Tag Archives: regeneration

RIP (Revitalization, Innovation, Progression) Waldorf Hotel

What an intense start to 2013.  My twitter feed is full of provocative, passionate comments – from #IdleNoMore to today’s news of Aaron Swartz‘s suicide.  But it was another change in our midst that motivated me to action – namely because it is something I have been passionate about, in various guises, all my life and is something I feel I can actually do something about.

On January 9, 2013, I learned that the Waldorf Hotel in Vancouver’s east end was closing in 12 days. I’m tired of cultural and community gathering places being threatened or lost in the wake of property development. It is, however, a complex issue. Housing is important. Thoughtful development of buildings and land to provide us with shelter and amenities in safe and sound conditions is important. But so is conservation of some of our heritage, history, community hubs, common areas, and public places. More importantly when a place exists, that is edgy, takes risks, and is an oasis in an otherwise forlorn part of town, we shouldn’t let it pass at the sight of the highest bidder.

It made me think of the long list of innovative, “at the bleeding edge” places I’ve been to in other cities or known about…

  • Florent, an inclusive restaurant, established in 1985 in the meat-packing district of New York before it got trendy. It closed its doors in 2008, when the landlord significantly raised its rent.
  • Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles), established in 1990 by a group of artists in Berlin.
  • Les Trois Garçons (2000), in a “no man’s land” part of East London that sat between Brick Lane and Shoreditch.
  • Bistrotheque (2004), in a desolate, industrial part of Bethnal Green in London.

Florent Morellet took over a 24-hour diner in New York’s meat-packing district in 1985, when it was still a meat-packing district and not the trendy haunt of restaurant goers, fashionistas, and celebrities. Florent, the restaurant, became more than that, it supported fringe artists – who worked there by day or by night, for business services in exchange for meals, and as a venue for performances. It became a community hub and campaign headquarters – Morellet chartered bus trips to Washington, DC to protest against war or for gay rights. As it grew in popularity, Florent attracted celebrities, tourists, and locals, but Morellet “created a reservation line just for neighbourhood locals (‘I didn’t care if famous people could get a table, but it was important that core people could get a table’)” as noted in this article in New York Magazine, which documents quite beautifully the story of Florent, the restaurant and cultural gathering place that he founded, their journey through gentrification, and ultimately the restaurant’s closing.

Friedrichsstadtpassagen was built in 1907-08 as a department store in Berlin. After many years of changes in use and occupants, parts of the building were demolished in 1980 and full demolition of the building was planned for 1990. It was then that a group of artists occupied it, to save it from demolition and formed Art House Tacheles. The building became occupied with studios, workshops, a nightclub, cinema, and garden. An eviction was scheduled in 2011 and all the occupants and artists left the building in 2012. Tacheles was described by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian as “a meeting place for the city’s artists and subversives that had the atmosphere of some legendary, mythic avant garde venue of the past… … It was an experiment in the power of imagination.” Jens Balzer wrote in the New York Times, “For Berlin’s inhabitants and visitors alike, then, its very existence stood for the idea that the newly unified city could and would provide space for creative experiments. The art center also stood for the harmonious relationship between the anarchic underground and the official culture of the capital.”

I remember suggesting a team dinner with my then-investment banking colleagues at Les Trois Garçons in 2003. It had been around for 3 years by then. Aside from an office building three blocks away that had been acquired and refurbished by a large London property development company in 2001 and warehouses which seemed unoccupied most of the time, there was not much else around in that neighbourhood. It was only a stone’s throw away from the City, London’s financial district, yet to get my colleagues to go north of Liverpool Street Station and into another postal code was unheard of. Change was afoot because later in 2003, the owners of Les Trois Garçons opened Lounge Lover, a decadent, kitsch cocktail bar. If fine French dining couldn’t lure the bankers into uncharted territory, gin and tonics and martini cocktails could. The quirky, slightly dodgy “no man’s land” that was not quite Brick Lane and not quite Shoreditch began its transformation. In 2007, Shoreditch House, part of the Soho House group, and Beach Blanket Babylon of West London’s Notting Hill both opened East London locations, followed by Terence Conran’s Boundary Hotel which opened on New Year’s Eve 2008. 2010 saw the expansion of the East London Line and a station connected to the London transit system opened, around the corner from Les Trois Garçons.

Quirky venues like Les Trois Garçons play an important role in the development of neighbourhoods. They have to exist in harmony with their community and in service of others – it is the only way they can survive when there is no other reason to go a neighbourhood devoid of any other entertainment or local amenity. They establish a culture, usually in a no-holds-barred kind of way. They don’t care if it fits your taste or not, they do care about delivering an experience, being memorable, and being remarkable so that you just might come back and tell your friends (but not your square friends, just your cool, edgy friends). Places like Les Trois Garçons take the first step, when no one else wants to. It involves people who lovingly revitalize disused buildings (in this case, an old Victorian public house built in 1880, that was first acquired in 1996 to be the owners’ home) and take risks.

And then in 2004 came Bistrotheque – further east and deeper in the dark corners of East London. Bistrotheque’s warehouse location made Les Trois Garçons feel like the high street. Blink and you miss it as no signs help you find the pub, cabaret theatre, and French bistro. The pub itself is decorated with an old wood bar, reclaimed from another pub that was decommissioned, and dark velvet curtains that block out any sign of its industrial surroundings. Upstairs the bistro is bright and minimalist. Lively cabaret shows that were inclusive and celebrated the local LGBT community, entertained late night guests . The proprietors of Bistrotheque went on to create three limited-time pop-up restaurants, one in the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, the second in a gallery room in the Royal Academy of Arts, and the third on the roof of a new shopping centre overlooking the London Olympic Park as it was being developed. For the Royal Academy of Arts pop-up, artists were commissioned to create limited edition dinnerware, which were later sold to customers when the pop-up reached its end.

What all of these places have in common is that they existed in neighbourhoods or spaces in which few other people saw value. The neighbourhoods were industrial or the buildings empty and under-utilized. The places were re-animated, often through food and drink, but also with performance, theatre, art, and drama. The spaces were unusual juxtapositions, sometimes over-the-top, eclectic, kitsch, or quirky. They were a breath of fresh air, off the beaten track of clone town high streets and cookie cutter chain stores and restaurants. They were not for the faint of heart.

It can feel like an adventure, seeking out and going to such places, but also like refuge. Despite the hipster stereotype, there is no pre-tense, everyone is welcomed, and no one is judged. The food, drink, and entertainment draw a diverse crowd and as the venues become increasingly popular, they perhaps draw a more affluent crowd. This can enable the venue operators or hosts to be economically viable and continue to self-finance interesting, culturally diverse, create programming and events.

When I first moved to Vancouver in 2011, my husband and I wondered where the Florent or Tacheles or Bistrotheque of Vancouver was. Lo and behold, we found it in the East End of the City, just as we had in London. You can argue whether the Waldorf Hotel is an icon or not or a cultural institution or not. Undeniably, it is part of Vancouver’s culture. It is more than just a bar or an entertainment venue. It is more than the old roadside hotel in which it is housed. It is housed in a part of the city’s heritage, lovingly restored. It is most importantly a place where people gather, meet, and connect. This aspect of being a community hub and public house is a highly under-valued, under-recognized piece of cultural and social placemaking, on which it is so difficult to place a price. It’s not about re-locating and finding another venue. Location, situation, and circumstance are just as important and go hand in hand with the people, the community, the events, and the content.

There is a lot which we do not know about the Waldorf – its financial situation, the exact terms of its lease, and its relationship with the previous and new owners. We do not know the full circumstances and intentions of the previous and new owners.

However, it is not as simple as saying that it is just a hipster hang-out, that it can’t have required a lot of research, that it must be easy to just pay your rent, to shut up, stop complaining and stay. It is also not as simple as keeping the building from being demolished and operating the hotel under different management. It is about making room in ever-growing urban cities for community hubs, the new form of public house, and open places for alternative art, culture, and expression.

Sure, the Waldorf Hotel, its contents, and programming might not be as alternative as say, the Oubliette Arthouse in London (dispatched) or 59 Rivoli in Paris (building purchased by the city of Paris, renovated, and the artists were legally permitted to stay under a 3-year renewable contract), but it is part of Vancouver’s fringe culture. If it moves on from East Hastings, where will it go? Where will we go?

Storify of tweets from Saturday, January 12, 2013:
[View the story “Waldorf Hotel, the demise of \”just another bar\”?” on Storify]

Other blog posts and articles of interest about the Waldorf Hotel:

  1. http://pricetags.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/mixed-salad-thoughts-on-the-waldorf/ (I like that someone mentioned Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam in the comments.  It’s also mentioned in BLAH CITY’s tumblr.  I’ve stayed at the Lloyd, which is a converted former prison.  It, too, is outside of Amsterdam’s core, near the docks.  I don’t know enough of its story and its programming, but worth including on the long list of “at the bleeding edge” cultural and community spaces that operate as a bar, hotel or restaurant for economic viability).
  2. Vancouver Loves the Waldorf is created http://www.vancouverobserver.com/city/vancouver-loves-waldorf-group-launches-support-team-waldorf
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/mike-klassen/hotel-waldorf-vancouver-closes-solterra_b_2456900.html
  4. http://www.francesbula.com/uncategorized/news-of-waldorf-hotel-closure-sparks-a-small-neutron-bomb-of-outrage-anger-sadness-uncertainty/
  5. http://www.straight.com/news/342681/waldorf-hotel-owner-and-leaseholder-differ-over-recent-history-site
  6. http://www.biv.com/article/20130110/BIV0111/130119993/0/SEARCH/Developer-has-%E2%80%9Cno-intention-of-demolishing%E2%80%9D-Waldorf-Hotel
  7. http://www.mayorofvancouver.ca/waldorfmotion
  8. http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/michael-stewart/2013/01/waldorf-and-vancouvers-artistic-commonwealth

In Derby for the DTA Conference

In October 2009, I wrote a post about the Derby Hippodrome.  I was fascinated by this building, which I had discovered rather randomly through my interest in beautiful, but disused buildings and urban exploration (as an observer, rather than a partcipant!)  Anything, living in East London, I never would have thought I’d have an opportunity to visit Derby and see this lovely, historic building in person.  But guess what?  I am here and I’m staying in a hotel just down the road from it.

I am in Derby until Tuesday for the Development Trusts Assocation annual conference on community assets and community enterprise.  It couldn’t be more appropriate than this!

The hotel is admittedly a bit shabby (but very affordable with single rooms!)  And part of me started to think perhaps I should have booked at the Jury’s Inn where many other delegates seem to be staying.  But I stand by my decision – namely for patronising a smaller, non-multiple business and secondly because I am staying close to the centre of the town, seconds from the Derby Hippodrome.  Before tomorrow’s proceedings, I’ll be venturing out a bit earlier to walk past the Hippodrome to have a look around.

Updated information on the state of this building is at the “This is Derbyshire” website.  I’m going to see if any clever people at the DTA Conference tomorrow might have some ideas and resources to rescue this building (and others in Derby!)

What’s New?

I went along to the Olympic Park consultation at Forman’s fish factory (appropriately situated on Fish Island, Hackney Wick).  The Forman factory sits grandly along one of the Lea Navigation canals and has a grand, unencumbered view of the Olympic Stadium.  Better pedestrian connections, bridges, pavements, and cycle paths are planned to link Hackney Wick, across the Olympic Park to Leyton, the Greenway should hopefully provide a route from Victoria Park all the way to West Ham?  Basically the plans are the give new life to the canal system and park eco-system, in particular replacing a lot of the paved bits that will be necessarily for moving people around the area during the Olympic Games.  Tarmac, massive bridges, perimeter fencing, accreditation areas (that fancy-speak for ticketed entrances) – they’ve all got to go post-games to make way for park areas, trees, and the like.  Some of the decommissioned parts will become development opportunities and will be handed over to the Olympic Park Legacy Company in 2014.  In fact the parklands won’t be fully accessible until 2014.  I suggested, to avoid having the Olympic Park remain a construction site post-games, in addition to the remaining sports venues being the focus and the main draw, these areas could be developed with temporary artists’ studios, art spaces, pop-up shops, restaurants and cafés to encourage and house creative ventures.  What better way than to keep the local artists engaged and make good use of space – provided that it’s made available at a reasonable, affordable rate.

I’m also very keen to see real estate used more cleverly for small businesses or groups oozing of creativity, culture and innovation.  Creative, innovative people need a place to work in, don’t they?  How could real estate be used more creatively?  More pop-up opportunities?  Flexible space?  Combined uses – much like cafés in retail shops, but how about a more integrated approach.  Or restaurant as product – like the Flash pop-up restaurant at the Royal Academy where the tableware was available for purchase after the pop-up restaurant finished its run?  Music stores are being used as live music venues, bars as places to display art.  How else can property genres be combined to make best use of space???  Answers on a postcard please.  Please leave a comment below.

1000 days and 18 years: London 2012 Olympic Park

Today marks the 1000-day countdown until the start of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. It is very timely that I attended a presentation last night by the planning and design firm that led the creation of the Olympic Masterplan Framework.

A team from EDAW (rebranded this month as AECOM), which led a consortium including HOK Sports, Allies and Morrison, and Foreign Office Architects, presented the immense regeneration project being undertaken by its client, the London Development Agency. It was a confidently delivered overview summarising the project that was incepted in 2002 as part of London’s bid for the Olympics and, following London’s selection in 2005, evolved into a plan with full permission in 2007. The evening’s talk began with a caveat that the Masterplan Framework was presently under review with the Olympic Park Legacy Company (“OPLC”), the corporation established by the Government and the LDA to manage the future estate post-games.

The team very eloquently described the challenges faced by the site historically. The Lower Lea Valley is the meeting point of the Boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and Newham, three boroughs that have some of the most deprived areas of the city. The Lea Navigation, rooted by the Lea River and its canal systems, and the predominantly industrial use of the land created a desolate no-man’s land that separated Bow to the west from Stratford to the east. The options to cross it tended to be vehicular – by car or bus over the Bow Flyover, by DLR, by rail, or bypassing it entirely underground from Mile End to Stratford on the Central Line. Attempts to improve accessibility seem ad hoc and insufficient. The Greenway is a path set over the Northern Outfall Sewer, lined on either side with green patches, and is meant to link the Lower Lea Valley to the Bow Backwaters and Stratford. Lack of sufficient use and pedestrian traffic made it susceptible to litter and dumping. Lack of maintenance and security made it appear unappealing and unsafe. The same can be said about the canal paths along the Lea Navigation, some of which are now inaccessible due to the OP construction works. These seemed to have improved somewhat with the peripheral development in the Boroughs around the OP fringe. But such development, as was also pointed out by the EDAW presenters, has been varied and not cohesive with an overall strategy. The property boom up to 2007 attracted opportunistic developers that have built tall, dense apartment blocks on whatever small patches of land they could get their hands on. It is curious that the EDAW-consortium’s Masterplan Framework contains a significant amount of high density housing, one of the areas met with criticism from the OPLC. One of the changes that could be already considered is the reduction of the number of tall buildings and the increase in family homes (with 3 or more bedrooms and gardens).

The mixed feelings expressed by London residents about the development of the area comes as no surprise. Many people are concerned that regeneration of the area will impair local businesses, that there will be an inadequate provision of affordable and social housing on the legacy site, that significant amounts of taxpayers’ money will be expended on an event viewed as short-term, benefiting few, and that the ambitious plans to redevelop the area will fail miserably or be of limited success.

Rather than be cynical about the ambitious project, I see major opportunities for the area and the challenges and outside forces being imposed upon it, must be addressed head-on.

Stratford City

I mentioned Stratford City, Westfield’s large shopping centre development, in a previous post. Westfield’s plan pre-dated the securing of the London Olympics and it could prove to be an enormous benefit to the area or become a monster. I think it will increase the attractiveness of living in Stratford, Bow, and Hackney given the proximity of these communities to a convenient retail and hospitality area. However, following last night’s presentation, I have a greater appreciation of the impact Stratford City could have on the legacy Olympic site, Stratford Broadway, Roman Road in Bow, and other local high streets in the vicinity.

I am interested to see what will happen around Shepherd’s Bush, which was increasingly becoming an unpleasant, unsafe triangle until the significant investment in the Westfield London shopping centre was made. The transport links around Westfield were improved somewhat, but congestion around the Central Line access at Shepherd’s Bush greets visitors or traffic jams by anyone who dares driving to the centre (I support reduced car use in Central London!) The major opponents of Westfield London concerned local retailers, in particular the shopping mall across Shepherd’s Bush Green.

Being a native of Toronto, Canada, I grew up in an environment where shopping was done at a destination shopping centre. But shopping centres co-exist with local neighbourhood shops in Toronto. I believe in providing a balance and choice of retail options to communities – ranging from large stores and high street chains to small businesses and boutiques. Both offer a different shopping experience and range to consumers. But this requires considerable investment, support, and shared knowledge to smaller businesses to enable them to compete. This could come in a number of different forms, ranging from funding, to training and advice, to collective purchasing and shared services. I believe, in conjunction with the larger scale redevelopment at Stratford, local planners and small business bureaus can help local businesses revitalise high streets and create a strong sense of community. This type of anchoring in a community, which encourages people to choose a particular neighbourhood to live and work in is also important to big centres like Stratford City. Embracing the local community, rather than alienating it, may be an important element to its success.

Comparisons to other East London regeneration schemes

There were questions raised last night and comparisons drawn to other regeneration projects in East London that have proven to be problematic, namely the Greenwich Millennium Village and O2 Centre, the Royal Docks, and Canary Wharf. The latter experienced significant difficulty financially and initially attracted corporate occupiers, but wasn’t much of a community. It became more successful in the economic boom as overseas financial institutions poured onto the estate, a greater retail and leisure offering was developed and luxury high-rise flats were built along the riverside. The estate began to experience a life on the weekend, not only during business hours. But the quarter is lacking in cultural attractions and the housing is divisive, with affordable and social housing crammed down the centre of the Isle of Dogs, surrounded by the newer flats around the perimeter. In the midst of the economic crisis, the failure of Lehman Brothers has created void space in their former London headquarters and financial institutions have down-sized dramatically. Development is still progressing at Canary Wharf with the new restaurant openings at Churchill Square including Jamie Oliver’s new Italian outpost. As the geographic name suggests, being situated on the Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf is effectively on an island. Transport links are limited to the DLR and Jubilee Line. Road access enters the estate at the north end, but must exit in that same direction since there are no road bridges connecting the Isle of Dogs to the other side of the River Thames. The Greenwich Peninsula, on which the former Millennium Dome, now O2 Centre sits, is also effectively an island. Although, connected to the north by the Blackwall Tunnel running under the Thames and served by the Jubilee line, it is surrounded by water except to the south. The Royal Docks practically sits on the outskirts of London. The ExCel exhibition centre attracts trade shows and conferences, hotels and residential development has been prevalent in the area, but large commercial buildings sit empty. The OP, however can be different and estate managers must be careful not to let it slip into an island-like existence. Good pedestrian access, interesting leisure and cultural draws, and good public transport connections are critical to ensure the parkland and new communities are successfully linked to Bow, Hackney, and the rest of Stratford. With the enormous size of the sporting venues that will endure and the mammoth rail hub at Stratford, the OPLC and developers should ensure the area retains a pedestrian-friendly environment, enjoyed in much of Central London. The ability to walk from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, with shops, bars, galleries, parks, and other points of interest at every corner is one of the main draws of London (something that is lacking in a large sprawling city like Toronto for example).

I can see lots of opportunity for the OP post-games as well as ways to leverage off it positively in other neighbourhoods such as Hackney and Bromley-by-Bow which still suffer from high levels of deprivation. The approach must be wholistic and genuine in order to create an environment where people can live, work, play, and enjoy. The development of a large community takes time – the legacy plan extends through to 2020 and beyond to at least 2030. It isn’t just about the next 1000 days.

Fairfield Road Not Looking So Fair

Fairfield Road in Bow, East London is roughly 500 metres long, running between Bow Road and Tredegar Road. The railway line running east from Liverpool Street and the DLR line from Canary Wharf, both heading in the direction of Stratford, cut over the road at approximately the half way point.

The road has undergone a significant transformation over the decades. At the start of the 20th century, Fairfield Road would have been a mixture of fields, homes, and industrial buildings. Pretty two-storey terraced houses were situated near a large open field where the Bow Fair was held. Trams trundled up the road to a depot just south of the railway line. The Bryant & May match factory dominated the road north of the railway line across from the Bow Infirmary Asylum.

In the intervening years, small box-like apartment blocks replaced war-damaged terraces. The Poplar Town Hall was erected on the former fair field. The tram depot was modernised for motorised buses. The infirmary and neighbouring sites made way for textile factories and light industrial buildings.

The Bryant & May match factory ceased operating in 1979 and this perhaps was the turning point for Fairfield Road. In the late 1980s, the match factory was converted to residential use in one of the first regeneration projects undertaken in East London. It was big and ambitious and was modelled after the loft and warehouse conversions in Soho, New York. By the mid-1990s, the development, now called Bow Quarter, housed 733 flats in the converted factory and administrative buildings as well as newly constructed flats on the former yard. Increasingly, sections of the road which were historically industrial were now starting to be converted to residential use during the housing boom in the new millenium. Poplar Town Hall became the Bow Business Centre. Sixteen flats were developed on the top floor as “penthouses” and adjacent is the Theatre Building flats. In 2004, the redevelopment of a site previously occupied by a French Connection warehouse was completed and the development was named Bow Connection (homage paid to the previous occupants of the site, which I realised only recently). The Bromley Arms pub, opposite the Bow Bus Garage closed and was developed into three flats. The Caledonian Arms, which closed in 2000 has been the subject of a painfully slow redevelopment. Nine years later the disused pub has a new mansard roof, new windows, and the pub sign has been removed, but it is still not ready for occupants. Buildings on three industrial sites situated uncomfortably close to the railway lines have been demolished in the last five years. A small block of flats has been built on one awkward site squeezed behind two terraced houses and next to the railway line. A large development of flats extending from Fairfield Road along the railway line to Wick Lane is currently a work in progress. The third site, perhaps the most challenging, is nestled between the DLR and mainline railway tracks. Various planning applications had been submitted to Tower Hamlet council investigating the feasibility of homes for the site.

This summer there has been some work around Fairfield Road on the sewers underneath the pavement. The infrastructure serving the area was not originally designed for such large-scale residential development. At the time of its closure, the Bryant & May employed 275 people. There are now more than 1,000 people living on the same site and demanding services from the electricity grid, the water, and sewage systems. The growing demand on energy, water, and resources due to rising population is not new news and Fairfield Road is a microcosm of that. How much more development and occupational pressure can the services and systems tolerate?

Now Playing: Drama at the Derby Hippodrome

I have become a fan of the urban exploration forum, 28 Days Later. There are some very talented photographers and commentators moderating and contributing to the website. One of the reports I found was about the Derby Hippodrome.

Derby Hippodrome, 28dayslater.co.uk, 2008The report includes photographs from the interior of the once grand theatre, now like an unintended open-air forum. The roof is absent and a long metal support frame crossed above the stalls area, resting on the ledge of the balcony seating area. A earlier visit to the Derby Hippodrome in December 2008, yielded responses to the report which included the phrase “he should be made to put it right”. “He”, I realised after further research, likely refers to Mr. Christopher Anthony, the current registered owner of the Derby Hippodrome.

The former live entertainment theatre, that also spent years in the guise of a cinema and subsequently a bingo hall, was the subject of a fire in early February 2008. The actions of the various cast of characters in this drama vary from conniving to negligent to passionate. Here’s a summarised timeline of events affecting the theatre since this unfortunate event:

February 2008

  • Fire breaks out on 8 February, believed to have started in the orchestra pit. Spread of the fire is minimised in part by the fire curtain. Authorities treat it as arson.

March 2008

  • Derby City Council orders the owner to make immediate repairs to the grade II listed building.
  • On 28 March, contractors appear at the site to make essential repairs, but instead knock a gaping hole in the roof and bringing a side wall down with a bucket excavator and nibbler.

April 2008

  • Derby City Council obtain High Court injunction preventing Mr. Anthony from making any further alterations to the buildings without its involvement.

June 2008

  • Derby City Council erects protective hoardings around the building to improve the appearance and security of the site.
  • August 2008
  • The Council steps in and makes repairs to replace tiles, unblock gutters, and install joists to support a structural beam. By this time, the building has stood roofless and exposed to the elements for five months, prompting the Council to seek ways to waterproof it. However, a protective roof tent fails to materialise.
  • Online petition at www.gopetition.com starts.

October 2008

  • Online petition attracts over 100 signatures asking for the theatre to be restored as a traditional theatre under public ownership.
  • Neighbouring property owners complain about the state of the Derby Hippodrome, claiming its dilapidated state attracts vermin and is an eyesore. They call for it to be demolished.
  • In mid-October, the Council meets with Mr. Anthony and they agree to work together to bring the building back into some sort of use and discuss tight timescales to achieve new plans.

September 2008

  • Derby New Theatre Association, representing amateur theatre groups, releases an artist’s impression of the Derby Hippodrome if it was restored. The Association had submitted a planning application prior to March 2008 to restore and reopen the building as a theatre, but did not have sufficient funds to carry out the redevelopment.

January 2009

  • Another fire breaks out on 22 January, firefighters once again suspect arson as reported on This is Derbyshire (Derby Telegraph).
  • Derby City Council reveal that it withdrew an enforcement notice requiring the owner to make repairs because it was preventing him from obtaining funds to make an appropriate planning submission.
  • It is revealed that the owner had planned to redevelop the site into a 346-space car park, retaining two of the theatre walls, fronting Green Lane and Macklin Street. The redevelopment would include shops on the ground floor, some offices, and six bedsits.

March 2009

  • Derby City Council take legal action against Mr. Anthony and contractor Wayne Watson over unauthorised work on a listed building.
  • Spokespeople for Mr. Anthony state that he will plead no guilty to criminal charges.
  • Mr. Anthony fails to appear in court on 27 March, his solicitors claiming that they had not had time to go through the papers. Mr. Watson appears in court, but did not enter a plea.
  • A year has passed since the devastating intervention of Mr. Anthony and his contractor’s invasive machinery. The state of the building has not improved.

September 2009

  • Derby Hippodrome Restoration Fund, established in July 2009, issues a press release announcing its goal to restore the theatre. Restoration costs are estimated to be around £15 million.

No further reports appear in the news regarding the court action against the owner and the contractor. It is certainly up to the courts to examine the evidence and determine whether there was any wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Anthony and his contractor. Although such decision would refer to the specific charge made by Derby City Council – that the owner and contractor carried out unauthorised work on a listed building. Beyond that charge, I would question the owner’s motivations and objectives for the building and whether those are aligned with the wishes of the community. On the face of it, keeping the theatre façade and building a car-park on the site does nothing to remind the present and future community of the theatre’s history. The building is grade II listed meaning the exterior must be retained, with no attention paid to protecting the interior. So, perhaps it is Derby City Council with whom the community should have issue, for failing to sufficiently protect the building through local listings or other means of historical protection. A car park does not contribute towards building and promoting community spirit and interaction. It is another faceless, passionless structure. It does not share, it does not provide any sort of education, enlightenment, or entertainment as theatre or other arts-based or culture-based activities could yield. But there is a value debate these days, where resources are scarce and limited. If the community does want the building restored and used as a theatre, will there be enough patronage? Not only does the restoration need to be funded, but so do ongoing productions and activities. I wonder whether there is enough demand, local or otherwise, to finance the existence of a theatre in Derby. Could it ever be self-funding or would it rely on Arts Council and other philanthropic support? The Hackney Empire Theatre in London underwent an extensive renovation, restoration, and extension from 2001 to 2004 at a cost of £15 million. It has a full and varied programme catering to the local community, but recently announced that, due to financial difficulties, it will close for at least nine months in January 2010. In future posts, I will examine and critique theatre restoration, alternative uses, and other projects – both successful and failed and discuss what the future could hold for these glorious buildings of our past.

For further details and accounts of the events at the Derby Hippodrome, check out the Derby Gripe and the Theatres Trust.

Highbury Stadium to Highbury Square

The new residential development of Highbury Stadium, the former Arsenal football stadium was officially launched on 24 September. Designed by Allies and Morrison Architects and built by Sir Robert McAlpine for Arsenal Football Club, the renamed Highbury Square is a curious and unique development that appears both livable and preserves a bit of the site’s history. The blocks of flats are arranged as the North, South, East, and West stands were.

The grade II listed Art Deco façade of the East Stand fronting Avenell Road remains in tact in red and white. The football pitch remains green and is now landscaped communal gardens. I like this development because it is designed like a community centred around green space and at the same time, you can still see the site’s previous life – it still resembles a football stadium. It probably serves to fulfil some childhood dreams of actually living in a stadium – it is fun and memorable and more importantly is a great re-use and regeneration of a site that could have otherwise fallen derelict or could have become another faceless concrete block, absent of foliage and absent of any joy and pride of living there.

I was used to big, island-like structures for sports grounds, more prevalent in North America, which can be circumnavigated and accessed from all sides and angles (much like the new Emirates Stadium) and so I always found Highbury Stadium to be a curious location. It is nestled behind rows of small Victorian terraced houses, and aside from the imposing East Stand, it is alluded to only by the entrance walkway at the north end on Gillespie Road (through a gap between nos. 115 and 121) across from Arsenal tube station and the West Stand entrance under an arch at 137-139 Highbury Hill. The new design retains a bit of this coziness. Hopefully, for its residents, Highbury Square will be the place for many more wins at home.