Friday 6 March 2015

Picture post 39 : Hammer House, secret art deco in Soho

Hammer Films is one of the most well known and best loved British film studios of all time. Founded in 1934, Hammer churned out niche horror movies throughout the 1950's and 1960's with the Frankenstein and Dracula series, and the 1959 classic, The Mummy, thrilling audiences of all ages. The studio was famously associated with British actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing who made chills run down the spine of many a cinema goer. As well as horror films, Hammer also produced a number of science fiction and psychological thriller movies with some great titles including Maniac, Paranoiac, Nightmare, Hysteria and Fanatic. You couldn't say you didn't know what you were getting with titles like those! The Hammer brand still exists and from time to time releases films including in 2012 a version of The Woman In Black featuring Daniel Radcliffe, best known as the screen face of Harry Potter.

Hammer House at 113-117 Wardour Street in London's Soho was once the home of the film company. Hammer's original distributor, Exclusive purchased the lease on this building in July 1937, but did not  rename it Hammer House until 1949. It remained the company's headquarters until the 1980's when the their gothic movies fell out of fashion and unable to afford the rent on their part of the building, withdrew to cheaper premises. Today the building is home Tony and Guy hairdressers and a wine store on the ground floor with a range of consulting and media companies take up office space on the upper levels.

Despite the many changes over the last decade or so, Soho is still my favourite part of London largely because of its many secret treasures and hidden gems. The outer door of Hammer House hides one of the street's prettiest features - a wonderful art deco lobby complete with a beautiful peacock feather designed stained glass inner door, patterned floor tiles, elegant staircase with torch style lighting and original lifts. I have twice managed to see inside the lobby when the door has been left open and last summer I was bold enough to ask the concierge if I could take photographs. To my surprise and delight not only did he say yes, he suggested I look inside the lifts and admire the staircase too. The light was not great and some of the pictures didn't come out well, but the best ones are featured on this post. I have been unable to find out who designed the interior or who the building's architect was so if anyone does know, please leave comments. It must at least predate 1937, the year Hammer took up residence. Although losing much of its bohemian flavour and despite the influx of the chain stores and cafes, its good to know that some of its glorious past survives and is cared for.

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