Pancras envy

I read with some envy and wistfulness about the reopening of St. Pancras Station in London (images second row) as the new 'home' of the Eurostar.
Why would I care about a train station in London?
Well, first I am inordinately fond of the city, despite the weather and the fact they charge you for matches, and I haven't been since Fall 2005. Mostly though its because London manages to renovate and repurpose old buildings with flair. I seem to recall coming upon various old piles that had been meaningfully and usefully integrated into modern life (Borough Market, Tate Modern come to mind first). Usually with nice
signage, too.

There's something so vigorous and ...heartening... about a sleek, well-planned new transportation station. Somehow it makes you think there are people in government who see the bigger picture. Something like, 'Ah, the city is working. Somebody's manning the deck. good. progress.'

I never feel that in New York.

Work was begun on St. Pancras station in the eponymous parish section of London in the early 1860’s. A working class slum, Agar town, and the churchyard of old St. Pancras were
demolished for the construction. Dickens described it in Dombey and Son (as quoted in the Guardian)
Houses were knocked down; streets broken through and stopped; deep pits and trenches dug in the ground; enormous heaps of earth and clay thrown up; buildings that were undermined and shaking, propped by great beams of wood ..."
It must have been a ghastly affair. I believe they had to submerge or divert a river (the Fleet). Also, a full 8,000 graves had to be removed from the construction site. Supervisor for the exhumations was a 26-year old architect's assistant from Dorset named Thomas Hardy. Yes, that one.

St. Pancras train station opened in 1868. William Barlow's single-span train shed
of iron and glass spans 240 feet and is more than 100 feet high at its apex, and was the largest enclosed space in the world when it was completed.

the magnificent station —and acting as its public face—was an imposing and sprawling brick edifice. Designed by George Gilbert Scott in a lavish High Victorian Gothic revival style it opened on May 5th, 1873, as the Midland Grand Hotel. Turreted, balconied, arabesqued and decoratively voussoired to within an inch of its life, the Midland Grand operated until 1935. Thereafter it wheezed through much of the 20th century as the office headquarters of British Transport Hotels. After suffering many indignities of a 1950s vintage, including lowered ceilings, it sat vacant since the 1980s.

I think it was about 2000/01 that I wangled my way into a private but abbreviated walk-through of the place, that was, by that point, called St. Pancras Chambers (see my pre-digital photos 4th row down). Scott (the architect) had designed everything down to the drawer pulls. Embellished and illuminated, it was magnificent in its ponderousness and even more evocative in its ruined deshabille.

The Jefferson Market Library, nee Courthouse, in Greenwich Village, at bottom, is a smaller sibling I would say. I had always thought of it as the only representative of Lean Bacon Revival style in NYC. (photo by steve spak.)

Now St. Pancras Chambers will be a hotel again, and, as is the wont of the capitalist market, "luxury lofts." The firm managing the overhaul, oddly named the Manhattan Loft Company, has created a rather nice and detailed animated timeline of the building in the Ken Burnsian manner.

I'm liking what I see as the logo for the residential project (top). Anyone have info?

It seems now is the renaissance for all things Victorian, no? Refreshing I think.
British architectural historian Sir John Summerson once described the Midland as “nauseating”. And certainly for a good deal of the 20th century "Victorian" was an epithet not given in kindness. An interesting take (on Vulpes Libris ) on why Victorian architecture became so reviled by mid century-- at least in the UK:
At its finest Victorian architecture is bullish, ebullient and self-confident … and perhaps that was the problem. It reminded us of our lost past. Simon Bradley probably puts his finger on it fairly accurately when he says:

“The great buildings of Victorian Britain, so confident and optimistic, had become poignant reminders of former glories, like swaggering family portraits squeezed into the commonplace house of a penurious descendant.”


Now I've rashly gone and ordered Simon Bradley's book.

Evidently some live art event was staged there (part of a series held in derelict buildings of London).


ermine and trouser dresses

It looks as though I'm on a vintage fashion tear!
From about the start of World War I to the early Twenties (before the Flapper Age) is, I think, my favorite era of fashion. While there are some horrors-- every period has some-- the silhouette, proportion, detail, and sheer inventiveness in construction of these years are unbeatable. (Well maybe the New Look of the late 1940 to early 50s might be better for construction).

There are menswear and uniform references mixed with Orientalist tidbits, Russian fantasies and just plain ol' craziness. For example, I'm not sure I'd pair an ermine trimmed jacket (at top) and dark fur muff with a draped and gauzy spring-like skirt but more power to this charming gal from 1913. The ladies third image down are wonderful; shorten those suits by about 4 inches and perhaps leave off the dead fox and I'd wear that today. I have a particular fetish for the shape, point, and finish of shoes from this time and wish I could get away with wearing spats with a straight face.

This little group of images is from a random find at the Library of Congress. The George Grantham Bain (1865-1944)
collection has news photos as varied as "Portraits of boxers," and "Disasters in Canada" to Triangle Factory fire images.


"Intolerance" and fashion 1915

Recently, for a work project, I watched parts of Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages, DW Griffith's silent colossal spectacle of 1916. I'm not too clear on the whole hoo-hah surrounding the film but suffice to say it was conceived as four intertwined stories set in Babylon, Judea, French Renaissance, modern America; it cost close to $2M to make; it had 3000 extras, and it bankrupted his company.

I'd been familiar only with the fantastically extravagant and justifiably celebrated
scenes of Babylon. But as astounding as that was to watch, I became fascinated with the Modern story. "Modern" is, of course, relative to the film and that would make it 1915. Therein lay my fascination.

Our story takes us from the top-tier social stratum, to the milieu of confidence men and women of questionable repute, to the working class slums. It is like watching living social history. The women attending a fancy dress ball are a parade of historical fashion plates in motion. The slum scenes are a Lewis Hine portfolio come to life. Are there cultural historians out there studying (very) old films for the details they reveal?

• The working class girls (at top) going into a dance
with their loose skirts and slight slouch reflect the latest changes in silhouette. You can see the transformation happening and the 1920s look beginning to blossom.

• The matrons in the next three scenes are "Reformers." H
arsh-looking and corseted, they're treated somewhat like caricatures in the film and their uniform-like suits are backward-looking hold-overs from another era.

• The poor girl in her tenement room wears an ill-fitting second hand jacket of very outdated mutton sleeve style.

• Dresses at the ball are exquisite. The many tunics and draped designs appear to be
influenced by Leon Bakst's and Paul Poiret's languid, uncorseted vision–the Young Ingenue especially.

Best of all is the Girl of Questionable Reputation in her (Poiret-inspired) scandalously fashion-forward harem pants with lace skirt overlay– a total Orientalist fantasy.

I was just so utterly and completely taken with this actress, Miriam Cooper, that I am including some of her classic silent "remorse" as well.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...