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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Monday, 31 March 2014

Catch it while you can: compared with what's coming, the 1960s Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is a thing of beauty

Elephant & CAstle, SOuthwark, SOuth London,

It might be a shock to the system to say it, but now I can and I will and I say it loud: I love the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre!

Well of  course you do because it's now under threat from gentrification and you always jump on these bandwagons etc - down with the wicked property developers all over again etc!

Yeah well it's not just that. I mean I had my first real job across the road in Alexander Fleming House, when it was still the DHSS, back in the early 1970s. Did all my shopping in the centre for a while, but by then it already seemed a bit down-at-heel.

There was that 80s  revival with pink paint; but much more recently the centre seems to have re-invented itself as a new multi-ethnic version of the 1900s covered market, a bit like a 1960s version of the big Brixton markets a couple of miles down the A23. And we all know how everyone just luuurves Brixton Market these days.

Approaching the magic roundabout from the south on the 176 bus in glorious spring sunshine, the first thing you have to notice is the absurdity of that new tower block with its Batmobile finials and the three  wind turbines still stubbornly refusal to budge an inch, evening the briskest of south-west winds.

If I'd shelled out over half a mill for a two-bed in that silly building I'd at least want to insist on getting some cheap wind power back.

That building is just so tacky and horrible that we will all soon come to revere it, for sure. It even has an appropriately wanky name: Strata.

Back to the case in point however.

The knee-jerk opinion of the place is "yuk" - and yet, each time I visit I like it more. (Of course it has many other fans - see this piece on the London SE1 site for more Elephantophiliac views). I always liked the sort of mossy undergrowth of open-air market all round the edge, or under-lip of the building. Three pairs of acrylic trainer socks in Rasta colours for £2.99 anyone?

Inside it has a surprisingly civilised air.  Just its age has given it a bit of dignity: climbing the steel and pink composite stairways you think, they don't make things like this anymore. The whole interiors has been given a rather good paint job in those bold reds, yellows and greens that give it a definite LAtino feel, while the  rubbish has been stripped off many shop front to reveal a nice Mondrian-esque grid pattern of girders which have also been  panted. Good God it is almost tasteful!
More stylish than Westfield - the cool spacious shopping
 floors of the Elephant and Castle's 1965 shopping centre,
soon to be demolished

The civilisation is real there though, just look at the fabulous Colombian bar-cafĂ© La Bodeguita slap bang in the middle of things. Then there are the African textiles and foods, the useful Clarks Shoes factory shop, plenty of Asian places to fix your phone, etc, etc - it is usually busy and clearly really popular with a many different nationalities for family shopping andy socialising.

 What with everybody now scrambling over each other to get a piece of the London property pie before it collapses into a column of foul-smelling steam - the old Shopping Centre will go. It's clear the centre's days are already numbered - no point in crying over it now, just read this bit from the Standard a few months back and kick yourself for being so slow.

So the country's first "Mall" or covered shopping precinct, as we knew it then - will be replaced, presumably by more stubby glass towers of  "affordable" £200k+ flats and some "social amenities" - a swimming pool perhaps, or a library. At least we're not getting a Westfield here.

But how can they replace somewhere so good? Can't imagine there'll be much demand for the cheap underwear from the new residents. Once again it seems developers are being allowed to steal something which has much more value than the pounds-per-square-foot costings of the land.

You can find out more about these plans on Southwark council's site, and  from the developers who know own the Centre, Delancey. Click there and feel your heart sink as you see dozens more of those architect's cgi images of shiny plazas and piazzas.

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