Buildings are like people, there can be so many, so different, so unique. They can be beautiful to look at, or plain, or plain ugly (no offence). And like people they can often be more beautiful, more purposeful than the outside can portray. They (both people and buildings) can hold so much depth, so much history, so many memories, and sometimes so much sadness.
Perhaps the saddest building in London (in my opinion) is that which stands prominently in the heart of London’s west end. The Trocadero.
Just opposite the much adored Eros, she just looks like any other building there from the outside. Inside however it’s clear she’s suffered from too much plastic surgery 20 years ago and like many ancient Hollywood icons, you can clearly tell it. Enter in and pass through by Starbucks and the over-touristy sweet shops, into the giant cavernous hole that is the centre, the heart of Trocadero. But it’s a broken and damaged heart. There you will see a confusing mish-mash of stores, arcades and attempts at theme park entertainment.
But, high up through the dark brooding lighting (another attempt at theme park/TV studio maybe) you can see the evidence of a glamorous theatre that once was.
..and glamorous it was. The place to be in a bygone era, beginning life as a home to general low key entertainment, circus and music acts, it had big West End ambitions. Perhaps the luckless fate of this building could be seen even then; its name changed so many times over the years how could anyone ever remember who or where it was. From ‘The Palace of Varieties’ to ‘The Theatre of Arts’ to the ‘Royal Trocadero Music Hall’ to name a few, constantly trying to make big it in the West End theatre scene.
The first London Riots
However, it never quite made it. It housed many waifs and strays over the years, including sacked big name theatre managers, in its attempt to make something of itself. In 1835 it was closed down after the local council was informed that the famous Sarah Booth of the Covent Garden Theatre, had been performing there outside of her Covent Garden contract (Treason!)
After this disgrace the theatre became home again to circus acts and boxing matches. In the following years it kept its low reputation housing all manor of common shows and exhibitions (including wax works – the proprietors were no Mrs Tussaudes however) and…prostitutes. As ‘The Argyll Rooms’ another of its many names, it was dramatically described by one witness in 1878 as “the most destructive place in London to female virtue”. Another Londoner commented that “I could not talk long with a burglar without finding the “Gyll” mentioned as his favourite resort”.
That same year it was the scene of the original London riots. A notice was served that it was to be closed down one Friday night in November. The police expected trouble and deployed 150 officers to carry out the task, which surprisingly passed peacefully. However, the following night 5000 unhappy people gathered outside, a riot ensued and there were ‘Many cases of assault and disorderly conduct recorded’ – I guess nothing is new in London.
Eventually it gave up its lifelong ambition for West End stardom, and by 1900 was a popular restaurant. It enjoyed much success, with an elaborate range of dining rooms and in-house entertainment including a wall that would completely disappear. You can still see remnants of this era if you venture up the escalators within the cinema (don’t forget to purchase a ticket first) they’re the strange, brown 3Dish paintings on the walls which look so out of place, but give glimpses into its former life.
But then, like every step in this sad building’s life, people lost interest and the Trocadero returned to its former ways of cheap-get-by entertainment. The 50s saw the tea rooms replaced by a bowling alley and casino. Before eventually … closing.
The 80s saw another attempt at revival for the Trocadero, again back to its former glory of trashy entertainment. Featuring an supersonic arcade (with a giant Sonic the Hedgehog model) complete with shops, cinema, its futuristic architecture sponsored by Pepsi, it was the cool place to go in the 80s/90s. It even hosted TV studios and had a pop at reality TV (go on, own up who else watched The Salon?). But sadly as that’s where Trocadero stayed, back in the 80s/90s, while the rest of the world moved on outside. Today it stands a sad forlorn memorial to another era, (still) trying so hard to fit in.
Maybe it’s time to finally lay the Trocadero to rest …
…or maybe it’s time for another revival! Plans are afoot to turn The Trocadero into a new high-tech ‘pod-hotel’. Oh dear, please someone put the poor thing out of its misery.