Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Music hall

I seem to have raised some eyebrows with the revelation that the BBC's unloved Brock House, now facing Broxit, was once a concert hall.

Here's more detail, from an East Marylebone survey lodged with the Bartlett School of Architecture.

The site of St Paul’s Chapel was redeveloped in 1907–8 with the present building, originally a concert hall. At first it was known as St James’s Hall, being intended as a successor to the Regent Street building of that name – lateVictorian London’s principal concert venue – which had been demolished in 1905, its primacy passing to the nearby Queen’s Hall. 

The Howard de Walden Estate leased the ground here to the estate agent James Boyton, but it was Edgar S. Perry who was given the project to build a concert hall above ground-floor showrooms, through his firm Perry Brothers, to plans by the architects Joseph &Smithem. The scheme was revised to meet certain LCC bjections, toning down richly fenestrated Baroque elevations to leave largely blind flank walls.  Arthur Blomfield Jackson, C. J. Phipps’s former partner and son-in-law, also drew plans (of the lower floors), and is sometimes credited as architect of the building. 

There was seating for 882 in the stalls and balcony, and standing room for another 106. Below was a piano showroom and basement restaurant. The west end had a pr ojecting bow behind the stage. The hall, which opened with a series of promenade concerts by the newly formed St James’s Hall Orchestra, was not a success. Despite a flirtation with cinema use in 1912 the auditorium remained largely unused. 

H. Cluett Lock, the hall’s manager, then applied for a renewed music licence, and made adaptations in 1913–14 (with W. A. Lewis as architect) for a reopening as the Philharmonic Hall. The ground floor became a motor showroom for Watkins & Doncaster Ltd, the basement a garage and tea-room. 

Despite its new name, the auditorium was still used mainly as a cinema (Lock was secretary of the Kinematograph Renters Society) and also as a ‘lantern hall’ for illustrated lectures. It opened with a talk about Scott’s Antarctic Expedition and it was here in 1919–20 that Sir Ernest Shackleton lectured with slides and films about the Imperial Trans-Antarctic or Endurance expedition.

During the same period the black American band, the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, managed by George Lattimore, gave regular twice-daily performances. A new proprietor, Arthur St Hill Brock, then kept the cinema going, specializing in travel films. In 1929–30 he employed the architects Yates Cook & Derbyshire to oversee a thorough reconstruction of the building as Brock House. The upper storeys were wholly rebuilt internally as offices, and were given new fenestration, an attic storey and a flat west end. The ground floor was opened up further with more shop windows. The Women’s League of Health and Beauty was briefly present in 1932–3 before the BBC began its still continuing occupation of the upper storeys. The ground floor was occupied by the Automotive Products Group as Automotive House until the 1970s.

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