Hello, I'm a second year geography student at Royal Holloway, University of London. I'm writing my third year dissertation on the relationship between the Crossrail Project and the London Astoria, and want to focus specifically on the efforts made to save this iconic cultural landmark. I have a few questions that I'd like to ask about this, and wondered if anyone would be able to point me in the right direction. Thanks! Alex
Save the Astoria
Music fans launch massive campaign to save the iconic Astoria theatre
The Astoria as it stands today
It’s got the dodgiest nightclub decor in London and if you stand in one place too long you’re in danger of sticking to the carpet, but the Astoria Theatre in Charing Cross Road has an iconic status among the city’s music venues. But now music fans have launched a massive campaign to save the theatre after fears that it could soon be closed down for good.
The Astoria, which has hosted everyone from Nirvana to Girls Aloud, and whose GAY nightclub pulls in some of the biggest names in pop, including Madonna and Kylie Minogue, was sold in June for £23.75 million to property developers Derwent Valley. Derwent owns a stretch of offices and and shops adjoining the theatre, and there are fears that it will turn the Astoria site into shops, offices and flats.
‘The theatre will form a potential development site for the future,’ said John Burns, managing director at Derwent in June. ‘We are committed to the regeneration of key areas in London and are looking forward to the opportunities afforded by such a prominent location.’
History of a legend
1927Built on the site of the Crosse & Blackwell pickle factory, the venue opens as a variety club, with scantily clad cigarette sellers and strippers. It developed into a music hall.
1976Becomes a theatre venue.
1977The first show, ‘Elvis’, opens.
1984The theatre closes, re-opening to become a staple of the gig circuit. David Bowie, Oasis, Prince, U2, Eminem and The White Stripes play there over the years.
1991Nirvana’s biggest UK show.
1994The Manic Street Preachers trash the stage. Last public appearance of guitarist Richey Edwards.
1999NME.com votes the Astoria the country’s second favourite place to rock out.
2000Begins management under the Mean Fiddler Group.
But concerns for the site’s future are compounded by the fact that the theatre also falls on the route of the proposed Crossrail train link. If the Crossrail proposals, currently going through parliament, get the go-ahead, the theatre will be demolished and the area above ground will be the focus for retail and business development. According to one industry insider, the Mean Fiddler Group, which has a lease with the Astoria for £1 million a year until 2008, could pull out from the site as early as next year – a claim strongly denied by the company. ‘There has been no decision to close the Astoria,’ said Tania Harrison at the Mean Fiddler Group. ‘We will stay until 2008. I can’t predict what will happen after that.’
But music fans are anxious to flag up the theatre’s plight before it’s too late.
‘We’re not letting the Astoria go without a fight,’ said Sarah Tennant, from the Save the Astoria campaign. ‘An outlet for the arts is being destroyed in favour of faceless offices – something the surrounding area doesn’t lack. England is at an all-time high as far as developing new music is concerned – why stunt that by taking away the premier music venue of its size in London?’ Campaigners are calling for Derwent to consider a development along the lines of that around the Academy in Islington, where the venue operates beside a complex of shops and restaurants. Although the corporate branded Academy is probably not the best way to retain rock credibility, it does point to a potential compromise.
‘The Astoria obviously needs work doing to it but apart from that, it is a major theatre venue. It has a great reputation with a world-class status. We certainly oppose any attempt to demolish it,’ said John Levitt, chair of Save London’s Theatres, who insists that if the theatre is demolished a proper replacement must be built. Or we could have some more shops.
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