Tuesday 26 August 2014

Memories of Middlesbrough and days long gone

I was born and brought up in Redcar, a small seaside town in the north east of England. With ambitions to travel, I spent large amounts of my late teenage years in the nearest "big town" - Middlesbrough where I went to school, socialised and eventually lived and worked for a short time before leaving the area completely. After many years, I have recently been spending a little more time back in the north east including passing through a now very different Middlesbrough, but of which I still have many fond memories. 

The former Masham Hotel - it's drinking days gone
A lot - possibly most - of my old favourite places have now gone. Fearnley's record shop on Linthorpe Road disappeared a few years ago after serving local soul music fans for many years. It was there that I made a weekly Saturday morning pilgrimage to browse through rack after rack of 12"singles, including US imports that sold for the princely price of three pounds fifty in the late 1970's and early 1980's but which gave me hours of delight listening to them on my mono record player. I can still remember the excitement of getting US copies of Sylvester's "Dance", the Bombers "Let's Dance" and the Force's "Rock Your Baby" as well as amassing a few hundred other 12" single  dance classics from this shrine to black music. Mr Fearnley himself would be behind the counter most days, stroking his goatee beard and obligingly handing over a box of 7" imports to browse through, recommending items I might like because he knew my taste so well. Jackie Moore "This Time Baby", Rahni Harris "Six Million Steps" and Bonnie Pointer's "Free Me From My Freedom" (red vinyl if you please) all came into my hands through this tiny but packed shop. 

Music was very important to me as a teenager and Middlesbrough was where I went to find it, not only at Fearnley's but also at the old Hamilton's music store next to the bus station and Dean Wycherley's little shop in the Cleveland Centre but also at Mandy's, a basement dance club. Mandy's, which is also long gone, was down a couple of flights of stairs in the Cleveland Centre opposite the Town Hall. It was here I would come on a Friday or Saturday night to meet mates, down drinks and dance to classics such as Trussel's "Love Injection", Patrice Rushen's "Haven't You Heard" and the spectacular George Duke track "I Want You For Myself". Ah, those were the days, quality dance music with real instruments and real singing. And they still sound good.

We didn't get much in the way of live music for fans of soul and jazz-funk back then but I did see Sister Sledge perform at the Town Hall. It was a slightly odd performance which included them doing their then recent string of hits produced by the Chic organisation and some very odd vocal impressions of Cher, Dolly Parton and others!

The Town Hall
Before joining the queue for entry to Mandy's I would join friends in any one of a number of pubs in the town centre. I have very fond memories of the Masham, the Lord Raglan and the Shakespeare, all "proper" pubs and unfortunately, astonishingly, all gone now. I assume this is due to the recession which has hit Middlesbrough as hard as anywhere else - witness the abundance of pay day loan and pound shops - but am told that a few years ago there was a major clamp down on licensing violations, especially under age drinking. I must admit I drank in each of these pubs before reaching the age of 18. Sometimes rough, always friendly we would be served pints of "scotch" which was not a lethal dose of whisky, but the term used for bitter beer in the north-east. 

One of my favourite stories of those days is from the Lord Raglan where to my horror I found a piece of broken glass in my beer one night. Returning to the bar and telling the barmaid "Er love, there's a bit of broken glass in me drink" I receive the reply "there is not", showed it to her, she apologised…and dipped her hand in to take the offending article out before handing me the beer back. I must have looked surprised because she apologised again, took the drink back and poured the beer into another glass with an "ee, what am I thinking of" before handing it back again with a big smile and a "there you go love". I decided discretion was the better part of valour, retreated and left the drink on a table.

There were also slightly more sophisticated venues. Billy Paul, named after the American singer, was a more stylish basement bar on Newport Road and had a sister venue Mrs. Jones (get it - Billy Paul had a hit with the song Me and Mrs Jones?) - a restaurant which described itself as a buttery. Both bar and buttery are also gone now. Those of us who had spent all of our money on records and beer couldn't afford Mrs. Jones so we would go to the Wimpy or if in totally dire straits, buy something from one of the burger carts that sold in the street. Now I need to note, I never gave in to the temptation to do this, but as they say, I have a friend who did. One particularly cold and wet Saturday afternoon he purchased a burger from a cart operated by a woman in a once white woodwork apron, fingerless gloves and with an advanced head cold complete with a sniff and runny nose. It was a good thing she had those gloves to wipe her nose on. She shovelled blackened onions and a grey looking burger into a bun before seeming to remember something and asking "er, do you want cheese in that then, a cheeseburger like?" Amazingly he said he did so she opened the wide pocket in her once white woodwork apron and pulled out - with the fingerless gloved nose wiping hand - one of a number of loose craft cheese slices that were safely stored in there. He paid, took the burger, walked around the corner and threw it in the bin. 

The Central Library where I briefly worked
I also took part in healthier pursuits. I was a member of Middlesbrough and Cleveland Harriers, an athletics club based at the former Clairville Stadium near Albert Park. The stadium has now been demolished (bit of a theme emerging here)  and a new facility is to be provided in its place. I spent several Tuesday and Thursday nights there training for sprints and hurdles as well as competing in the local North Yorkshire South Durham (NYSD) athletics league with teams from Stockton, Billingham and Hartlepool. Clairville was also the location of an annual international pentathlon and decathlon match between the UK, Netherlands, Denmark and Spain. I felt very sophisticated going to these as a teenager, the highlight of which was the year former Olympic champion Mary Peters attended and signed her autograph for me. I also recall a very exotic seeming match between the Harriers and a club from Iceland!

Our other stadium was Ayresome Park, home to Middlesbrough Football Club, also now demolished and replaced with a modern stadium close to the River Tees. As well as hosting some World Cup matches in 1966, it was the site of a jazz festival in 1978 at which Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie performed. Imagine, Ella Fitzgerald in Middlesbrough. I was too young to appreciate the world's best ever jazz vocalist and didn't go. Good thing I saw her several years later - in Wolverhampton which is probably even less likely than Middlesbrough.

Many things have changed about the town since I lived, worked and went to school there. Many of my old favourites have gone, but there is a wonderful new gallery of modern art - MIMA, and the former Uptons department store has been reinvented as Psyche, a high end fashion store in a beautifully refurbished building. I will be spending more time in the north east over the coming months and am looking forward to rediscovering the town I still have a very soft spot for.

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA)

The former Uptons department store - now Psyche
You might also like Middlesbrough Empire, Palace of Varieties

Monday 25 August 2014

More Paris Modernism - Mallet- Stevens, Le Corbusier and a modernist surprise.

Musee Mendijsky Ecoles de Paris, Square Vergennes. Built 1932, architect Robert Mallet-Stevens.
After  a long gap, I have resumed an old habit of visiting Paris each year. This is mainly due to my having discovered the wonderful modernist and art deco heritage the city has which includes theatres, cinemas, educational and religious buildings and many beautiful houses, apartment blocks and villas. 

This year's Parisian trip took place last week and I was able to see another house, which is now a museum, designed by the genius Robert Mallet-Stevens, an artist's home and studio designed by none other than Le Corbusier as well as some wonderful 1930's brick work (!) and a beautiful modernist house tucked way near Parc Montsouris. 

First things first. Taking the 7.30. Eurostar from London St. Pancras, I arrived in Paris in time to have dumped my bags at the hotel at 11.15 and to be back on the metro heading for the building that is now home to the Musee Mendijsky - Ecoles de Paris and which was designed by one of my architectural heroes, Robert Mallet-Stevens. The museum is tucked away in a tiny and very beautiful private side street - Square Vergennes in the 15th arrondissement, just across the road from the Vaugirard metro station.

Built in 1932, this former studio stands at the very end of the street, surrounded by trees and on even a relatively dark day, the huge double level facade window floods the building with light. To the right hand side of the building there is a four levelled curved protrusion, with the upper level recessed from the others, giving the building a slightly nautical look. But, the most outstanding feature is the beautiful grey, black and silver stained glass window from just above the small central door almost to the top of the facade. On the day of my visit the museum was closed as a number of smaller Parisian institutions and businesses still maintain the somewhat quaint custom of an August closedown. The building houses the works of Maurice Mendjisky, a Polish Jewish artist born in Lodz in 1890 and who came to study at the Ecole des beaux arts in Paris in 1906. He later lived at the heart of Bohemian Paris and mixed with, amongst others, Fujita, Man Ray, Soutine, Modigliani and Zadkine. He also had a brief affair with the famed Kiki of Montparnasse before she left him for Man Ray. An active anti-fascist in the 1930's he avoided capture by the Gestapo during the German occupation and survived the war, only to die of cancer in 1951. In his final years he devoted much time to producing drawings dedicated to the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Detail from stained glass window at Musee Mendijsky Ecole de Paris.

Interesting angles, Eglise St. Antoine de Padoue, Boulevard Lefebrve. Built 1931-33, architect Leon Azema.
Back on the metro, I headed to Porte de Versailles station from where a ten minutes walk along Boulevard Lefebvre leads to the Eglise (church) of St. Antoine of Padoue. Built between 1933 and 1935 and designed by architect Leon Azema, the main tower dominates the skyline along the boulevard with its beautiful red brick construction and decorative concrete lattice work. Standing 46 metres high, it has representations of saints at each corner - saints Francis, Louis, Clare and Elizabeth who keep watch across the arrondissement. 

The foundation stone was laid in 1931 by Cardinal Verdier, a leader of a Jesuit movement. He wanted to improve living conditions in the outer arrondissements in the 1920's including building new churches to serve the suburban poor. Verdier was an interesting character, speaking out against the excesses of Kristallnacht in 1938 and writing a letter of support for Leon Blum's Popular Front government in 1936. Architect Azema was also an interesting character, wounded and held as aprisoner of war during the First World War before going on to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he designed a number of buildings in Cairo and Alexandria before being appointed Architect of the City of Paris in 1928. He also designed the pavilion for the City of Paris at the Brussels International Exposition of 1935.

I like the angular design of the church and the way the various levels fit together below the main tower. Adjacent to the church there is a day care centre for young children that appears to have been built at the same time as the church. Built in the same red bricks as its taller neighbour, it also has a beautiful curve, with a slight nautical reference and a more recent extension at the rear. The church, the day care centre and one or two other buildings in the vicinity give an idea of how modern this part of Paris must have looked during the 1930's…and to some extent, still does now.

Main tower, Eglise St. Antoine de Padoue, Boulevard Lefebvre.
Children's day care centre, Boulevard Lefebvre.
From the Eglise, it is a further ten minutes walking to the Groupe Scolaire/ College Modigliani at the junction of Rue de Cherbourg and Rue des Morillons. This very large structure takes up a whole corner site and is home to both a primary school and a college. Built between 1932 and 1935, it was designed by architect Pierre Sardou. Immediately striking for the freeze above the corner entrance, which shows parents and children taking part in various sporting activities, this is a red brick stunner with curves, lines and angles that are reminiscent of the Amsterdam School of architecture in the Netherlands. Sardou was yet another graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, graduating in 1901. He went on to become Chief Architect of Historical Monuments in Paris. In addition to the patterned brickwork, the College also has decorative metalwork covering the windows and in the main entrance for students in Rue des Morillons.

Groupe Scolaire/ College Modigliani, Rue de Cherbourg. Built 1932-1935, architect - Pierre Sardou
 Groupe Scolaire/ College Modigliani. Built 1932-1935, architect - Pierre Sardou.
Amadee Ozenfant was a Cubist painter who together with architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret who became known as Le Corbusier, founded the Purist movement. The two met in 1917 and expounded the doctrine of Purism in their book Apres le Cubisme. They also jointly published La Peinture Moderne in 1925. Le Corbusier designed Ozenfant's home/ studio in 1922 in Avenue Reille, the first house that he designed in Paris. The house is made of reinforced concrete with a double facade, one facing Avenue Reille and the other with views over Square de Montsouris, a private (and very charming) street. Both facades feature large glazed areas at each level, letting in light at different times of the day whilst the exterior of the stairwell is also glazed. The house is designed over three levels with a garage at ground floor level, the artist's studio at first floor which is accessed by a curved concrete staircase and additional quarters on the top floor. There is also a roof terrace.

Villa Ozenfant, Avenue Reille. Built 1922, Le Corbusier.
Villa Ozenfant, Avenue Reille.
Just around the corner in Rue Georges Braque there are a number of interesting buildings including a modernist beauty at number 9, designed by Louis-Raymond Fischer and built in 1929. Known as Hotel Kielberg, its white cement exterior, squared off balcony and roof terrace could easily pass for Tel Aviv. As with the Ozenfant House, the glazing is a major feature with a huge, protruding 48 paned window on the facade topped with a further eight sloping panes that filter light from above. The ground floor appears to be taken up by garage space with the main entrance to the house being up an elegant flight of stairs that curves at the top. Like Mendjisky and Azema, Fischer studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts before going on to work with Loos in Vienna and was also linked with the Bauhaus School in Weimar. 

Hotel Kielberg, 9 Rue Georges Braque. Built 1929, architect Louis-Raymond Fischer
Hotel Kielberg, Rue Georges Braque
Paris is large city and holds many architectural secrets. The modernist buildings described in this post are all located in the outer 14th and 15th arrondissements but are easily accessible on public transport. I am looking forward to discovering some more of these treasures on my next visit.

Monday 18 August 2014

Picture Post 34 - A House of Tiles in Paris

Most Paris visitors go to Porte de Clignancourt to visit the famous flea market with its many antique stalls, book dealers, vintage poster and postcard sellers and where you can get hundreds of other items ranging from real art deco objects in chic shops to dodgy mobile phones on sale outside the metro station! 

Less well known is an architectural beauty, just ten minutes walk from the metro station at 185 Rue Belliard. Rue Belliard is a long street with an interesting mixture of modern housing units - which at least appear to be in better condition than many of the estates on the edge of the city, 19th century buildings that once served as schools and now operate as training centres for the catering industry and quite a lot of frankly drab tenement blocks of various ages. 185 easily stands out from its neighbours and can be seen from some way along the street. 

Built between 1910 and 1913, the structure of the building is not particularly outstanding although the recessed windows and the juliet balconies are pleasing, but the exterior decoration is simply stunning. Henri Deneux, who was both the architect and the land owner covered his building in brightly coloured plain industrial ceramic squares in intricate patterns, including stylised flowers and geometric shapes, creating a visual delight in this part of the 18th arrondissement.  The simple design of the building - which has only two curves, the lintel of the main entrance from Rue Belliard and also a slighter one above the smaller side entrance in Rue Tennis - is belied by the painstaking patterns and also by the wonderful representation of an artist above the main entrance. Complete with compasses, set square and drawing board, the image shows the architect himself at work. There is something of the renaissance about this image - perhaps its the beard and the smock! I like his tired look, resting his head on one hand whilst designing with the other. Perhaps he intended it to be a reminder to residents of how hard he worked on the exterior design - something they see every time they come through the main door!

Architect Deneux's main claim to fame is that he worked extensively on the restoration of Reims Cathedral. He was particularly responsible for the restoration of its concrete framing following extensive damage in the First World War when the Cathedral was hit by over 300 fire bombs between 1914 and 1918.  His work on the cathedral must have been the crowning glory of his career, but I rather like his apartment building in Rue Belliard - one of the may secret architectural treasures of Paris.

And ow for some photographic indulgence...

Every surface is covered in coloured tiles
Deneux himself above the main entrance
Side entrance in Rue Tennis

And more of those tiles

Monday 11 August 2014

Elaine Delmar - Jazz Royalty at JW3

The fabulous Elaine Delmar took the stage to applause last night at JW3, gave a big smile and treated the full house to two excellent sets of jazz standards taking us on a tour of some of the best songs ever written.

Supremely elegant in black layered gown and diamond jewellery and ably supported by the Brian Dee quartet the first set included Jobim's No More Blues, Gershwin's There's A Boat That's Leaving Soon and I Love's You Porgy, and rousing, swinging versions of Cole Porter's I've Got You Under My Skin and It's Alright With Me. Ms. Delmar's voice is perfectly suited to these classics - ranging from silk to velvet and if necessary gravel, reminding me more than a little bit of the late Carmen Mcrae and a touch of Sarah Vaughan especially on those lovely deep velvety notes. Now that's praise. And that wasn't all. She gave us a haunting version of Michel Legrand's Windmills of Your Mind, Paul Williams' I Won't Last a Day (made famous by the Carpenters) and Honeysuckle Rose from the pen of Fats Waller. The latter song has a story attached to it. Elaine performed it on stage in the 1970's in the London version of stage show Bubbling Brown Sugar and not only that, Miquel Brown one of the other stars of that show was in the audience. Some of us remember her as a disco artist in the 1980's!

The second set was equally impressive with a great bossa nova version of Porter's Begin the Beguine, Rogers and Hart's Little Girl Blue and Who Knows Where or When before Edith Piaf's Hymn d'amour. The jazz audience at JW3 is informed and discerning, but Elaine Delmar had them in the palm of her hand, even managing a little audience participation to Fats Waller's Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter with the crowd more than happy to sing along. If that was a risk so was doing Summer Time. Not because she can't sing it beautifully but because it's perhaps a little overdone. However, performing it to only the accompaniment of Simon Thorpe on bass was a stroke of genius. It was a tense, intimate performance. Just great. Thorpe shone on Summer Time whilst quartet leader Brian Dee on piano and Jim Mullen on guitar were both excellent, providing some very cool support to Elaine and giving us some cracking' solos particularly on the more bossa nova influenced numbers. Some of remember Mr. Mullen from playing with the Average White Band in the 1970's and later in the jazz-funk outfit Morrissey-Mullen. Those were the days.

The show finished with a good workout of another Porter song - Let's Do It and that closed another great evening of jazz at JW3. As well as giving a great vocal performance, Ms. Delmar came out between sets to talk to the audience and to sign CD's…including mine! She was also very engaging on stage, knowledgable about the songs and the songwriters and sharing a few memories from days gone by, including performing nearby in the 1950's at a place called the El Toro club. If any readers have memories of the El Toro please share them in the comments box. A quick google reveals that Barbara Windsor performed there in the late 50's. Cor blimey. And by the way, another google shows that Elaine Delmar is in her early 70's (I hope she doesn't mind my saying so if she ever reads this). She looks a whole lot younger than that and sounds better than ever.

Elaine Delmar - they don't make them like her anymore. Thanks JW3.

Friday 8 August 2014

More Hampstead Modernism

I recently discovered the small but beautiful Isokon Gallery when visiting the building of the same name in Lawn Road, Belsize Park. The gallery has a great little book shop and as well as treating myself to a couple of books I invested one pound in the Hampstead Trail - a map showing the area's modernist houses from the 1930's. I have already written about two of the houses on the trail - Isokon itself here and Erno Goldfinger's House in Willow Road here. Last weekend I took a couple of hours to stroll around Hampstead and to see some of the other great modernist buildings on the map. 

The Sun House, Frognal Way, Maxwell Fry, 1935
Frognal Way is a gravel covered side road that is home to several impressive houses in a range of styles. It is also home to Maxwell Fry's Sun House built in 1935 for a private client. Striking for its white facade and balcony that runs the length of the building, some of it is now hidden behind mature trees and plants whose colour contrasts with the starkness of the building. It is not hard to imagine the balcony and the garden being used for entertaining back in the late 1930's in the last few years before the Second World War. You can almost hear the cocktails being mixed.

The house has a reinforced concrete frame, tubular steel railings on the balconies and steel columns supporting the cantilevered canopies. There were originally steel framed windows but as with many buildings from this period they have been replaced. A total design approach was often taken in modernism and the Sun House had built-in plywood furniture. The living room and dining area occupy almost the whole length of the house and have views over London, whilst the kitchen and maids' (!) quarters were placed at the rear of the building. Architect Fry began his career as a neo-classicist but converted to the modernist cause and in 1934 formed a partnership with Water Gropius of the Bauhaus who had fled Germany in the same year. Together they designed Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire. Fry also designed modernist buildings in Surrey and Ladbroke Grove, west London.

The Sun House, Frognal Way, Maxwell Fry, 1935
The Sun House, Frognal Way, Maxwell Fry, 1935
Frognal Way runs off Frognal, a winding hill leading to one of London's highest points. 66 Frognal is a large building that stands on the junction of the two streets. Built in 1938 and designed by New Zealanders Amyas Connell and Basil Ward and British architect Colin Lucas it was the cause of great controversy due to its extremely modern look and its location amongst neo-Georgian buildings. This is a little ironic given that it has Grade II listed status today and is acknowledged for its architectural importance.

It looks as if it could have been built more recently than the 1930's and would not be out of place in the Netherlands or Scandinavia. It is built of reinforced concrete with non-structural elements of blue brick. I really like the contrast of the bright yellow door and the red pillar against the white surround and panelling on the ground floor. According to my Hampstead Trail map these were partly imposed as a planning condition. Good decision planners! There is a balcony at the rear that runs the length of the  house overlooking the garden and gives the appearance of an ocean liner. The solid faced stairwell with side glazing on the facade is also striking. Connell, Ward and Lucas designed several other modernist buildings around the UK including the iconic High and Over in Amersham. A complete study of their work was published in 2008  - Connell, Ward and Lucas, A Modernist Architecture in England.

66 Frognal, Connell, Ward and Lucas, 1938
66 Frognal, Connell, Ward and Lucas, 1938

66 Frognal, Connell, Ward and Lucas, 1938
Arkwright Road lies at the lower end of Frognal. Number 13b, known as the New House was built in 1939 and  stands out from its neighbours due to its glass brick facade at ground floor level and a fabulous blue elongated porthole on the right hand side. Designed by architects Samuel and Harding for one Cecil Walton, the house is built on a site that slopes in two directions. The dining room and the kitchen are at ground floor level whilst the balconied living room faces south with views across London.  It has a reinforced concrete frame and staircase. As with a number of Hampstead's modernist buildings, there is also a beautiful and colour filled garden that adds contrast to the red brick exterior of the house, but my favourite feature is definitely the unusually shaped, stretched looking porthole.

New House, 13b Arkwright Road, Samuel and Harding, 1939.
New House, 13b Arkwright Road, Samuel and Harding, 1939.
Back up Frognal and branching off to climb Chesterford Gardens and Reddington Road, you eventually come to the Hill House. Hill House is a large building but easy to miss. It is set back from the road on the hillside and surrounded by large trees that shield it from passers-by during spring and summer. Look out for a narrow and steep dirt track on the left hand side as you walk up Reddington Road. There are tall wooden gates at the top of the track bearing an eclectic collection of pub signs. Its worth a walk to the gates to get a better view of the house. 

Designed by Oliver Hill, it was completed in 1938 and stands on one of the highest points in the city. Made from brick, the house was originally approached by a long flight of steps through a portico with an internal staircase reaching the main rooms. The balconies are today covered in shrubs and plants that further restrict views of the house - a return visit in the winter when the trees are bare may well be in order. Hill was an accomplished architect having worked originally in the arts and crafts style before discovering modernism. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the design of the Frinton Park Estate in Frinton-on-sea, Essex which has a number of modernist houses. His first house in the style, Joldwynds, in Surrey was not so successful as the rendering fell off and the roof leaked. All geometric shapes and shiny white exterior, Joldwynds still stands today and is in good condition. Well, these things take time. 

Hill House, Redington Road, Oliver Hill, 1938.
Several of the houses on the Hampstead Trail are very large. 13 Downshire Hill is very small but very beautiful. Designed by Michael and Charlotte Bunney and completed in 1936 it is an extremely narrow structure built of bricks with a smooth render and steelwork on the upper level. It stands on the site of a late Georgian end of terrace house but does not seem to jar with its immediate neighbour. The top floor housed an architectural office, pioneering the live-work space concept whilst there was no formal division between the front and back of the house with a sideboard and bookcase being used to divide the space. Regular readers will probably know that my favourite feature of the house is the raised eyebrow canopy on the left hand side which allows residents to enjoy the sunshine and no doubt some great views across London. It reminds me of warmer climes. There is also an unexpected treat at this address in the shape of an extremely stylish metal gate. I don't know if this is also from the 1930's but the slim central panel and narrow bars certainly refer back to the modernist and art deco age.

Downshire Hill, Michael and Charlotte Bunney, 1936.
The gate at 13 Downshire Hill.
Although I have already written about the Isokon building, I can't resist completing this post with another picture of that lovely block on Lawn Road. The Hampstead Trail begins here but you could also do most of the walk in reverse if you wanted to finish up here and maybe buy something from the gallery. I am working my way through a fascinating book purchased there called The Lawn Road Flats: Spies, Writers and Artists by David Burke. It tells the story of the Isokon building and the politics, social circles and intrigue associated with it. Recommended.

Lawn Road Flats (Isokon), Wells Coates, 1934.

Friday 1 August 2014

Picture post 33: Art deco beauty in Rayners Lane - the former Grosvenor Cinema

Rayners Lane in West London is primarily a residential area and is definitely not on the tourist trail. However, it is home to the former Grosvenor cinema, now the European Centre for followers of the Zoroastrian religion. The cinema opened in 1936 and was the work of architect Frank Ernest Bromige who also designed cinemas in Dalston, Hounslow and Acton. 

As with many cinemas of its time, it was designed on a grand scale with 1,235 seats - 830 in the stalls and 405 in the circle. There was also a 44 feet deep stage, six dressing rooms and a sunken cafe in the foyer. Going to the cinema in the 1930's was an event with seeing the film being only part of the evening out and the Grosvenor was clearly designed to reflect this. The first film shown here was The Country Doctor, screened on 12th october 1936 and starring one Jean Hersholt.

The Grosvenor was taken over by Oscar Deutsch's Odeon chain in 1937, but retained its original name until 1941 when it became the Odeon. A further name change came in 1950 when it was re-badged as the Gaumont. It reverted to being the Odeon in 1964 when the number of seats was reduced to 1,185, finally becoming the Ace Cinema in 1981when it was taken over by an independent owner. This lasted until 1986 when all cinema activity stopped and the building was used as a bar and nightclub for a few years, then stood empty until it was acquired by the Zoroastrian Centre for Europe in 2000. Since then it has been used for religious purposes.  The building was first listed in 1981 at Grade ll status and was upgraded to Grade ll * (star) in 1984.

The dramatic exterior makes the Grosvenor one of the most striking of London's remaining art deco cinemas. Entrance is though three sets of double doors bearing sun-ray designs and set beneath a curved canopy. There are three curved white rendered bays above the canopy, the central one with a convex curve flanked by two shorter ogive curved bays. All three bays are glazed with the outer two sitting within metal frames. The void between the curves is occupied by a stylised feature of projecting concentric curves that has earned the building its local nickname of "the elephant's trunk".

The cinema was built during a period when London's suburbs were rapidly expanding due to the extension of the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines, both of which run through Rayners Lane. The Metropolitan Line gave its name to these new suburbs which were referred to as "Metroland" and were built to enable city workers to have more living space, gardens and the benefits of suburban living just a short distance from their workplace. The Grosvenor Cinema would doubtless have attracted residents to the new housing in this part of the city. The building took part in London's Open House weekend in 2013 and hopefully will do so again. The tube station which is opposite the former cinema dates from the 1930's and has some deco features whilst the adjoining flats have some deco hints too.  And there are several Indian restaurants close by if you are feeling hungry...