Project manager Kasia Kalczynska. Picture: The West Australian/Ian Munro

The grand dame of inner-city architecture, the Perth train station, celebrates its 120th birthday next week with a multimillion-dollar gift from WA taxpayers.

The facade of the heritage- listed building - one of the oldest railway stations in Australia - will undergo an $11.5 million renovation, along with upgrades to its drainage, electrical system, heating and ventilation.

"The building fabric and systems have been mistreated for more than 100 years," project manager Kasia Kalczynska said.

"It's basically been held together by paint.

"Leaseholders have not respected the heritage significance of the building and - over 100 years - it has gradually got worse.

"The exterior will be painted and cleaned. We can't strip the paint back because the bricks are so soft - the paint is holding everything together. That's why we're also putting steel rods through the chimneys."

When the work is finished, probably by October, the west wing of the ground floor will be available for lease by shops and restaurants.

The original train station opened in 1881, built on a reclaimed lake. But the growth of the city meant a new, bigger station was soon needed.

Located just east of the old station - but still on reclaimed lake land - the new two-storey building cost $13,180 and was finished on March 25, 1894.

It featured exclusive ladies and gentlemen's waiting rooms, a refreshment room, a polished cedar ticket office and the office of chief engineer C.Y. O'Connor behind the clock on the top floor.

The office is still intact.

But even before it opened, there were concerns about this "pretty but diminutive" building.

Under the headline "Wholly Inadequate", the Western Mail reported in January 1894 that the building was "altogether inadequate to the demands which will be made upon it".

It said it was clearly built "on the model of a suburban service" and was not fit for the "rushes of business" at a metropolitan centre.

"Some decided alterations and improvements will very soon have to be made to this pretty but diminutive building if it is to be made useful as well as ornamental," the article said.

"If not, in a very few years, it is likely to be as much as object of good-natured derision as is its predecessor."

But the article said the building had a fine veranda, with plenty of room for vehicles to be drawn up under shelter either from the sun or rain.

"This convenience will be much appreciated, especially by ladies, whose comfort in this matter has been so notably considered," it said.

A third storey was added to the west wing of the building in 1928 but, except for some internal modifications, the building remained much the same until the 1970s.

By then it had become a run-down maze, inadequate functionally and with rising damp and years of poor modifications.

With the risk of demolition hanging over its head, the building was classified by the National Trust as having "historical and architectural merit".

In 1978, it was refurbished to upgrade its passenger facilities and appearance.

In 1994, the restored building celebrated its 100th birthday with a long-overdue "official opening" - the building had never been officially opened in 1894.

The West Australian

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