Gregg's Blog (3): Palaces of the Mind
Updated: Jan 27
London is a great place for dreamers, and why not? People have always come here and hoped to find a city they see in their imagination. Whether leaving the countryside to find ones fortune in earlier times or from further abroad now, the city has always been in our minds eye, what we make of it!
But it not fixed in time either though we often wish it to be, as it has seen many incarnations, historic monuments and buildings have been lost over the centuries whether through neglect, fire or the casual hand of developers ready to knock down the old to build anew. Some it is rumoured like the grand Euston Arch will return to front the rebuilt station, though you can still see its two framing buildings [now bars] that grandly list the places you could reach by train from there. Yes they come and go in life as in our imagination .
I recently found a programme of the great Alhambra Theatre that once straddled Leicester Square and a menu from the nearby Carlton Hotel once owned by Caesar Ritz and grand as the Savoy in its day, but bulldozed away and replaced with not exactly Corbusier! Though in recent years to disguise this process there has been“ Facadism“ where the shell of an ancient building has been kept and alien like, another has been grown from within, creating a hybrid but not always successfully.
For me, certain buildings have a nostalgia, though I often question whether they are my memories or if I'm reaching back to more glamorous age I wished to have experienced.
In High St Kensington is a very intriguing vintage department store that now houses a Whole Foods Market and an M&S store. Once the glamorous home of Derry & Toms in the 1930’s and then the iconic short lived grand Biba Store in the 1970’s, it has a secret. At the top of the building almost hidden from view is the largest roof garden in Europe.
Covering over 6000 sqm it was created to rival one created at the RCA in New York and has sat atop the store since 1938, with over 60 specimen trees and Spanish and Tudor gardens all now listed as historic monuments. In the 1980’s it became a fashionable nightclub and party venue and I was lucky enough to be invited many times ,always marvelling at how tall the trees could be ,having been planted in such shallow top soil [only 18 inches !! ] and cocktail in hand gazing at the live flamingos that never flew away. Sadly it has been closed since 2018, but it exists in my imagination as a place of fun and laughter , with a grandeur which an older part of me now appreciates. An old friend recently gave me a Biba sweater from a theatre show held there in its 70’s heyday and to him it is still a revelation.
Today I do wonder where the next generation will go to create their memories, as we each need to find our place in the “City of the Dream” to romance, beguile or even hide away, especially at present.
Where is yours ?