Is it possible that my resistance to change signals my dotage and decline? Do I have a reason to be depressed? Are my Blues a passing phase, or am I going to pick up the pace and march forward in Time?
My younger daughters and I recently spent some time in London, and I was shocked at how London’s skyline had changed in just the last few years. On one hand, the innovative design of the futuristic skyscrapers is exciting; on the other hand, I quite prefer a mix of old and new, soiled and squeaky clean.
The Tower of London: Fortress, Palace, and Prison
I am not alone is resisting change. I remember the brouhaha when the glassy, slumped sphere now known as City Hall, London was built in 2002. Built on the Southbank across the Thames River from The Tower of London (going back to 1066 and the Norman Invasion and William the Conqueror’s need to build a fortification to impress/subdue the native population) and Tower Bridge (built in 1894) the project was widely debated by the futurists and the historical preservationists.
Tower Bridge looking south
Walking across Tower Bridge with the Tower of London to your back, you move from the old to the new. It is quite exciting. Personally, I have always loved City Hall, London. I like the juxtaposition of the contemporary and the old. When a neighborhood is uniformly historic or modern, you are lulled into complacency. It is only when the contrast between the old and the new slaps you up the side of the head that you really see and appreciate what each offers.
I remember sitting is The Scoop, a performance space at the base of City Hall. It was twilight. Mark and I were attending a modern dress performance of Antigone. The Tower of London was softly lit; Tower Bridge was strung with lights; and there we were living in London and watching a play written in 441 B.C. The scene was magical.
Not content to let City Hall stand alone as a breath of fresh air on the Southbank, London added The Shard in 2012. I took the photo below from Tower Bridge. Behind City Call, The Shard, standing at 92 stories is the tallest building in Europe.
Too busy to be a good photo, but it captures the density and the buzz.
No doubt about it, architecturally speaking, London is on the move with a boom of buildings that have been dismissively tagged by the general population as the Cheese Grater, the Wedge, the Gherkin, and the Walkie Talkie Tower.
Regardless of general-and-stock-market-anxiety as to whether England will have a hard or soft exit from the European Union, England (home to 250 international banks) is moving ahead as though it is still the financial capital of the world. Good for London!
That said, I have mixed emotions as to the redevelopment of Bayswater, recently characterized by Homes & Property as “Shabby Bayswater.” The neighborhood, just west of The City and east of Notting Hill and north of Kensington Palace was said “about to clean up its act.”
Excuse me! I’m offended. I loved Bayswater just as it was. When my husband Mark partially retired and we returned to London only quarterly, we stayed in Bayswater, conveniently only two blocks from Hyde Park and two Tube stations serving the Central and Circle lines. The neighborhood was convenient and the ethnic mix was vibrant.
How many places can you live where an Indian restaurant stands next to a Persian restaurant next to a Peruvian restaurant? How many places can you sit in the sun on a couch on a sidewalk and smoke a hookah packed with flavored Turkish tobacco?
How many places can you get a pedicure where toothless garra rufa fish nibble the dead skin off your scaly feet? How many places can you watch a freshly make churro scooped out of the hot oil and placed in a cup of intense chocolate – so thick that the churro stands straight up?
How many places can you have breakfast at the wall-to-wall photo tribute to the cafe’s former customer Princess Diana?
Well, that is all about to change. And to my mind, not to the better. Redevelopment has come to Bayswater, and Whiteley’s will anchor a pedestrianized Queensway. In 1845 William Whiteley left Leeds with ten pounds in his pocket and the dream of having a store in which you could buy anything. By 1890 he employed 6,000 staff growing and producing products specifically for his stores.
In 1907, after William Whiteley’s death (another story), his sons built what is today, a Grade II listed store with the sweeping La Scala staircase, tiered Atrium, and marble floors. I love this building!
On our most recent visit, many of the stores (think of the ground floor as what used to be a mall) were closed or were closing. Whiteley’s is about to be transformed. No longer will it be a public space with shopping and a cinema; rather, after a billion pound restoration, the building will house restaurants, designer shops, and pricey apartments.
The redevelopment will spill onto Queensway which will be closed to traffic and pedestrianized. The local color will be whitewashed. Just another up-grade that will suck the lifeblood out of what used to be a distinctive neighborhood.