Another day, another internet find that sparks a myriad of synaptic connections. This time a collection of photos from Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre published in the Guardian documenting the on-going decline of a city. Detroit in Ruins is a poignant reminder of what could happen to communities even in the most industrialised and prosperous countries when industry and its associated workforce “moves on”.
Perhaps the most fascinating photos for me are those of the massive communal spaces such as Michigan Central Station or the United Artists Theatres, once thriving hubs of community interaction, commerce and entertainment – now massive derelict hulks awaiting a most uncertain future.
Luckily not all historic venues deteriorate to this level of disrepair, where the only viable option would seem to be demolition – when they “shut up shop”. No, thankfully some of these old spaces are reborn as something else entirely – resurrecting themselves in a new lease of life and able to continue to pander to the masses entertainment needs. And modern day entertainment is spelt s h o p p i n g!
A prime example where retail therapy has saved a once great venue is New Gallery Cinema on London’s Regent Street – once a thriving “first screening” picture house and now remodelled as Habitat’s West End showpiece. With a history that stems right from the start of motion picture history in 1913 all the way through to the Cinemascope revolution of the 50’s – the current store retains many of the original features including the Wurlitzer organ, vaulted (and sloping) gallery, which is now the bedroom/bathroom department) and beautiful art-deco chandeliers.
Another great resurrection is the wonderful concert venue Gino in central Stockholm, where in 1995 I saw an absolutely fantastic concert by the shires’ finest Radiohead. Now, I know quite a lot about why Gino had to close down – as being a local resident (the streetview scene shows the old venue in the bottom left and one of the balconies of my old flat in the top right – great views from there!), we were petitioned for a ban on its “anti-social behaviour”.
Apparently the sound-proofing wasn’t good enough and some sensitive souls were troubled by the “noise pollution” and enough of them complained and so sadly Gino had to shut its’ doors in 1996. But again furniture came to the rescue and the space (retaining the vaulted balcony where the bar and standing space used to be and the amazing sweeping staircases) was reopened as Norrgavel, a Swedish lifestyle furniture brand.
As chance would have it – I nearly bought the Stockholm Norrgavel franchise in 2005 to compliment my own fledgling furniture business in London. It wasn’t to be but the franchise is still thriving and as beautiful as ever!
Obviously neither Gino nor the New Gallery Cinema are on the same scale as Michigan Central Station and London or Stockholm is not Detroit… but something like this could happen elsewhere as the fashions and fortunes change.
We must remember that it wasn’t that long ago that “Motor City” was the centre of the largest and most prosperous manufacturing base in the world – anchored by Ford, Chrysler and GM and all of their suppliers. Now it’s important to make the point that my concerns aren’t about the buildings for the building’s sake – no I am using these once great buildings as the metaphor for a dying community, no longer alive with the hussle and bussle of everyday people.