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Literary Institute/Evan Davies Library

The Literary Institute at 13 South Terrace was built in 1899. There was an earlier Literary Institute in Cliff Street, on the corner of Dalgety Street (now Croke Lane) where the offices of the Fremantle Herald are now. (See below.) The 1899 building in 1949 became the Fremantle Civic Library partly as a result of the efforts of Cr Evan Davies, and it was renamed the Evan Davies Library in 1956. It was threatened with demolition in the 1970s and was only saved due to the work of members of the Fremantle Society. It is Council property, and the ground floor is currently leased to Dome as a coffeeshop. The first floor was most recently leased to multicultural arts organisation Kulcha, but that had to shut down for financial reasons, and the Council is seeking another tenant.
In 2022 the tenant is Beerporium.

The Institute now [1929] has its own splendid property in South Terrace erected on land granted by the Government. The foundation stone was laid by the late Elias Solomon, M.H.R., on March 15, 1899, the certificate of incorporation having been obtained two years previously. Since that time the Institute has steadily progressed. An excellent assortment of magazines and periodicals are available, the Institute is well managed, is financially sound and is an acquisition to the town. Hitchcock: 38.

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Fremantle Literary Institute with verandah, about 1900, L. Gray-Williams & Co, Photographers, Fremantle. Caption: Fremantle Literary Institute with lower verandah. Built 1899, architects Wilkinson, Smith and Wilson. Opened 15.03.1899 by Elias Solomon. The architect won a competition held for the most suitable design. The work was carried out by L. Burness for a total cost of 1528 pounds. See: Kerr pp87-89 and 027.2 Miscellany File. See also: "The Evan Davies building" by R. McK. Campbell, July 1975. Fremantle Library photo #463, and text.

[The second] Fremantle Literary Institute was opened on Wednesday 15th March 1899 by Elias Solomon. The architects were Wilkinson, Smith and Wilson, who won a competition for the design. The builder was L. Burness and the work cost 1528 pounds. The turned timber columns and first floor verandahs must have been added after 1905 and before 1918. Fremantle Library photo #802 c. 1912, and text.

Fremantle Library photo no. 1401, n.d.

Skip Watkins 1985 photo of the building when it had a bank in the groundfloor. Fremantle Library photo no. E000259.

At 13 South Terrace, this was the City Library from 1949. It was known as the Evan Davies Civic Library from 1956. There were two shops on the ground floor and the library was on the first floor along with a chess room. It operated as the Fremantle City Library until its relocation in the ground floor of the Civic Administration Building (which has now been demolished) on the corner of Newman and William Streets on 18 March 1974.

Ewers (170) gives this account of the foundation of the Library.

As early as 1940, Councillor E. M. Davies, M.L.C., had raised the question of establishing a municipal library and in 1941 the Council appointed a special committee to investigate the possibility. It consisted of E. M. Davies (chairman), J. Stevens, W. F. Samson and B. W. Lee. The growing financial difficulties of the Fremantle Literary Institute in South Terrace suggested that here was an already established library which the Council might acquire. This was approved in principle by the Council in October 1944, and four years later it adopted the draft bill prepared by its solicitors for presentation to parliament. The City of Fremantle (Free Literary Institute) Act (12 & 13 Geo. VI, No. 65) was finally assented to on 21 January 1949. The library was opened on 5 September 1949 by Dr J. S. Battye, State Librarian. With 5,000 books on its shelves it became the first wholly rate-supported municipal library in Western Australia. Its first librarian was Mrs F. Kirtley Anderson. In the next few years membership grew steadily, and in Sir Frank Gibson's final Mayoral Report in l95l, there was a hint that when the Library Board which the government was then planning was established, Fremantle would be one of the first municipalities to participate in the new scheme. It then had 1,365 registered members, extensive renovations had been completed in the old Literary Institute building and some of the rooms were being used by the Adult Education Board for classes in a variety of subjects.


Interior of the Evan Davies Library

From 1978 the ground floor was occupied by the Commercial Bank of Australia. It is now a Dome coffee shop. The first floor was used until 2015 by Kulcha (Multicultural Arts of WA) as the Kulcha Performance Space. Shortly after its 30th anniversary (it was formed in 1983) Kulcha had to close for financial reasons.

The Literary Institute building was renovated in 2015.

In 2022 there is a pub in the first floor with the crass name Beerporium. Dome on the ground floor has closed due to insufficient patronage.

The building was originally designed with no first-floor verandah, allowing its classical central facade with Corinthian (?) pillars to be admired. The Victorian verandah has obscured it since an unknown date between 1905 and 1918.

The first Fremantle Literary Institute

literary institute

The Fremantle Literary Institute, formerly the Fremantle Working Mens' Association Building, on the North West corner of Cliff and Dalgety Streets, opposite the Pier Hotel. Fremantle Library photo #812 and text.

Dalgety St is now Croke Lane, because of the confusion with the Dalgety St in East Fremantle. No date is given for this photo, but it must be from before 1899. The offices of the Fremantle Herald are now on this corner, at 45 Cliff St.

The Fremantle Literary Institute was established in 1851 under the designation of the Fremantle Mechanic's Institute. It amalgamated with the Working Men's Association in July, 1868, at which time it was housed in a small building at the corner of Cliff-street and Dalgety-street. The librarian at that time was H. W. Young, who had been a solicitor in England. Hitchcock: 38.

References and Links

Davidson, Ron & Dianne Davidson 2010, Fighting for Fremantle: The Fremantle Society Story, Fremantle Society: 45-49.

Ewers, John K. 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948].

Hitchcock, J.K. 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia, 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.

Notes about the preservation of the Evan Davies building in Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle Society: Vol 3 No 3 1975, Vol 3 No 4 1975, Vol 4 No 1 1976, Vol 4 No 3 1976.

Garry Gillard | New: 3 January, 2015 | Now: 11 December, 2022