Sunday 22 June 2014

Picture Post 30 - 56 Mazeh Street Tel Aviv, Bauhaus beauty

I have visited Tel Aviv many times but last week was the first time I walked the length of Mazeh Street  all the way from Allenby to Menachem Begin to admire what has probably become my favourite modernist building in my favourite city. 56 Mazeh Street was built as a home for the print works of the Ha'aretz newspaper in 1934, according to the designs of father and son architects Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin.

Mazeh Street is mostly residential and would have been completely so at the time the print works were built so it is surprising that permission was granted for an industrial purpose, but happily (for me) it was and although the newspaper left some time ago, the current owners have preserved the original facade. It also looks as if it has recently been re-painted and was glowing white on the day of my stroll. A large and reasonably sympathetic residential development was built to the rear of the former print works at the end of the last century and although it dwarfs my new favourite, it certainly doesn't overpower it, the colour of the new block enhancing the Berlins' white building.

The facade has very strong features with gratuitous use of steel framed glass, rounded balconies and balustrades and a cantilevered roof. However, the highlight for me is the corner stairwell window that gives views in to the zig zag staircase and adds drama to the design. This squared and straight corner contrasts nicely with the already mentioned curved balconies and balustrades. Some writers compare the building to the early works of Walter Gropius and Erich Mendelsohn. Whilst seeing their point I feel that this building is all "Berlin" with Joseph developing his approach to architecture after being responsible for some wonderful eclectic style Tel Aviv buildings in the 1920's before moving on to take account of the modernism of the 1930's. 

Tel Aviv in June is very hot, very hot. And humid too. But it was certainly worth the long slow walk to 56 Mazeh to admire this lovely building.

Friday 13 June 2014

Picture post 29 Gropius in London - modernism in the city

Walter Gropius, father of the Bauhaus movement during Germany's short lived Weimar Republic period fled to London in 1934 following the 1933 German election and Hitler's rise to power. Gropius' time in the UK was very short - leaving in 1936 for the States. During his time in London he worked with Maxwell Fry and the city still has at least two buildings that he had a hand in designing. The house at 66 Old Church Street in Chelsea, built in 1935-36 and designed for politician and playwright Ben Levy is fairly well known. However, I only recently learned that he also remodelled the facade of 115 Cannon Street in 1936. 

Just two minutes from Monument Station on the District Line and currently occupied by Sushi chain Ni-haw, 115 Cannon Street was previously home to shirt retailers T. M. Lewin. Echoing the former Daily Express building at 133 Fleet Street with its black vitrolite and lovely glass bricks it stands out on this busy thoroughfare and I understand was only recently restored with some missing elements being sympathetically replaced. The glass bricks serve a function as well as being attractive as they allow natural light into the basement whilst maintaining privacy and perhaps acting as a "modesty" control to protect the dignity of passing ladies. The clean, fresh look of the building belies its age and is further evidence of the enduring "modernity" of this architectural style. Vitrolite fans might also like the former  umbrella and walking stick store - T. Fox and Co at 118 London Walk, just a short distance from Cannon Street.

Monday 9 June 2014

Picture post 28 - Middlesbrough Empire, Palace of Varieties

I was brought up in the north east of England and between the ages of 13 and 18, I went to school in Middlesbrough. One of my delights was to visit the town centre every Saturday to scour Alan Fearnley's record shop, buying up imported American jazz-funk albums and 12" singles (remember those) before meeting friends to go and eat burger ands chips in the Wimpy Bar and sometimes sneaking into the Masham or Lord Raglan pubs for a sneaky pint of scotch - that's bitter beer in the north-east, not whisky. I recently returned after many years and discovered most of these old haunts (and several others) gone or being used as a sweet shop in the case of the Masham. That's for another post but it was good to see Middlesbrough's glorious Empire Theatre still standing. Amazingly I had somehow managed to forget about the theatre. 

Standing proud on Corporation Road in the centre of the town, and originally called the Empire Palace of Varieties, this imposing pile had its foundation stone laid in 1897 and opened two years later. Designed by architect Ernest Runtz in what has been described as the Spanish Renaissance style  it had seating for 450 people in the stalls, 150 in the grand circle and a whopping great 750 in the gallery. Not only was the theatre impressive in size and style it also attracted top notch performers. Singer and friend of royalty Lily Langtry and comedienne Kitty Beresford were amongst the 17 acts who took part in the opening night's programme as well as contortionists, acrobats, musicians, dancers and singers. In later years Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Harry Houdini all appeared at the Empire!

The stage was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War and later, like many theatres, the Empire came on hard times. From the late 1980's it was used as a bingo hall before becoming a nightclub and live music venue in 1991. The Empire is a grade two listed building. I particularly like the red exterior and the colours from the stained glass signs hanging from the canopy which carry the original "Theatre of Varieties" name. Its good to see the Empire still standing and still in use. It would be great to see theatre, dance and other music forms showcased here, complementing the current nightclub use and widening Middlesbrough's cultural offer. 

You can read more about the theatre on the Empire website.

Monday 2 June 2014

Polly Gibbons Quartet - Jazz at JW3

Polly Gibbons played two excellent sets earlier this evening at JW3 on London's Finchley Road. Elegant with hair up, hooped earrings, sophisticated black and white stripes and impossibly high healed silver shoes her deep, slightly rough edged voice was ideally suited to this intimate venue. 

Her choice of material for the evening included straight forward jazz standards as well as more bluesy numbers. Scorching hot on the blues, she treated us to (I'd rather drink) Muddy Waters and Basin Street Blues interspersed with extremely cool renditions of Almost Like Being In Love, Comes LoveBye Bye Blackbird (brilliant bass from Mark Lewandowski) and the jazz standard ballad  For All We Know.  Not only can Ms Gibbons sing, she also recognises the best versions of these standards - citing Aretha Franklin's classic version of Muddy Waters and Ella's recording of Basin Street Blues as her favourites. Amen.  The talented Ms Barber also writes and performed a couple of her own compositions - My Own Company and Midnight Prayer co-penned with tonight's pianist and Ronnie Scott's musical director - James Pearson. Both songs feature on her album My Own Company which is now in my possession!

This rising star of British jazz was accompanied by some tight playing from the afore mentioned James Pearson on piano, Mark Lewandowski on bass and Ian Thomas on drums. The trio opened each set before being joined on stage by Polly - Falling in Love With Love for the first set and Lullaby of Birdland for the second - giving both pieces good long workouts showcasing each of the musicians.

Polly Gibbons is a rising star of British jazz, has been nominated for a British jazz award and performed several times with the much loved Ian Shaw. She cites Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone as influences, reinforcing that bluesy feel to her singing. A great evening and a performer I'd very much like to hear again.

Jazz at JW3 on the first Sunday of every month is becoming a bit of a must for London jazz fans. The new Jewish community centre for London on Finchley Road is a great venue with a programme that includes theatre, cinema, classes in a range of subjects, activities for children and families and of course music! No kidding, the programme is so interesting, this is a venue I check alongside the South Bank and the Barbican when looking for somewhere to go. Although the main audience for JW3 is London's Jewish community - everyone is welcome and the crowd is often surprisingly diverse. Just to add to the experience, JW3 also has a great cafe and restaurant - Zest where you can dine before or after performances - but be careful to book for the restaurant wing - it's very popular. Oh and by the way Zest, the sweet potato gnocchi was spot on!