HOLD ON A MINUTE ……
DIDN’T THIS USED TO BE ……?
What follows is a series of stories about buildings that were originally built for a particular purpose and functioned as such for a number of years. As a result of changing fashion and trends, these buildings ceased to be of use in their original form, but were then transformed and used for other purposes.
Perhaps cinemas and theatres provide the best examples of such buildings. There were once a large number of Edwardian Music Halls throughout London and an even greater number of cinemas. With the decline of Music Hall, a few theatres were used for other purposes, but most were demolished despite their architectural value. And as going to the pictures decreased in popularity, owners closed the majority of their cinemas. Some of these buildings were quickly transformed into Bingo Halls and remained functional for a number of years while others remained empty and left to decay with eventual demolition and new structures built on the sites.
Now with the apparent decline of Bingo, the future of these buildings has once again come into jeopardy. Fortunately a number of these great halls has been saved from demolition by achieving a reprieve as evangelical churches, public houses and gambling clubs. Sadly most Music Halls feared less well and only two remain in London.
Some old cinema buildings were saved from demolition by transformation for other uses. For example, one became a film studio while others were converted into show rooms and storage areas. However, the most tragic situation that exists is where a building sits for years and slowly decays from lack of use and is vandalised by oafs despite its English Heritage Listing. Meanwhile various council committees and other interested parties discuss the matter ad nauseum in an attempt to battle out a plan for its future while society wait impatiently for a decision.
Similarly, one time grand department stores sit seemingly with no future while others have seemingly fallen from grace and function as temporary sales establishments. But again nothing seems to be known as to their long term use. Old factories, one-time Town Halls of former Boroughs and schools sit empty and also await a future.
But let us not despair completely, for all is not gloom and doom (but let us not forget or pretend – much is!). In sharp contrast to these tragedies, this series of stories is presented to allow the reader to learn of some of the remarkable building transformations that those with insight and soul have made to one-time cinemas, theatres, factories, schools, department stores etc etc throughout London. I only have to think of the restoration of the facade of the old Rex-Essoldo in Bethnal Green Road. Once the cinema was closed, the new owners set about returning the façade to its past glory and achieved their aim to great effect. And fortunately these people were not alone.