London’s Tin Pan Alley, RIP

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RIP? So it appears, to the eyes (and supposedly the ears) of many. A deep source sent me an article from Britain’s Evening Standard headlined (in part; it was an almost endless “hed”) “Kinks Star Slams ‘Soulless’ Denmark Street Redevelopment.” Right down my alley, eh? Well, Denmark Street, where the Kinks, the Stones, the Sex Pistols and other rock groups used to hang out, practice, record, etc., is called London’s Tin Pan Alley.

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Jean van der Tak

It is also near Tottenham Court Road, near where I stayed for three weeks back in the day (1979) with my old friend Steven van der Tak, who lived across the street from the British Museum. His late dear mother Jean was a leading influence on the entirety of my life. She passed away, age 89, on July 27. I should be in Washington at her memorial service, which is today, but several things, now including a medical emergency (large blood clot in leg), have kept me in Providence. RIP, Jean.

RIP Denmark Street? It is being redeveloped, but my deep source may mistake the degree of my sadness. Yes, I regret the decline of this deep infrastructure of rock and roll, but it seems that the developer, according to the Standard, wants to “redevelop the entire street, which is listed [protected, in American lingo], adding luxury flats behind and above the existing scruffy-chic exteriors.” Putting the bad stuff behind elegant historic exteriors – often called a “façadectomy” – is not my idea of the worst sin that can be committed by developers. Will they preserve the garish signs, historic graffiti and faux first-story siding that Londoners have come to associate with their (and our!) idols? I don’t know. Let’s just say I am conflicted about this project. After all, developers are more likely to rip great old buildings down than let them stand.

Another article, “Why London’s music scene has been rocked by the death of Denmark Street,” by Marc Burrows in the Guardian, strikes the jugular in its description of the project’s 21st century sensibility:

It will, according to the marketing blurb, mean we can “interact with the brands we love in exciting new ways,” it will be “a new dawn for meaningful brand engagement” promising “branded real-time experiences that add value to people’s lives.” We’re told it will put “the heart and soul back in St Giles,” presumably with “branding.” A working area full of innate personality becomes another haven for tourists and those with cash to burn.

Decide for yourselves – there’s a handy promotional video here showing the new complex in all its terrifying electronic glory. Behind the adspeak is a weird dystopian vision, an emotionless touch-screen void where engaging with “brands” is the most important aspect of anyone’s day, and the gig-going experience is defined by the free MP3 you can download in the queue. It’s Blade Runner without the flying cars.

Jean van der Tak spent part of her life studying global population issues, and part of it preserving historic landmarks. To name the one I know most about, she led the effort to save an early local shopping plaza in Washington, D.C. – at Connecticut and Porter in the Cleveland Park ‘hood where the three Brussat boys and the three van der Tak boys grew up. I’m sure Jean would shed more tears for Denmark Street than me, which tells me that perhaps my deep source knows more than I do about what’s right down my alley.

I just got off the phone with my brother Guy and his wife Laura, who gave me the deep skinny on the memorial service. Laura said she did not realize that Jean, a Canadian, met her late husband Herman, who was Dutch, at the London School of Economics. Well, I mentioned above that I had stayed with their son Steven, who was himself at LSE, and who just before my arrival had met his eventual wife, also at LSE.

Life rocks and rolls. Some folks ride it to the max, as did Jean.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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6 Responses to London’s Tin Pan Alley, RIP

  1. Tony Brussat says:

    Blood clot???

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  2. Hank D says:

    David, I am concerned about these projects, and not just because the facadectomy is likely to make a joke of the old buildings, but because this is part of the relentless drive to strip the character from our cities. A branded concert venue is not the same as a dive blues bar or a guitar shop or studio that has been there since the Sixties, and how many fashionable baristas do we need? Somehow old buildings with small floor plates and space for small shops preserve what Camillo Sitte called the collective memory of the city better than “rationalised” new builds aimed attractive known brands and chains. It’s a tough one, though, how do we protect culture along with our built heritage?
    Hank

    Like

    • Hank, I think you have put your finger on the issue here far better than I did in this strange sort of bifurcated post, in which I confessed to my own confusion about the deeper issues involved. But you are right, it is more than just the building facades.

      Like

      • Hank D says:

        Dave, This is an interesting effort by UNESCO to protect “intangible heritage”, although it is an unfortunate term. Hank

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  3. I hope you get well, Dave

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    • Thank you, Dave. And thanks to all who have expressed concern about my clot. I think it is under control. No worries! But the requirement that I monitor through daily blood tests how a pill is faring at addressing the problem in the vital short term kept me away from dear Jean’s memorial, which saddened me greatly, as did the weakness of my other reasons for having to stay away, however valid they may have been.

      Like

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