The Sunday Times
Jessica Barker and Vicki Brett, The Sunday Times, 2007
The chic West End of Perth is set to party when the nine-day Westend Festival kicks off this week. At Friday’s festival launch, King St will host the heats of the Face of Perth modelling competition and the high-end fashion retailers will show off their style at a series of parades. The festival will highlight the diversity of the precinct with more than 40 events, ranging from beer tastings to art exhibitions, to entertain you. See for yourself why the West End is being hailed as the Paris end of Perth.
Perth's picturesque West End heritage precinct is buzzing with activity. As it prepares to party in style during its annual Westend Festival, its redevelopment is changing the face of the city. The old-world facade of the district masks the fast-paced corporate underbelly, which is powering its transformation into a happening place to be.
The precinct – nestled between William, Milligan and Wellington streets and St Georges Tce – is the epicentre for Perth’s booming energy and resource companies, high-end fashion houses and exciting arts projects and is home to a growing number of residents, who are drawn to the hip inner-city lifestyle.
One of Perth’s leading architects, Jean-mic Perrine, who designed and now lives in the Box apartments in Hay St, says that the combination of residential and commercial development has added to the appeal of the district.
“Residential and office developments are symbiotic,” he says. “The West End plays on two dynamics – people wanting to live in the city and corporations wanting to be in the happening part of the city.”
Perrine says that the initial developments and restoration of the area have been essential for the success of the district. “There were three catalysts for the West End becoming a living district – The Wills and Box Building and the redevelopment of the arts district in Kings St,” he says. “These elements have been fundamental in bringing diversity to an essentially commercial area.”
Perrine says that the action and flexibility of the Perth City Council when developing the area has been crucial to its success.
“The Perth City Council made building residential development commercially viable in the city by creating densities for commercial development,” he says. “The council is one of the most progressive capital city councils in the country.”
The future of the area, according to Perrine, is set to flourish.
“In the next two years, the West End will be really the only place in the city with soul,” he says. “There are 2000 or so apartments that will become part of the West End in the next two or three years, adding another 4000 people to the district.
“There is no place like it – where people can work, play, recreate and live.”
Much of the West End’s charm is its stylish European glamour set within the heritage precinct, but the West End’s diverse history comes from less glamorous days when the area was home to worker’s cottages, coal yards, blacksmiths and laundries during the 19th century gold rush, which has been preserved in the Victorian streetscapes.
And while it began life as a working-class district, it was not long before gold money saw it expand as a bustling area for small business, with milliners, shoe- makers, dentists and chemists soon taking up a place in the area.
Warehouses and wholesalers who were supplying their wares to the Goldfields soon caught on to the West End’s appeal, due largely to its proximity to the railway line. A blip on the radar was the time when the area became known as a car centre, with all the major car dealers having yards there.
Lord Mayor Dr Peter Nattrass has closely watched the area change over the past 30 years, and has recog- nised the increased demand in the area over the past decade in particular.
“Over the last 12 or so years, we’ve seen a tendency away from car yards towards com
mercial buildings accommodating the energy and resource sector partic- ularly,” he says. “It’s a natural trend that if attention is given to property developers for both commercial and residential, then it’s appropriate that the city council enhances the infrastructure like the streetscapes.”
Mr Nattrass says both Murray St and Hay St west have had a considerable amount of attention given to them in recent times. This includes widening footpaths and adding street furniture and signage that enhances the heritage buildings of the area.
Many of the buildings in the West End were built at the turn of the 20th century, and have been restoredto their former glory. The cobbled paving design and lighting as well as public art add to the historical feel.
The Westend Festival, which kicks off on Friday and runs until December 2, is a celebration of everything the precinct was and is – from its colourful past to today’s hip restaurants and style houses.
The precinct is also home to some of Perth’s premier arts institutions, with the beautifully restored His Majesty’s Theatre, the King Street Arts Centre and Greenhill Galleries all within walking distance from one another. His Majesty’s Theatre, built in 1904, is the only Edwardian theatre operating in Australia. It is home to the state ballet and opera companies and downstairs is the Museum of Performing Arts.
While the banking and commercial district may be further east in the city, business is moving into the West End, with an array of mining and engineering companies and medical specialists based there.
Woodside and QV1 corporate high-fliers get to relax in the groovy bars and shop in high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and, soon, Hugo Boss.
Some of Perth’s best bars and restaurants are also in the West End, many in character buildings.
Take the Box Deli bar. Built in 2001 in the shell of the 1920s Mortlock car dealer’s building, the Box Deli won Best Australian Bar in 2005, beating Sydney and Melbourne’s best venues.
Box Deli owner Rocco Macri thinks Perth’s Dullsville tag is all wrong. “There’s not just the Westend Festival, but the Perth arts festival, the Freo festival, the Northbridge festival,” Mr Macri says. “There’s lots of stuff happening. Perth’s not dull and I think the West End is definitely showing the way."
Rocco Macri, owner of Box Deli Bar
This is the real top end of what’s happening in Western Australia. There are international brands coming into the West End, top operators running bars and restaurants, hair, make-up and modelling agencies. It’s something we can be proud of as a business community, residents, and people who work in the West End.
Emma Panier, co-owner of Etro Cafe
Lots of new people are coming here to live, which is creating more of a cosmopolitan community in the West End. There’s a variety of places to eat, there’s great shopping and it’s evolving into a really interesting place to be.
It’s becoming quite competitive to have a business here. There’s a diversity of businesses.
Paul Sarris, owner of Paul’s for Provisions
The West End is the busi-est part of town. There’s always something going on around here. There’s a lot of bars. You don’t have to walk too far to find some entertainment or a good little spot.
Kelly Thomas, owner of Spoilt Brats Hair Salon
I live and work here, and we have a nice community spirit happening. We all look after each other. It also has a European feel. The heritage-listed build- ings keep King St distinct. You don’t really have it anywhere else in Perth.
Paul Swain, director of Greenhill Galleries
It’s a bit like Bond St in London. You’ve got all the great shops in one little area, and it’s quite artistic. There are galleries, the King St Arts Centre, His Majesty’s Theatre, and it’s all within walking distance. You can have a great afternoon just wandering around different shops and galleries and going to a show.
Joe Altieri, Terrace Menswear
It’s a quaint, sophisticated little area now that we’ve got a lot more boutiques and fashion stores moving in. The likes of Gucci and Natuzzi leather moving into the area helps give the West End the profile of a fashion precinct. It’s full of life.
What's In The Box?
The Box Building has become an icon of the West End. It could be the fully restored 1920s heritage- listed building that catches your eye, the 30 stylish apartments set back from Hay St, or the pumping music from the Box Deli Bar and Bistro that draws you in.
If you explore a little further behind its elegant exterior, you’ll find some of Perth’s most successful business people tucked away inside the private gym- nasium, or relaxing in the apartments built especially for inner-city living. Vicki Brett takes a closer look into who’s in the Box Building.
Jean-mic Perrine was the architect in charge of designing the Box Building back in 2001 and he and his family have made it their home since the building was completed. “I moved in to see whether it was going to turn out to be what I intended it to be,” Mr Perrine says. When asked if it’s passed the test, he simply states he is still there.
Perth fashion designer Roberto Pierucci also calls the Box Building home. He is the managing director of Merchant Corporation, a company that controls the designing and manufacturing not only of the Pierucci label, but a number of other Perth-based contemporary fashion labels.
Businessman and man-about-town Troy Barbagallo was one of the first to live inside the Box. At one point he chose to move to a different Perth residence, but has been back in the Box for about two years. “I love the West End. When I first went there about 4½ years ago, it was fairly undeveloped, but the changes in the past four years are outstanding and I think it’s going to get better still, so I’m pretty keen to stick around here.”
For Rocco Macri, the Box Building is not just home, it’s also work because he owns the 2005 Best Australian Bar, the Box Deli, which is located directly underneath his apartment. “If I don’t hear any noise, then some- thing’s not right. I encourage them – they can make more noise,” he says. Mr Macri loves the heritage look of the building.
“You can have a modern apartmenting right in the heart of the CBD,” she says. “The Box apartments are a really big asset to the West End and to Perth. It’s had a very good social effect on the area.”
Nick Di Latte
As one of the first residents of the Box apartments, Nick Di Latte, of Diploma Constructions, is an expert on the building’s convenient location. “It is close to a number of fantastic bars and restaurants and there’s also interaction with other residents, usually at the bar downstairs,” he says.
Nova FM sales executive Brett Sandler is one of the newer residents to the Box, having lived there for only six months. Mr Sandler is just up the road from his work at Nova FM in Subiaco and, perhaps of equal importance, Subiaco Oval to watch the footy. He says he “frequented the deli a fair bit” before moving in, and often meets his neighbours there. “You bump into all sorts of people at all sorts of hours and, depending what state you’re in, it can be pretty humorous,” Mr Sandler says.
Barrister David Moen has been living in the Box for about two years. He says the building is trendy, func- tional and user-friendly. “I really enjoy being able to walk home from work, and once you walk in and close the door, it’s terrific,” he says. “But you can also stop and have a drink with the local people who usually reside at the bar.”
Lindy Hume and Russell Pulford
Lindy Hume, the artistic director of the Perth International Arts Festival, has lived in the Box Building with her husband, Russell Pulford, who is a marketing executive for Bowtell Clarke + Yole, for four years. Ms Hume, who is acclaimed for her modern interpretations of opera, dance and drama, says her home is perfect for her work.