One of my colleagues here in Glasgow said to me yesterday that in some ways Glasgow is lucky to have suffered a long period of financial decline because it meant that many of her grand old buildings have survived when they might otherwise have been demolished to make way for redevelopment. She may have a point for I’m well aware of parts of the North East where craftsmanship has been discarded in favour of brutalist concrete which only a few decades later is no longer fit for purpose.
Four buildings in Glasgow caught my eye that demonstrate that the city’s attitude to significant buildings is far from consistent.
The Pavilion Theatre, built in 1904, is one of Glasgow’s oldest and was a statement of pure luxury when it opened. Rococo plasterwork and mahogany panelling adorned the interior while the exterior is clothed in terracotta tiling inspired by Renaissance France. Many of the great names of music hall appeared here including Sarah Bernhardt and Charlie Chaplin. Over a century later and the building is still in use, and for its original purpose. The Pavilion relies on family shows and pantomimes to remain viable (it’s the only privately owned theatre in Scotland) but it’s a shame that the original design has been so carelessly ignored in the fixings of that bright red signage.
The second of my quartet has not been so fortunate. Lion Chambers came just three years after The Pavilion, but employs a completely different approach to construction. Commissioned by a local lawyer with an interest in the arts the lower floors were given over to legal offices (statues of judges on the exterior peer over the work below) while the upper floors were studios for artists. Inspired by the shape of Scottish castles, it was one of the first reinforced concrete structures in Glasgow and indeed in the UK. Its innovation has also proved to be its weakness for the limitations of the material were not so well understood then and the building is now in a dangerous state of repair so that the owners, doubtless with an eye on the redevelopment value of the site, seeking permission to demolish this listed building. It now stands swathed in netting to prevent its statuary from falling on those below awaiting its reprieve or death sentence.
More positively The Beresford, a former hotel on Sauchiehall Street, and described by some as the city’s first skyscraper, is still in good repair. Built in the 1930’s it boldly embodies the period’s Art Deco style. It’s now converted into private apartments, but in its day it was the residence of choice for US forces stationed in Glasgow during WWII. It’s a little out-of-place amongst the Glasgow tenements, but no less appealing for that.
My final choice for this posting is most definitely a product of historic commercial glories. The Glasgow Stock Exchange. Walking around a Glaswegian corner to be confronted by a vista of Venetian Gothic was not was I was expecting. Technically of course it is Gothic Revival with decoration that reminds me of the similar buildings I saw in Barcelona constructed in the same era. Constructed in the 1870’s it is the oldest of my choices but you wouldn’t think so to see it now. Money talks it seems.