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Hillcrest House

1904, Helen Street (now Turton Street) North Fremantle between Harvest Road and John Street

The following article was published by the Fremantle History Society in its blog entry for 4 May 2020, and is republished by courtesy of the author.

Anne Brake, 'Hillcrest', 2020.

Hillcrest was built by Francis and Emma Pearse in 1902 as a family home. Francis was one of five surviving sons of William Silas Pearse, who arrived in Western Australia on the Egyptian in February 1830 as a labourer. Francis built on his father’s success as a business man and when he died in 1919, Francis was one of the wealthiest men in the state.
Recognised as one of the Merchant Princes of Fremantle, Pearse’s extensive home was built on the corner of Harvest Road and Helen (now Turton) Street, one of the highest points in North Fremantle, and had views to the Swan River and the Indian Ocean. The two storey stucco and tile residence was a very late example of the Victorian Italianate style and was considered one of the most substantial and handsome residences in North Fremantle. Its elevated position, the tower and three remaining Norfolk Island pines, one of which was decorated at Christmas through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, ensured Hillcrest remained a prominent Fremantle landmark across the twentieth century.

After Francis’ death, Emma found a letter in his favourite bible which spoke of his wish to donate Hillcrest to charity. She followed his wishes, giving the home to the Salvation Army in 1921. A maternity hospital for unmarried mothers, including midwifery training, was opened in 1922 and operated at Hillcrest until 1974, except for a short time between 1942-44 when it housed US Army personnel. As well as unmarried mothers, many women had their babies here; some of you reading this may have born there.
The introduction of the contraceptive pill and the decrease in the stigma of unmarried mothers saw a decline in the need for the maternity hospital and it closed in 1974. The buildings were converted to a Nursing Home for the Aged which opened in 1980.
Over time the beautiful home had been modified and extended with two building campaigns in 1934 and 1958. The land on the southern side of the home was sold to the government for the construction of the new North Fremantle Primary School in the early 1960s. Regis Aged Care bought the site in 2013.
The redevelopment of the building into a 21st century aged care facility has seen extensive conservation and restoration work to Hillcrest with many features still intact including the beautiful main staircase, fireplaces and various decorative elements. Various accretions and additions were removed or demolished. Sadly, the original home is now hidden by extensive modern additions and is only partially visible from Turton St. The original home houses a number of services for the residents including lounge and seating areas, a café, a private dining room which can be booked for special occasions, a small theatre for movies, a hairdresser and the like. Specialist areas such as kitchens and laundries, as well as the various levels of accommodation, dining rooms and recreation areas are included in the new sections.

While mostly hidden from the street, residents and their guests and staff can enjoy Hillcrest including having a cup of coffee and light refreshment from the now restored verandahs taking in views across the river to East Fremantle.
Hillcrest was classified by the National Trust in 1980 and was entered into the Register of the National Estate in 1982. In 2000 it was included in the Municipal Inventory for Fremantle and put on the State Register of Heritage Places in 2006. Its redevelopment is subject to a heritage agreement which was lodged in 2016. Hillcrest’s redevelopment was a finalist in the 2017 WA Heritage Awards in the Conservation or Adaptive Reuse category.

Historic images:
Nurses and babies at Hillcrest, 1922. Izzy Orloff, SLWA BA 1059/148-150

Hillcrest from Turton St. Undated/unsourced image on the Regis site sign (2020)

[end of Brake article]

Hillcrest House, 23 Harvest Road North Fremantle, was built by Francis Pearse (b. 1847, son of William Pearse) and donated to the Salvation Army by his widow Emma (nee Snook) in 1922 as a maternity hospital. Later still, it became the Hillcrest Senior Citizen's Residence. The site is now Regis North Fremantle (aged care facility). The original building has been retained, but embedded in the southern side of a huge characterless three-storey building that takes up every possible bit of the site, right up to the corner of Harvest and Turton Roads, quite a long way from Pearse's building.


One of the babies born in Hillcrest - and who was brought up in Sister Kate's orphanage in Queen's Park - was Graham 'Polly' Farmer MBE (1935-2019), a well-known footballer after whom the Graham Farmer Freeway tunnel in Perth was named.

Heritage Council:
Hillcrest was constructed in 1904 for Francis Pearse, of the prominent Pearse family, and occupied by him from its construction until his death. Francis Pearse earned his fortune as a young man through business interests in Dongara. He was one of five sons [another source shows eight] of prominent early Fremantle resident William Pearse. Together with two of his brothers, Pearse established and managed the Pearse Brothers Tannery and Boot Factory in North Fremantle, which operated from 1871 until 1962, when it was demolished. Hillcrest was an imposing two-storey mansion overlooking the Swan River, located in extensive grounds that ran the length of Helen Street between Harvest Road and John Street. It was constructed to face Helen Street [it looks to me now - but it may have looked different when built - as tho it faces the river, that is, down the hill towards John Street, not Helen Street - which is now Turton Street, by the way] and had substantial outbuildings in the grounds towards Harvest Road, which remained until at least 1939. In 1922, Hillcrest was donated to the Salvation Army by Francis’ widow, apparently at his request. It was first used as a maternity hospital, which also served as a training hospital, and later converted for use as an elderly care facility.
This place was included in the 'North Fremantle Heritage Study' (1994) as a place contributing to the development and heritage of North Fremantle. It was also included in the list of heritage places in the City of Fremantle identified by the Fremantle Society (1979/80) - PURPLE - of architectural and historic significance in its own right.
Hillcrest, comprising the original Hillcrest residence, a two storey stucco and tile Victorian Italianate style building of the Federation period, together with a two storey brick and asbestos former maternity hospital in the post World War Two International Style, a hostel constructed in brick and asbestos cement in the post World War Two Perth Regional style, and early Norfolk Island Pines, has cultural heritage significance for the following reasons:
The place is a very fine example of a Victorian Italianate style residence with a sympathetic 1934 addition in a matching style;
Albeit altered through time to serve alternate uses, the place demonstrates the distinctive accommodation and way of live of the mercantile elite in the early twentieth century, having been built in 1901 for Francis Pearse as a large suburban residence with marine views to the Swan River and Indian Ocean;
The place was converted to a maternity hospital for unmarried mothers in 1922 following its donation to the salvation Army by Francis Pearse’s widow Emma, and this use continued for over 50 years, as well as midwife training; and,
The place has served as part of a Salvation Army aged care facility since 1978.
The 1979 hostel and the 1979 dining room building are aesthetically unsympathetic additions and do not contribute to the cultural heritage significance of the place. The 1958 Wing is of little significance.
Two storey large rendered brick and iron house was designed as an example of the Victorian Italianate style of architecture. Walls are rendered brick with decorative stucco moulding and simple classical-style detailing. The roof has Dutch gables. The house has a three storey balustraded turret and faceted two storey bay. Arched windows with decorative stucco detailing are used extensively. The two storey bullnosed verandah was supported by paired decorated iron posts with a filigree balustrading on the first floor. The house is located within the Hillcrest Salvation Army site and is not easily viewed from the street. Heritage Council.

Heritage Council citation for 2017 award

In 2012, Regis Aged Care embarked on a project to conserve, reinvigorate and enhance the heritage values of Hillcrest in North Fremantle, as part of a larger upgrade to their aged care facilities.
Built as a residence, it was adapted to provide maternity care in the 1920s, and since 1978, aged care. The variety of uses resulted in many unsympathetic changes, which were reversed as part of the works. An intrusive and poor quality 1970s accommodation block was removed. Original verandahs with wrought-iron balustrades were reinstated, as were original fireplaces, ceiling roses and the grand central stair. Importantly, the main entry to the aged care facility through Hillcrest’s front doors was reinstated, once more positioning the ‘front face’ of this majestic building.
The key challenges were in ensuring that services were discreetly incorporated with minimal impact on the heritage fabric of the building. Lifts and ramps also had to be installed for the provision of universal access.
The conservation and adaptive reuse project has successfully reversed many of the unsympathetic changes and returned a grand building to contemporary use.

References, Links, Notes

Brake, Anne 2020, 'Hillcrest', as above - republication permission granted provided there is a link to the FHS website - as so provided at the top of the article.

Grant Steve 2014, 'Eviction looms for elderly', Fremantle Herald Interactive.

Heritage Council page

Hillcrest recommended for a heritage award

Wikipedia list of heritage places in Fremantle

Regis webpage

The stone in the photograph at the top of this page refers to Mrs E.A. Pearse. This was the woman born as Emma Anne Snook (daughter of John Snook and Elizabeth Archer), who was born in Marylebone 11 January 1849 and died in West Perth 31 May 1933. I mention this because women were in earlier periods often known by their husbands' names/initials - but in this case she has her own initials: E.A. for Emma Anne, rather than F. for Francis. Presumably the undated stone is from ca 1921, when the house was donated.

Forced Adoption Service page on the Relationships Australia website.

Garry Gillard | New: 29 November, 2014 | Now: 9 November, 2023