Dinky Cars & Modern Architecture

Playing with Dinky and Corgi Cars, 1963

Playing with Dinky and Corgi Cars, 1963

The photo above shows me (on the left), at about the age of 3, playing with model cars in my grandparents’ living room. My mother’s parents lived with us in the same house, so this kind of scene was an everyday occurrence.

The others in the photo are my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and my younger brother.

If you look very closely in the photo, you can see some small grey and blue cars lined up, as shown in the rather fuzzy close-up below.

A lineup of Ancient Dinkys

A lineup of Ancient Dinkys

Those cars are in fact Dinky Toys (the Dinky 35a “Saloon Car”), although they’re much smaller than the models that most people think of as being typical Dinkys. That model, produced in the British “OO” railway scale, was produced from 1936-40, and then again from 1946-48. The models I’m playing with were produced post-war. Examples of this model, in good condition, typically sell on eBay now for $50 or more each!

The reason that I came to be playing with Dinky toys that were much older than me was because they actually belonged to my grandfather, who literally had a bag full of them.

Draughting Years

In a post on my professional blog, I mentioned that my grandfather, Allen E Martin, worked for most of his career as a draughtsman for the City of Leeds. The October 1960 photo below shows him (on the right) in our back garden, with my grandmother holding me.

My Grandparents with me, October 1960

My Grandparents with me, October 1960

As part of his work, he produced technical drawings for architectural projects, and the department sometimes created models of proposed new buildings. They used toy cars to decorate these models, and my grandfather apparently took his “bag of Dinkys” home with him when he retired in the 1950s.

Perhaps the most prominent architectural project in Leeds during the 1930s was the Quarry Hill development. This was so famous, and so well-regarded, that it featured on the cover of the 1938 Penguin book Design, as shown in a scan from my copy below.

Design, by Anthony Bertram, Penguin 1938

Design, by Anthony Bertram, Penguin 1938

My grandfather died in 1967, so I never got to ask him exactly what role he played in the Quarry Hill project, but it would certainly have been a major part of his department’s work at that time.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of its builders, and despite being a vast improvement on the slum dwellings that it replaced, Quarry Hill was not a success in the long term, and was eventually demolished in 1978. Some of its problems stemmed from the fact that the development was a very advanced design by the standards of the time. Had the complex survived for a few more decades, it may well have undergone a major refurbishment similar to that at St Pancras Station, and would still be with us as a major landmark.

The City of Leeds Arms

Incidentally, the arms of the City of Leeds feature rather unusual supporters, as shown below.

Leeds City Arms

Leeds City Arms

In a future post I’ll discuss the significance of those owls, and how, even though I never lived in Leeds, they seem to have become a recurring theme in my life.

Santa Rosa: Shadow of a Courthouse

The Reunified Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa

The Reunified Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa

Yesterday, I was in downtown Santa Rosa, and visited Old Courthouse Square, for the first time since the completion of its “reunification”. Despite controversy over the cost of the project, the result seems to have been successful, as shown above. The new space seems much more open and welcoming than the previous divided “parks”, and more effectively isolates pedestrians and other park users from the traffic. Santa Rosa has had an unfortunate history of short-sighted town planning decisions, so let’s hope that this turns out to be one of the better ones.

This part of Santa Rosa is perhaps most famous for having featured prominently in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 movie Shadow of a Doubt. Thanks to its restricted wartime budget, the movie made extensive use of real locations in Santa Rosa instead of studio sets. The result is a unique glimpse into day-to-day life in the city all that time ago.

The still below from the movie shows the exterior of the Til Two Bar, which would have been on the far left in my photo above.

ShadowOfDoubt_TilTwo

Shadow of a Doubt: The Til Two Bar, Santa Rosa

In the background of the movie still, you can see the Empire Building (then known as the Bank of America Building), which exists today and is prominent in my photo.

The central courthouse building that appeared in the movie was demolished during the 1960s, but in my heading photo above, the cruciform area of grass marks the plan of its predecessor, the original City courthouse, which collapsed in the 1906 earthquake. After the replacement courthouse was demolished, the square was split by a road driven through to connect Sonoma Avenue to Mendocino Avenue, but which turned out not to have been a wise decision.

My next photo, below, shows a close-up of one of the monuments that have just been placed around the grassed area in the square. They look great at the moment, but I wonder how well they will withstand the weather and the vandals?

Luther Burbank Monument, Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa

Luther Burbank Monument, Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa

From the north side of the square, looking down Mendocino Avenue, the Rosenberg Building is still prominent, as shown below. This used to be the location of Santa Rosa’s Woolworths store, and is still a retail location now.

OldCourthouseSq3-20170527

The Rosenberg Building, Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa

Finally, wandering a bit farther down Fourth Street, the former Rosenberg’s Department Store is occupied by Barnes & Noble, as shown below. Santa Rosa made another bad town planning decision when they approved the building’s demolition in 1994, but, fortunately, instead of demolishing it, the bookseller did an amazing job of restoring this Streamline Moderne (Art Deco) building.

OldCourthouseSq4-20170527

Rosenberg’s Department Store, now Barnes & Noble, Santa Rosa

P.S. June 7th: this new article in the Bohemian provides more details of the square.

Architectural Redevelopment: Vandalism or Progress?

St. Pancras International Station, London, 2010

St. Pancras International Station, London, 2010

In 2010, I visited a spectacularly transformed St. Pancras Station in London, for the first time since I had lived in the city. In the photograph (below) taken during a 1981 visit, St. Pancras was a dowdy, run-down relic, the only possible future for which seemed to be closure and demolition.

St. Pancras Station, 1981

St. Pancras Station, 1981

But, thankfully, it was not to be, partly due to the efforts of one man, and instead, the huge Victorian edifice was not only saved, but was transformed into the impressive, functional St. Pancras International Station. The photograph below shows the beautiful and airy interior of the trainshed of St. Pancras International, on a day when a German ICE train was visiting to promote future usage of the station by DB.

Interior of St. Pancras International Station, 2010

Interior of St. Pancras International Station, 2010

Although the redevelopment of St. Pancras is one of the most internationally famous triumphs of architectural rehabilitation, there have been many other examples of success and failure.

Yesterday, someone posted on the Facebook page of my alma mater, Imperial College, a photograph of the Imperial Institute, which was a predecessor building in South Kensington, the site of which is now occupied by Imperial College. That reminded me of the many heated battles that have occurred during my lifetime over architecture, and the demolition or redevelopment of buildings. In the past, the usual result was demolition, but, during the past twenty years or so, more enlightened thinking has prevailed, resulting in such wonderful renovations as St. Pancras.

During the 1960s (long before I became a university student), the Imperial Institute building was the focus of a heated dispute between those who wanted to demolish the Victorian edifice completely, and those who wanted to preserve it.

The redevelopers of the Imperial College campus wanted to sweep away all the Victorian architecture and replace it with what they considered to be modern and functional structures.

However, an organization called the Victorian Society, led by the poet Sir John Betjeman, fought for the preservation of Victorian architecture, and became particularly involved in the Imperial College plans. Although they were not able to save everything, the Victorian Society won a partial victory in that case, and managed to force the developers to retain the central tower of the Imperial Institute, which, as a freestanding building, was renamed the Queens Tower, as shown in my 1981 photograph below.

Queens Tower, Imperial College, in snow, 1981

Queens Tower, Imperial College, in snow, 1981

Now, whenever anyone needs a general photograph of “Imperial College”, you can be fairly certain that they’ll choose a view that includes the Queen’s Tower. The sad reality is that most of Imperial College’s modern architecture has very little character, and the Queen’s Tower has become a de facto icon of the college. (Incidentally, the tower is not the only pre-1960s architecture remaining on the Imperial College campus. For example, the original City & Guilds College building still survives on Prince Consort Road. However, that structure is relatively undistinguished and squat, as you can see in this current Google Streetview.)

I must admit that, while a student at Imperial College, I myself was responsible for heaping further derision on the Queens Tower. As part of a spoof Felix article about the stationing of US troops within Imperial College, I contributed the illustration below, showing how the Queen’s Tower was to be converted into a launch platform for cruise missiles! (“Felix” was and still is the Imperial College student newspaper, tracing its roots back to the days when H G Wells was a student at the college.)

Queens Tower Missile Installation, 1983

Queens Tower Missile Installation, 1983

Betjeman and the Victorian Society were also instrumental in frustrating plans for the demolition of St. Pancras Station, which preserved the building for its eventual renovation. Appropriately, Betjeman’s contribution has been commemorated with a statue of him on the platform at St. Pancras, as shown below.

Statue of Sir John Betjeman at St. Pancras International Station

Statue of Sir John Betjeman at St. Pancras International Station

Personally, I don’t regard “high Victorian” architecture as being the epitome of good taste, but surely it is preferable to characterless, badly-constructed concrete boxes that replaced so much of it.

In a previous post, I showed how the architecture of Scarborough Central Station was redeveloped from the simple neoclassical design of 1845, to the ornate high-Victorian “wedding cake” that still survives today.

Of Lost Maps & Lost Towns

East Yorkshire Wall Map, Bridlington, 1977

East Yorkshire Wall Map, Bridlington, 1977

The Map shown above in my 1977 photograph was for many years displayed on a wall that overlooked the Promenade Bus Station in Bridlington. I was recently scanning some old photographs, and that led me to wonder what had become of the map, and indeed the bus station below it.

At the time of my birth, Bridlington was in the county of the East Riding of Yorkshire, then, in 1974, that became part of the unloved county of Humberside. In 1996, Humberside was abolished, and Bridlington found itself once again in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The local bus company in Bridlington was, and still is, East Yorkshire Motor Services (EYMS), which created and maintained the map. EYMS is perhaps most famous for the unique “Gothic” roofs of its double-deck buses, which were specially shaped to fit through the North Bar in the East Riding county town of Beverley. (See this article for a photo of one of the gothic buses squeezing through the bar.) Built in the 15th century, Beverley Bar still exists today, as shown in my 2007 photo below, and is the only remaining brick-built town gate in Britain.

Beverley Bar, 2007

Beverley Bar, 2007

The photo below shows a general view of Bridlington bus station at around the same time as the color photo of the map above.

Bridlington Promenade Bus Station, 1977

Bridlington Promenade Bus Station, 1977

EYMS built the bus station during the 1930s, and the main building was finished in pleasant blue and cream tiles, reflecting the company’s bus liveries, which also used shades of blue and cream.

Unfortunately, the privatization of the British bus industry during the 1980s made such town-centre sites prime targets for sale and redevelopment, as the privatized companies saw opportunities to “externalize their costs” by selling off their own premises and stopping their vehicles on the streets instead, causing further traffic congestion.

Bridlington Bus Station suffered this fate, and closed down years ago, but I wondered what had become of the site. Looking on Google Streetview, I was initially unable to spot any evidence of the location. Eventually, however, I noticed that, even though the station is gone, the building on which the map was painted still exists, and is now a very tatty branch of Boots. Here is the latest Streetview image.

For convenience, here’s an excerpt from that view. You can see the gable end of the building on which the map was painted, and even the finial is still there!

Site of Bridlington Promenade Bus Station

Site of Bridlington Promenade Bus Station

As you can see, the “Promenades” shopping center has been built over the site of the Bus Station. I’m not sure it’s much of an improvement…

They Keep Losing Towns Too!

The East Riding of Yorkshire actually continues to suffer more significant losses of property than just Bridlington Bus Station and its map.

As a teenager, I was a fairly frequent visitor to Scarborough Library, which had some obscure old books about Yorkshire history.

One of these books was “The Lost Towns of the Yorkshire Coast” by Thomas Sheppard, published in 1912. The book describes the severe coastal erosion in East Yorkshire, south of Bridlington. While Bridlington itself is built on the same chalk that forms the Flamborough promontory, the area southwards to Spurn Point (called Holderness) is a soft glacial moraine, which the sea is eroding away very quickly.

The map below is from the frontispiece of the 1912 book, and shows the medieval and modern coastlines of the county. The loss of entire towns due to erosion is quite obvious.

Lost Towns of East Yorkshire

Lost Towns of East Yorkshire

Short of building a sea wall all the way along the coastline, the erosion process is really unstoppable. In the future, there will presumably be some towns and villages sitting on peninsulas where defences have been built locally (such as at Withernsea), but the remainder of Holderness will eventually just be washed away.

The most recent losses of property have been around Aldbrough, as shown in these photos. See it while you can!

Incidentally, Beverley in Yorkshire has no connection to Beverly Hills in California, although the different spellings do sometimes trip people up!

Airspeed York

Former Airspeed Factory, York, in 1979

Former Airspeed Factory, York, in 1979

During an Easter 1979 visit to York, I sought out and photographed the rather tatty and unremarkable building shown above. On close examination, the exterior revealed some vaguely “Art Deco” embellishments, but in general it gave the impression of being just another old warehouse.

The building was located on Piccadilly, York, and was in use as Reynard’s Garage in 1979. It had originally been built as a trolleybus garage in the early 1920s. In 1931, after the trolleybuses had been relocated to larger premises, the building took on a new function as the home of Airspeed Ltd., an aircraft manufacturing company founded by, among others, Nevil Shute and Amy Johnson.

By 1933, Airspeed were ready to expand into larger premises, but York Corporation refused to provide any assistance. Other municipalities around the country took a more enlightened view, and so Airspeed were tempted away from York to Portsmouth, where they built large new premises, then went on to design and build many successful aircraft designs, such as the Oxford and Horsa.

Sadly, in 2015 the now-derelict building was finally demolished, despite public pressure to save it. Perhaps York Corporation wanted to rid themselves of this daily reminder of their own lack of foresight back in the 1930s?

This link displays the current Google Streetview of this location.

Covent Garden: Then & Now

Covent Garden after the Rain, 1982

Covent Garden after the Rain, 1982

I took the color transparency above in Covent Garden, London, one afternoon in 1982, just after a short rain shower. Even though the buildings were against the sun and mostly in darkness, the wet cobbles reflected the sunset and created a fantastic lighting effect. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time, and with the right equipment.

I’d actually been inside the London Transport Museum, which was immediately behind me in the photograph. While in the museum, I heard the rain on the roof, but couldn’t see it because of the building’s high windows. Soon after the rain stopped, I noticed a brilliant orange glow reflecting onto the ceiling. Thinking that this might be a great opportunity, I rushed outside, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ever since then, I’ve been glad that I impetuously cut short my visit to the museum that afternoon!

Yesterday’s pointless atrocity in London brought to mind this photo, and the terrorist threats that always hung over us, even back when I lived there in the 1980s. In those days, most of the threats came from the IRA (or people claiming to represent them), but only a very small number were real.

As a student, I worked as a Sales Assistant at Selfridges store in Oxford Street during some of the university breaks, and sometimes on Saturdays. As part of our training, we received specific instructions as to what to do if we were notified of a bomb threat, because the store received such threats almost every day! Fortunately, while I lived in London, all the threats at Selfridges were hoaxes, but there was a car bomb at Harrods during Christmas 1983, and I had worked at Harrods only the previous Christmas.

Covent Garden in 2001

Covent Garden in 2001

In 2001, I returned to Covent Garden, and took the photo above from almost the same position as the 1982 photograph, but in obviously different weather conditions. (It’s true that a further 16 years have passed since I took the “Now” photograph!)

At first, everything seemed to be just the same as it had been in 1982, and it wasn’t until I compared the two photographs that I realized what had changed.

The building that was originally Covent Garden market hall is still visible on the right, and it’s as popular a destination now as it was then.

In the earlier photograph, there’s a multi-storey building on the left with many rooms obviously lit by fluorescent strip lights. By the time of the later photograph, this building had been completely replaced. Had that happened a couple of decades earlier, it’s likely that the entire street would have been razed and replaced with examples of “modern architecture”, but fortunately lessons have been learned since then. Many modern redevelopments at least attempt to blend with the surrounding architecture.

Indiana Jones & the Treasure Island

Administration Building, Treasure Island

Administration Building, Treasure Island

There are many islands in San Francisco Bay, and most of them are natural. There is however one artificial island that has a short but intriguing history. It’s called Treasure Island, and it was built during the 1930s as the intended location of San Francisco Airport.

The Administration Building on Treasure Island enjoyed its “fifteen minutes of fame” (or less) in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when the airport terminal building was dressed up to portray “Berlin Airport”. The remainder of its existence has mostly been quiet, but its fascinating Art Deco architecture remains on public view to this day.

The first use of the new island was not as an airport, but to host the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. The island’s airport facilities were used by PanAm’s Clipper flying boats, which moored at Clipper Cove (aka the Lagoon of the Trade Winds), between Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island. This information is missing from the Wikipedia article, but I have a copy of a 1939 color movie titled Trans-Pacific, which shows PanAm passengers arriving at the terminal and boarding a Boeing 314 clipper, which then leaves from Clipper Cove.

After the start of World War II, the US Navy took over the island as a base, swapping the land for its existing base at Mills Field on the Peninsula. As a result, after the War the new San Francisco Airport was developed at Mills Field (which was just as well, because Treasure Island would have been impossibly small). The surviving Boeing 314s actually flew from the shoreline at Mills Field for a short time in 1945-46.

During the 1990s, I was a member of the Treasure Island Museum Association, and was involved with efforts to maintain the museum that was located in the Administration Building, so I visited the island quite frequently, and took the photographs shown in this post. Unfortunately, the museum closed in 1997, due to lack of financial support, but, now that the City of San Francisco owns the building, there are plans to reopen it.

View of Bay Bridge and San Francisco from Treasure Island

View of Bay Bridge and San Francisco from Treasure Island

The spectacular view from the Administration Building towards San Francisco and the Bay Bridge.

Treasure Island with Mustang

Treasure Island with Mustang

The Administration Building one summer evening, with my Mustang parked in front.

Sunset over the Golden Gate from Treasure Island

Sunset over the Golden Gate from Treasure Island

Goodnight from Treasure Island! Sunset over the Golden Gate, from the car park in front of the Administration Building.