Trocadero; the rotten heart of London

Posted by admin | August 11, 2009 1

Trocadero Centre; It looks a lot better at night and from a distance!

Visitors to London invariably gravitate using some secret magnet to the bustle of Piccadilly Circus and gaze in admiration at “Eros”, actually meant to represent the winged angel of Christian charity in honour of the Victorian reformer and Philanthropist, Ashley Cooper later Lord Shaftsbury after which Shaftsbury Avenue is named. Indeed Piccadilly Circus is NOT a Circus; Oxford Circus is the only one in London which is actually circular and not many Piccadilly’s are sold around here today as this was the oversized flounced collar worn by Regency gentlemen, the precursor of the shirt making tradition in nearby Jermyn Street. But after their initial amazement their eyes come to rest on a tatty development in a prime site, the perpetually reincarnated Trocadero Centre which is directly connected to the famous Piccadilly Circus Underground Station and incorporates the Pavilion Theatre and what was the Trocadero Restaurant.

The Trocadero Restaurant of J. Lyons and Co. opened in 1896 at a site on Shaftesbury Avenue, near the theatres of the West End, which had been formerly occupied by the notorious Argyll Rooms, where wealthy men hired prostitutes. The stylish connotations of the name “Trocadero” derive from the Battle of Trocadero in southern Spain, a citadel held by liberal a Spanish force that was taken by the French troops sent by Charles X, in 1823. The battle was commemorated in the Place du Trocadéro, Paris, and the monumental glamour of the Parisian site has given rise to a variety of locales bearing its name. Alas, London’s version does not echo the style of its Parisian namesake.

Buddy Holly with the Tanner Sisters, Trocadero Theatre 1958

In 1984, the Trocadero was redeveloped as a tourist-oriented entertainment, cinema and shopping complex by a joint venture between the former boxer George Walker’s Brent Walker and the Irish Power Securities owned by an Irish developer Robin Power. It retained the external Baroque facade, but gutted the interior and added a Guinness Book of World Records Exhibition. It is hard to believe this property was valued before the last big UK property crash in the 1990 accounts of its then owners, Power Walker, at £627 Million and I don’t think Asif Aziz’s Criterion Group got a bargain when they paid a reported £225 Million for it in 2005. The place is a graveyard which has destroyed many businesses’ and their owners. Power Securities persuaded a number of tenants in their Dublin developments to open up here to “cash in” on booming London and they invariably lost their whole businesses’ as a result. Tenants were limited, and the half-finished development was eventually sold to the Nick Leslau and Nigel Wray headed Burford Group plc.

The launch of Segaworld, a large amusement arcade occurred on 7 September 1996, which included a large statue of Sonic the Hedgehog over the front entrance. Pepsi sponsored the Pepsi Max Drop Ride and from 1997 the Pepsi IMAX cinema, the first 3D IMAX cinema in the UK. It was also home to the second series of Channel 4’s daily reality show The Salon. However, resultant visitor numbers were poor, and the Guinness Records exhibition closed in the mid-1990s and following the loss of Sega’s sponsorship in 1999, Segaworld became Funland and was subsequently reduced in size, and the Pepsi-sponsored IMAX cinema and Drop Ride closed around the same time. Remains of old attractions can still be seen around the centre, such as a wall with a gun-barrel motif that used to house a James Bond ride, while a disused escalator now blocked off with a drinks machine was the entrance to Segaworld.

Lately the centre has hit a new low with the indescribably tacky Amora, the self-proclaimed Academy of Sex and Relationships, the “Spanish” dungeon of horrors “Pasaje Del Terror” and “believe it or not” Ripleys Odditorium although for my money the whole sad shipwreck of a centre could qualify for the title!

SegaWorld – The way it was!

Ripleys, who’s ‘Believe it or Not’ museums have been running for 85 years, has taken the London Pavilion in the centre at £70/sq ft. According to “Property World” The 25-year lease brings in rent of £1.75m a year, which will be subject to annual rent increases linked to the retail price index. The rent is a major boost from previous tenants Body Shop and Coordination Studies who were paying a combined yearly rent of £552,000. Ripley’s Believe Or Not’s newly opened “Odditorium” in the Trocadero, Central London, features 22 galleries of oddities gathered from around the world including a two headed cow, and a portrait of Diana Princess of Wales created from dry lint, a crystal-covered car and a life-size model of the world’s tallest man. How London is enriched by such “Treasures.” Indeed so unique is this exhibition that it is one of 30 such freak shows Ripleys run worldwide.

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Now in another desperate throw of the “Trocadero Reinvention” dice permission is being applied for to turn The Trocadero into a “pod” hotel offering tiny rooms at knock-down prices. With rooms of just 12 square metres and 17 square metres, the hotel aims to be London’s answer to the Pod Hotel in New York. It will occupy part of the second to seventh floors in the Grade II-listed building in Piccadilly Circus, and be run by the same US operator.

SegaWord Escalator blocked off by vending machines

Corridors will run around the outside of the building, and 495 rooms, all ensuite, will be grouped around internal courtyards. A planning application for the scheme, provisionally named the Piccadilly Hotel, will come before Westminster council this week. New York’s Pod Hotel has a loyal following among travellers and critics. The Washington Post praised its design that made the best use of the bedrooms’ 10ft by 10ft floorspace. It is described by its operator Accor as a “budget-minded traveller’s dream come true”, with rooms from about £70 a night.

The newspaper’s travel writer Gary Lee wrote: “The Pod is proof that you can be hip on a budget. The rooms are all equipped with iPod docking stations, LCD televisions and free Wi-Fi. The decor is an inviting mix of mod and Fifties retro.” On the downside: “Almost half the rooms have shared baths, and the walls are thin enough that you hear doors shutting down the hall.”

The Pod to save The Troc?

Some reviewers found the rooms claustrophobic, but others felt the low prices justified the squeeze. Emma Mills, from London, stayed at the hotel in May. She said: “It was compact, but when you’re in New York you’re not there to sit in a room. I would much rather stay there and have more shopping money.”

The Trocadero plan would be a boost for property investor Asif Aziz, whose Criterion Group purchased the building for £225million in 2005. Since then the centre is said to have struggled to attract tenants and, in January, lost one of its most high profile, Planet Hollywood, after 16 years. The restaurant has moved to a new £5million venue in Haymarket. The floors above the third level have been vacant since indoor theme park Segaworld moved out. Westminster’s report raises concerns over the lack of natural light or ventilation in rooms. But adds: “It will provide affordable accommodation for visitors to this part of London.” However I suggest Westminster Planning Committee should step back here and consider how The Trocadero has deviated from the proposal the approved in the 80’s for a high quality mixed use tourist-oriented entertainment, cinema and shopping complex which would enhance this strategic location.

In fact, for too long the Trocadero Centre has been a boil on the bum of London’s West End as it has gone through many confused re-inventions. It is has looked and felt like an end of pier show where the sea has gone out. This POD hotel could go anywhere in loads of 1970 office blocks which need to be recycled and found new uses – it does not need to be in this strategic site which is London’s shop window for visitors. Westminster Council should refuse permission and make clear that it will only approve permission for an imaginative proposal which will add value to this World Class City (?) and I suggest this will be somebody with deeper pockets and better expertise than the current owners.

It is time that this failed monster of the Trocadero was humanely put down and London has a venue / centre it can be proud of, not reworked tat. Let us reclaim Piccadilly Circus and ensure that the Trocadero site is enhanced by a quality development which doesn’t make a mockery as we approach the 2012 Olympics of London’s claim to be a World Class City.

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