Desborough House set to get the chop

This 120-year-old mansion will be razed to the ground.

THE grand 120-year-old Desborough House in West Perth is in line to be demolished.

The mansion’s owners have lodged an application with Perth council to flatten the entire block. 

Dersborough House, on the hill at 1161 Hay Street, was designed by architect and former Subiaco mayor Austin Bastow around 1900 and built for real estate agent Henry Laslett. The house next door at 1167 Hay Street was built around the same time for parliamentarian Norman Kirkwood Ewing. As decades saw the suburb change and demand for housing grow, the properties later operated as a lodging house and apartments. They were joined via a glazed link sometime before the 1980s, and then became offices. 

The historic complex was listed for sale in 2018 as a prime development site, and the new owner is not named in the council’s demolition application records.

No protection

The buildings have no heritage protection against demolition, with the WA heritage council declaring in 2017 that the building “does not warrant assessment”.

The mansion almost got some local protection from Perth council but the paperwork sat unfinished for more than 20 years. 

In 1999 Desborough House, along with hundreds of other properties, was nominated to be added to Perth council’s heritage survey. That document records significant buildings and is a stepping stone to the council’s more robust “Heritage List” which can offer demolition protection.

The survey is meant to be updated every five years but no one got around to it until mid-2022 when the council finally put the draft survey list out for public comment. By then several prominent buildings had already been flattened, (Voice, June 25, 2022). 

The old recommendation to protect the buildings says despite no longer boasting the original ornate balconies, the corner tower is still “a local landmark” and “they are examples of mansions on the outskirts of Perth occupied by the wealthier class and reflect the development of West Perth as a prestigious residential suburb.

“Together the buildings are representative of the changing character and growth of the city, being former residential properties that have undergone a change of use to apartments, and then to commercial/professional offices.”

History not-for-profit group Museum of Perth has lamented the state of WA’s heritage protection laws. Executive director Reece Harley told us: “Desborough House is yet another example of a failing system of heritage protections in Western Australia. We call on the [WA heritage] minister to review the series of events which have occurred to let this building fall through the cracks with no protections in place. 

“Included in the City of Perth’s draft heritage inventory in 2001, the property is yet to be assessed by the WA heritage council and remains unprotected by the City of Perth.” 

Mr Harley points out it was likely a governmental edict that led to the building losing some of its original heritage fabric.

“The ornate verandahs around Desborough House – which were one of its defining architectural features -were no doubt removed by council edict like so many other buildings in the 1960s. 

“When will we learn, in this city, the importance of retaining, restoring and celebrating our architectural heritage and unique social history?”

The application for a demolition permit requests a complete Carthaginian treatment of the whole block, asking Perth council to allow “complete demolition and removal of the double storey house and building, rear carpark area, retaining walls, old septic tanks and soak wells, all trees, stumps and vegetation including tree lopping where required, all visible non-friable asbestos attached to the buildings and leaving a clear raked block to 800mm deep”. 

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