoration, it was at one time such an attractive hotel, that Mayor Frank Gibson went and lived there when he retired.
Andrew Forrest has illustrious forebears who played a significant role in the development of Fremantle, including brothers John and Alexander Forrest.
Premier John Forrest brought CY O'Connor to Fremantle to build the harbour. While Forrest angered Portonians by removing the railway workshops to Midland (on the advice of O'Connor) he made up for it by moving the mailboats from Albany to Fremantle. In Fremantle in 1902 he made a speech which included a desire to see Fremantle become the gateway to Australia not just with a modern port, but with a railway that ran all the way from Fremantle to Brisbane. He said:
"There was, however, one thing that would have to be done to fulfil the destiny of Fremantle, and that was to provide quick and easy means of communication between Victoria Quay and the cities of the Eastern States. (Applause). Until that line across Australia was constructed, and people could run right through from Fremantle to Brisbane, it could not be said that Fremantle's destiny was fulfilled." (Western Mail, 18 January 1902). Unfortunately, the man charged with completing that project, CY O'Connor, committed suicide a few weeks later.
Owners of such important and historic properties as these two hotels need to be encouraged to go upmarket with them and not downmarket, to provide locals and tourists with high quality venues deserving of their iconic past and pivotal positions.