In 1898, Walter Powell, an accountant in Fremantle, was granted a liquor license and opened the Coogee Hotel in an area known as Four-mile Well. A couple of years later he opened a store and post office on the same property.
Walter and his siblings, Blanche and Frederick, were born in Marylebone, London, in the 1850s. Their father Edwin was transported to Western Australia as a convict on the Norwood in 1866, and when their mother Emilie died in the early 1870s, Edwin remarried to an Australian woman.
Walter, his wife Charlotte (always known as Letitia), their son Walter Jr., and his sister Blanche arrived in Fremantle in 1881, and their younger brother Frederick followed in 1885.
The Powells all worked with Walter in his ‘fancy goods’ store on High Street, while also buying into property at Coogee and trying their hand at market gardening.
Four Mile Well
Powell had been Chairman of the Fremantle District Roads Board since 1893, and he and Letitia had been developing their property at ‘Four-mile well, Rockingham Road’ for several years.
The land was purchased in Letitia’s name in 1890, and the area had been known as Four-Mile Well by locals as it was a long-standing watering site along the road to Rockingham (the next was Ten-mile Well, near today’s Wattleup). ‘Four-mile’ was a marker: four miles from Fremantle. The original hotel building was probably built in 1894 or 1895.
Coogee in the 1890s
The Coogee district
of the late 1890s was fairly well populated, and growing all the time. Market gardeners to the south
around Lake Coogee, a booming shipping and livestock industry at Robb Jetty
, and lime kilns and quarries
all around the site of the hotel.
Day-trippers and holidaymakers from Fremantle and Perth came to Coogee for recreation and picnics, asking Powell to sell them alcoholic drinks as part of their excursion, demonstrating that the Powells were operating a kind of tearoom service out of the hotel before they were granted a liquor license.
Applying for a hotel license
The Powells were living on their property at Coogee by 1896, and it was likely that Walter, who gave his profession as ‘accountant’, was commuting to Fremantle. Letitia stayed at their house with their younger children and sold refreshments to locals and travellers while the Powells waited for their liquor license.
Powell applied and was refused two years running for the publican’s license: in 1896 “a hotel was not required in the locality”
, in 1897 there was “no necessity for an additional hotel”
(additional to what, they did not say).
In 1898, his third application to open a hotel was successful. The house at Four-Mile Well had facilities for overnight stays and bar service, with ‘two sitting-rooms and two bedrooms’.
The licensing board granted him a provisional publican’s license ‘on condition that additions were made to the premises to be commenced within a fortnight.’
This was achieved, and under the supervision of Fremantle architect F.W. Burwell Powell had his house renovated and upgraded to become an operational hotel.
He was up and running by October 1898.
A sporting hub
Powell wasted little time in turning the hotel’s attentions to his own passions: sports. On 26 January 1899, known that year as Anniversary Day, Powell hosted the first of many sporting carnivals at Coogee Beach, including swimming races, a yacht race, and a greasy pole competition. In the evening there was food, drink and entertainment at the Coogee Hotel.
He quickly turned to horse racing as a way of gathering large crowds, and had a racecourse marked out behind the hotel within a few months of opening. The first races on the Coogee racecourse
were run at Easter 1899
and they remained a fixture for some years afterwards, taking over from the failed Woodman Point racecourse
For the next twenty years Powell planned cycling, pigeon shooting, walking races, and in later years car and motorcycle races all to have their start and end points at the hotel, and provided rooms, dinners, picnics, and prizes for the competitions.
The heyday of the Coogee Hotel
Letitia Powell died in April 1901, leaving behind a grieving family and a thriving business. Walter Powell began to advertise the hotel heavily soon afterwards, filling newspaper advertisement columns with statements like:
The garden of Fremantle is now in full bloom.
The place to spend a happy day.
Approachable by road, rail, or sea
The real retreat for the seeker after peace, quiet rest and recreation. Four miles from Fremantle - a pleasant drive... Liquors of the finest quality
Coogee Hotel - the Garden of the West
The railway from Fremantle had been extended as far south as Robb Jetty in 1898
, and to the Briggs & Rowland lime kilns
directly south of the Coogee Hotel in early 1904. Though there was not a passenger service or a station at Coogee Beach, special services were often put on for holidays when hundreds of people made their way to the pristine beachside spaces, and there were workers trains that ran morning and evening throughout the early decades of the 20th century.
The hotel made its money from sporting events, local residents, and those Perth and Fremantle citizens who saw the Cockburn coastline as a holiday destination. It is likely that the hotel was never financially successful, but over the 1910s and 1920s it maintained a steady business under the watchful eye of Walter Powell.
Store, post office and dairy
1901 was also the year Powell began advertising ‘Powell’s store, Coogee’ in newspapers, and it appears likely that the building now known as the store and post office, a few metres north of the hotel building, was built in that year.
Sometime in the mid-1910s Walter’s son George began running a dairy nearby, though the location is not precisely known.
See the full article on the Coogee Store and Post Office
Decline and license transfers
For many years Powell’s sons Walter Jr, George, and Frank, had been barmen and managers of the hotel: it was very much a family affair, with few non-Powells being employed behind the bar for the hotel’s lifetime.
It was only in late 1922 that Walter, most likely on doctors’ orders, transferred his publican’s license to his son, Frank Warren Powell.
Less than two months later, in January 1923, Walter died, leaving the hotel in Frank’s hands and the dairy, post office, and store for George.
In late 1924 Frank transferred the hotel’s license to Alfred Gillham, who moved in with his wife Elsie.
Less than a year later Alfred had transferred the license to his brother Thomas Gillham
and moved on to the Davilak Hotel (now the South Beach Hotel on South Terrace). Thomas would be the final licensee of the Coogee Hotel.
Throughout the 1910s an anti-alcohol movement had been growing throughout Western Australia, and in 1925 the state would go to the polls for a referendum on whether or not to introduce prohibition: the total ban of all alcohol in Western Australia.
It was under these conditions, as well as a newly-strict licensing act introduced in 1923, that all WA hotels found themselves forced to prove their worth to a Licenses Reduction Board with the stated aim of shrinking the number of hotels and other liquor licenses in the state.
Coogee’s turn came in April 1927, and the onus was on Gillham and Powell to prove why they should be allowed to remain open. They argued that the hotel served the workers of the nearby lime kilns, explosives magazine, and the Robb Jetty and Anchorage abattoirs, as well as local residents, market gardeners, and numerous picnickers and holidaymakers on their way through to Rockingham. In the past year, 119 people had stayed at the hotel, and over 400 lived in a three-mile radius.
None of this was enough for the licensing officials, and they announced a week after the hearings that the Coogee Hotel, along with the Jandakot Hotel
, would have its license removed after 31 December 1927.
Both the owner and the licensee were financially compensated for the loss: Powell received £828 and Gillham £671.
For over a year the hotel presumably stood empty, as no mentions of it appear any newspaper during 1928.
In early 1929 it was advertised for lease, with 12 rooms, ‘all conveniences, facing beach’. It was a ‘highly suitable weekend resort’ at 30 shillings a week.
A month after this it appears again, ‘under new management’, with ‘rooms or board-residence, weekend parties catered for’.
This pattern repeated itself for another year or so, and then in late 1930 the Orphanage Board of the Perth Anglican Church announced it had purchased the hotel outright as a summer home for the orphan girls in their care.
Holiday home: 1930-1946
Children living at the Boys’ Orphanage in the Swan Valley in had been going on summer holidays to the seaside near Coogee since at least 1900. For much of that time they camped in tents, with two or three adults supervising, and it was often only the boys who were allowed to go camping.
In late 1930 the Orphanages Committee of the Anglican Diocese bought the Coogee Hotel for the girls’ orphanage to have a summer holiday home. They paid £641 in total, a very low sum for the time. The hotel had ‘fourteen rooms, with long verandahs, some outbuildings, a well with fresh water and a pumping plant’ and the property also included the Coogee store, which came with a tenant.
By Christmas 1930, 100 girls from the Perth Girls’ Orphanage were installed at the old hotel, while the boys camped in the dunes on Coogee Beach. January 1931 saw the Coogee home officially opened by the Archbishop of Perth, with anyone who wanted to see the ‘healthy appearance of the children’ welcomed to the celebration.
Permanent home, 1946-1969
Apart from these summer sojourns, the old hotel remained vacant for most of the year, apart from the Coogee shop which operated as normal and served the locals and other holidaymakers.
But after the Second World War an increase in children being sent to the orphanage, and the post-war housing shortage that hit Perth extremely hard, both combined to change the situation dramatically. The Orphanage Board decided to turn the Coogee summer home into a full-time one. On March 28th, 1946 ‘Mrs. Ellen Logan, with Miss Beatrice Fletcher as her assistant, and accompanied by twenty-five children, all went into residence’ at Coogee. They came to call it ‘Seaside House’.
Once the children were in permanent residence it became glaringly clear that the building needed a lot of renovation work to make it livable. Over the next two years the Orphanage Board spent over £3000 on alterations and renovations, and added new outbuildings to house a laundry and bathrooms.
Charity and local contributions
The orphanage children became a local institution and the focus of many charity causes, including what became known as the Meat Industry Orphanage Committee. This was a group of local residents associated with the abattoirs at Robb Jetty and South Fremantle, who were looking for a charitable cause to donate both time and money to. They became a godsend to the children and staff at Coogee:
The M.I.O.C. members became "Uncles and Aunties" to the children. Their first objective was to take a personal interest in the girls and boys by making regular visits to conduct socials for their entertainment or by taking them on picnics or outings. Their other aim was to raise money to purchase presents for the children and amenities for the institution.
The orphans received a radio, a piano, toys, clothes, outings, film nights and special events from their benefactors, and became part of the fabric of Coogee for two decades.
Closing the orphanage: late 1960s
By the late 1960s shrinking enrollments for the orphanage, combined with the announcement by the State Government Main Roads Department that it was going to resume the hotel’s land in 1969 to build a high-capacity road to Rockingham, meant that the decision of the Anglican Orphanage Board was made easier. Seaside House operated until the end of 1968, and was permanently closed down.
The hotel building and land were sold to Main Roads, and it was expected that they would be demolished and built over. But years passed and the road was not built, and the hotel lay vacant and crumbling. The Coogee Progress Association was allowed to use it for their headquarters, but no improvements were made throughout the 1970s and 80s.
In 1989, Main Roads acknowledged that the heritage status of the hotel building combined with newer roads to Rockingham meant it was unlikely the hotel would ever be demolished, and called for tenders for its renovation and lease.
Mixed-use retail, 1990
A property company’s proposal for a new mixed retail and office space was approved, and renovations began in 1990.
These included the addition of a new wing on the north side of the hotel building, which was not in keeping with the character of the hotel. Despite the $180,000 price tag paid by the new lessee, the renovated hotel was never used, and it continued to lie empty until the mid-2010s when a Fremantle restaurant company showed interest in the building.
Self-sufficient restaurant, 2017
In late 2017 Nic Trimboli and Adrian Fini, co-founders of Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle and partners in multiple restaurant ventures, bought the hotel and land from Main Roads for $2.3 million and began a refurbishment that involved removing the unsympathetic 1990s additions and extensive heritage renovation work.
Their plans included a working kitchen garden to supply a leisurely beachside restaurant, and in early 2019 the vegetable and fruit gardens were well established, though the restaurant had not yet opened.