15 December 2023

The Imperial Hotel Russell Square – James Bond-tastic

There's a 1960's era hotel facing Russell Square that I absolutely Love love love. I've been concerned about it for decades now. It's in that 'too new to be treasured, not old enough to be saved' zone especially as many people jump on the bandwagon about on about awful it is and how it replaced a huge bit of Edwardian OTT. Indeed that 'To The Turkish Baths' sign in the pavement harks back to that long-gone previous building. Oh yawn. People just don't use their eyes! 

Well, I love it. Check out the extended orange letters (Microgramma? Eurostile?) the vertical stripes of gold mosaic interspersed with fine pebbled concrete, the windows that let in extra light due to being angled, how the design continues through the drive-way and into the courtyard at the rear which leads to a fountain in the same design and an enclosed area containing elements saved from the old hotel.

Bloomsbury has a few other hotels like this, but The Imperial is the King of them all. Yet trying to find info online about this 1960's James Bond gem is proving to be an uphill struggle. I can't even find the name of architect. Instead, all I find is moans and groans and violins about what's gone before. 

Last year, June 2022, when I checked in on the building, there was no sign of the statues said to be saved from the old building and arranged around a wall at the rear. However, the galleon weather vane, the clock and bells were still there, and the sign for the closed casino. I took some photos and a uniformed man came out and told me to stop. I'd assumed the hotel was empty but it seems it was being used as temporary homes for Ukranian refugees. That's nice.

Earlier this month, Dec2023, I was ambling past when I noticed that new hoardings were around the hotel at ground level announcing renovations were underway, to be revealed in Spring 2025. Eek! That's a long way off and who knows what blandification could occur here seeing as what happened behind Debenhams when a totally unique car park from this era was completely destroyed. Where is façadism when you really need it?

I raced round the the back of The Imperial and found the main building was fenced off and looked to be empty. The pic above right shows a small grey quadrant at the bottom left. I'm sad to report that was where the fountain was. And here's how it looked in June:

And looking back out to the street, towards Russell Square:

Some lovely, simple but effective, blue tiles are visible just above that traffic cone. They arestill there. I say are in the sense of three weeks ago. I hope they get saved or, at least, repurposed:

I need to find out what's happening at this site. I really hope they are going to make something of this zigzag magnificence rather than just destroy it and replace it with another faceless, uninteresting glass blob. OK, so people might miss the old Gothic pile, but there are plenty of similar hotels of that era still standing, and at least here the old fusty spires were replaced with something innovative and of it's time. And groovy too. There really is nothing comparable I can think of, except perhaps the Seifert towers and the Hilton Hotel.

Do let me know if you have any further info.

1 comment:

  1. I always thought not so much James Bond as Gerry Anderson, where everything was concrete and Eurostile/Microgramma, prior to being blown to bits. Some lovely small-scale design features here.


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