December, 2012 Archives

I have commented before on the state of Lime Street. What should be a showpiece street for the city (as the first place many visitors see when leaving Lime Street Station) is an eyesore. The poor quality 1950s buildings on the west side are beyond redemption – they need pulling down (although the 1930s Art Deco Forum Cinema must be kept). On the other side of the street, it is a different story – for the buildings here have real character. Most date from the nineteenth century but among the neglected gems is the old Futurist Cinema.
I first visited the Futurist in 1973 to attend a press showing of the film Deliverance. It was a brilliant experience – just three of us in the Circle being plied with brandy by the manager as we watched what became one of my favourite films. I always had a soft spot for the place thereafter. A piece in today’s Liverpool Echo sparked off that memory – and, more importantly drew my attention to an important campaign being launched by Lesley Mullally and Sue Gilmore to save the building. The Futurist was Liverpool’s first purpose-built cinema and opened in 1912, the year of the photograph above. Its original name was The Picture House and a full history can be found on Lesley and Sue’s website:
What surprised me is that the building is not listed – which makes it vulnerable to redevelopment. There may not be an immediate threat but Lesley and Sue have started a petition to get something done. I take my hat off to them – many fine buildings lost in the last few decades might have been saved had more people taken the same active approach to our heritage.

When people talk about Liverpool’s world class attractions, one of the best is rarely mentioned. The waterfront, two cathedrals, St George’s Hall are in there, along with The Beatles and football. To me, the magnificent swathe of parks along the city’s south-eastern suburbs should be right up near the top. Few cities in Europe can boast such magnificent green spaces, from Princes Park, through Sefton Park, Otterspool Promenade, Calderstones Park, Allerton Towers, to Clarke Gardens and Camp Hill.
Of all the parks, Sefton Park is a magical place particularly when the annual Lantern Parade is held. I used to take my two children there in the 1980s and can remember the pirate ship slowly rotting into the water. I never thought to take a photograph – perhaps thinking it would be there forever. Sadly, it was removed in the 1990s (I think) along with the vandalised statue of Peter Pan, now relocated in a safe area by the Palm House. How unbelievable that someone could hacksaw pieces off such a well-loved sculpture. Almost as shocking was the state of the Palm House at the same time, allowed to deteriorate almost to the point of no return. Thankfully, a group of civic-minded enthusiasts fought hard to attract funding and the Palm House has been superbly restored. More recent work has improved all the waterways, repaired the statue of Eros and built a sympathetic and attractive caf?. Perhaps the time is right to build a new pirate ship.

I have been a bit lax recently on keeping my blog more regular (I have been working on a number of book projects). My apologies and I promise to get back to a weekly schedule from January. May I wish everyone a great Christmas and New Year. Thank you for all your support in 2012.

Tate and Lyle Sugar Silo, Regent Road, 1998

I was interested to read all the controversy over Preston Bus Station. To many, it is an eyesore – brutalist architecture at its worst (or best depending on your interpretation). To others, particularly in the architecture establishment, it is a modern masterpiece. Its future is about to be decided – demolish or keep and renovate.
Taste is a moveable feast. I remember back in the 1950s and 60s, Victorian Gothic was almost universally disliked, opening up the opportunity to tear city centres down and rebuild. One of the issues was the decades of soot that coated many of the buildings, obscuring the original colour and details. The North West Hotel on Lime Street came within a whisker of being demolished – being described as an eyesore and a shame on the city. Other buildings were less fortunate as the drive to modernise the city took root. Corbusian ideas of cities in the sky dominated planning decisions as a new vision of Liverpool was drawn up. I remember the large model of the future city that dominated the entrance to the Planning Department – all high rise blocks and motorways.
Now, we are re-evaluating the Post-War architecture and there is a growing appreciation of its merits and distinctiveness. I did a check on listed buildings post-1945 and was surprised to find only 424 buildings had been listed nationally out of over half a million listed buildings. Many, as expected, are in London. Plymouth, apparently has the most of any provincial city. Liverpool has only two – The Metropolitan Cathedral and the Sugar Silo on Regent Road (which is currently on the At Risk Register). Built between 1955 and 1957, it is a marvellous structural sculpture in concrete, which could serve any number of functions having an unobstructed interior (concert hall/sports arena?).
I am surprised other buildings have not made the list, particularly some of the buildings on Liverpool University’s campus. There are commercial buildings which make a bold statement – the Corn Exchange, Lewis’s, Littlewood’s and even the Midland Bank on the corner of Castle Street and Dale Street, which was a brave attempt to mimic Oriel Chambers down the road. As is always the case, it takes a new generation to appreciate the past and I would be interested to find out what other readers think are the best buildings of the last 50 years.
Thanks to all who have bought Streets of Liverpool 2. It is in all local bookshops and on Amazon

Kirklands 1977

Chaucers 1977

The 1970s was not the best decade in Liverpool’s relatively short history. The economy took a real bashing – although the real damage happened a decade later, when the city was almost abandoned by the Conservative government – and little happened in terms of new building (although the disastrous decision to progress with an inner ring road created a property blight across the city centre). I was looking for a new base for my arts organisation (Merseyside Viual Communications Unit – an ugly name, I must admit but it sounded vaguely official – I later shortened it to Open Eye). I was offered any number of buildings to buy or rent. One of them was a former bakery on Hardman Street. It was mine if I could stump up ?11,0000, which of course I hadn’t got, or available to rent. I liked the building and had a vision of turning it into an art house cinema. Unfortunately, the upper floor had been reinforced with concrete to take the weight of ovens, and conversion was out of the question. In the end, I took over a disused pub on the corner of Hood Street and Whitechapel on a six-month let, which turned into nearly 10 years.
Fortunately, the bakery in Hardman Street soon attracted new owners and a chapter in Liverpool’s social life began with the opening of its first wine bar. The year was, I think, 1976 and I videoed the first night (the tape was recorded over a few years later). In a rather depressing decade, Kirklands was a bit of a revolution in drinking with its large windows opening onto the street, which had tables and chairs on the pavement during the day. Caf? society had arrived. Kirklands had created a game-changer in Liverpool’s drinking culture.
Across the road was an equally influential drinking establishment – Chaucers. Famous for its live gigs – with bands such as Deaf School appearing – it made Hardman Street, for a short time at least, the place to be seen. The history of the building is of greater interest, having been constructed as a synagogue in about 1835. It was abandoned in the 1850s when a new building was erected in nearby Hope Place. In its more recent history, it has become a fancy dress shop (Lili Bizarre). Kirklands still remains a fine drinking establishment although renamed The Fly in the Loaf, with possibly the best range of real ales in the area.