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Posts Tagged ‘art deco’

We visited the Musical Museum in Brentford on the weekend. Having been a Brentfordian for 26 years, it was my first visit, I’m ashamed to say. Founded in 1963 by Frank Holland MBE (1910-89), it’s celebrating its golden anniversary. The museum’s first home was the pretty 18C church of St George on the busy former trunk road between Kew and Hounslow. But the old place proved impossible financially to maintain and in the early 2000s, the museum moved to a purpose-built building next door. Far from pretty, it’s a much better home though, possessing a 230 seat auditorium and a dry, safe environment for what’s  most important – the treasure within.

musical museum brentford

The mainstay of the collection is self playing instruments. Keyboard, wind, strings, pipe organ, you name it. These contraptions are amazing to see, beautifully and lovingly restored and cared for. There are also juke boxes, music boxes and early gramaphone players – both for disk and Edison cylinder.

musical museum brentford

musical museum brentford

musical museum brentford

musical museum brentford

The museum has an excellent collection of models, toys…

musical museum brentford

…and ephemera.

Best of all, though, particularly for nostalgia buffs, is the 1929 Wurlitzer pipe organ, formerly of the Kingston Regal cinema. The 1920s and 30s were the golden age of the “Mighty Wurlitzer”. Originally they provided the soundtrack and effects for silent movies. Once talkies kicked in, the instruments were retained to provide intermission medleys of popular contemporary tunes. Today there are very few examples in good working order. The Musical Museum’s is one of them. We enjoyed a wonderful talk and recital by organist Chris Barber. As he tickled the keys, this magnificent, brazen Art Deco monster sang for us as it changed from red to green to yellow in the gloom. How can anything in the modern multiplex ever compare?

musical museum brentford

The Wurlitzer – a thing of beauty.

musical museum brentford

Wurlitzer maestro Chris Barber…

musical museum brentford

… tells us all about these magnificent instruments.

The Musical Museum is holding a number of events to celebrate it 50th anniversary, including a Jubilee Concert on Saturday 13th July. You can also go Waltzing to the Wurlitzer on the first Saturday of the month at 14:30.

Museum entrance is £8.00, £6.50, under 16s Free.

Musical Museum web site.
Chris Barber on the Wurlitzer – (YouTube).

Thanks to Fiona Pretorius for additional photography (most of it, in fact).

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It’s taken me over 20 years to get around to shooting the magnificent art deco industrial buildings on my own doorstep. But I had to wait until the light was just so. Like this afternoon.

The stretch of the Great West Road which they flank is known as the Golden Mile and we Brentfordians are rightly proud of them. They were built more or less in the decade from the late 1920s to the late 1930s. The legendary Art Deco specialists Wallis, Gilbert and Partners loom large. Many of the buildings were erected by American manufacturers who needed to establish UK bases to get around trade tariffs. On the north side of the road we have the brick Gillette building which dominated the area until the massive Glaxo SmithKline steel and glass complex was raised in recent years. Gillette moved their manufacturing to Poland in 2006. The building is currently disused.

On the south, partially opposite GSK we have three classic units along a stretch of several hundred yards, all cream/white. These were at one time counterbalanced by the legendary Firestone factory opposite, on the north side. Tragically, this building was hurredly demolished by developers over a weekend in 1980 before the authorities could get it listed. All that remains are some forlorn Art Deco lamposts at the west gate. Unbelievably, the rather fetching central gate was torn down in 2004 to make way for extra parking.

If you’d like to visit these lovely structures, I recommend you park in PC World car park (in West Cross complex, where Firestone was), or take a short walk from Brentford or Syon Lane mainline stations.

I have omitted Wallis House (old Beechams building), further to the east next to the M4 flyover. Also Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, c1940. Picture here.

Brentford Golden Mile

Gillette Building, Sir Bannister Flight Fletcher, 1936-37.

Brentford Golden Mile

Gillette Building

Brentford Golden Mile

Westlink House, former Pyrene (fire extinguishers) Building, Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, 1930

Brentford Golden Mile

Westlink House

Brentford Golden Mile

Art Decaux! JC Decaux building, formerly HQ of Currys, 1936.

Brentford Golden Mile

JC Decaux building

Brentford Golden Mile

Former HQ of Coty Cosmetics, Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, 1932

Brentford Golden Mile

Old Coty Cosmetics building

Brentford Golden Mile

This lamp post is a surviving reminder of the Firestone factory, destroyed in 1980.

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A quick slap-dash post while this is newsy, and perhaps matching the sloppiness of media reporting yesterday about 55 Broadway receiving Grade I listed status. Most of the reports I saw or heard touted it at the time of opening(1929), as being “London’s tallest building” when what they meant to say was London’s tallest office block, St. Pauls remaining London’s tallest for some time to come. The word “skyscraper” was much bandied, ironically I hope. No matter, I was quite surprised that it wasn’t Grade I already.

charles holden

Charles Holden (1875 - 1960)

55 Broadway is the headquarters of London Transport and sits atop St James’s Park underground station. It was built between 1927 and 1929 and designed by the legendary modernist architect Charles Holden (nb: great link). A few years later, Holden extended the record for London’s tallest office block when he designed another iconic building:  University of London’s Senate House.

But probably Holden is better known for many of London’s art deco style tube stations, particularly in the suburbs. He also designed the wholly subterranean Piccadilly Circus station with its circular concourse. All of this wonderful work was the result of his close collaboration with Frank Pick, the visionary managing director of the then Underground Group. The best part of a century later, we tend to take these wonderful public buildings for granted.

Coincidentally, and as luck would have it, the V&A (in conjunction with RIBA) currently have an exhibition of Charles Holden’s preparatory sketches for his underground designs. More details here. (scroll down a bit). The show ends on 13 February, don’t miss it.

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