The 'Hidden' Theater in London's Alexandra Palace Is Reopening After 80 Years

Lloyd Winters
Lloyd Winters

For the first time in 80 years, Londoners will have a chance to go inside the Alexandra Palace Theater, a masterpiece of Victorian construction that has remained hidden inside the palace for eight decades, according to The Guardian.

Designed to be North London’s answer to the Crystal Palace, the Alexandra Palace was built as a public recreation space and entertainment venue in the 1870s. The current building dates back to 1875—the original, built in 1873, burned down in a fire—and over the course of its history has served as a World War I refugee camp, an internment camp for Germans and Austrians later on in World War I, and the main transmission center for the BBC.

The theater itself was a technological marvel when it opened in the 19th century, and it played host to operas, pantomimes, ballets, and musical performances. The stage machinery allowed actors to disappear and reappear through the floor and fly across the stage. The theater later served as a chapel, a movie theater, a camp hospital during World War I, and prop storage for the BBC’s broadcasting operation during the 1930s. It hasn’t been used for regular performances in more than 80 years.

A dilapidated historic theater
Pre-restoration
Getty Images

The restoration, which began in 2016, is designed to be a careful update of the space that makes it safe to use but retains its historic allure. The original floorboards have been taken out and numbered so that they can be put back in exactly the same configuration, and the walls have been painted with a clear coating that preserves their original, now-faded colors. But there will also be several architectural updates to the structure, including a modern seating system and a redesign of the balcony for better views.

The first concert performance in the newly reopened theater, featuring what has only been described as a “major music act,” will be held on December 1, 2018. The theater restoration was paid for in part by a grant from the UK’s national lottery fund of more than $25.9 million, one of the largest grants of its kind ever given to a UK heritage project. It’s just one piece of a larger restoration project for the Palace’s East Wing, much of which has been off-limits to the public for years.

[h/t The Guardian]

What People In the '50s and '60s Thought Houses Would Look Like in 1986

The Monsanto House of the Future was an attraction at Disneyland's Tomorrowland 1957 to 1967.
The Monsanto House of the Future was an attraction at Disneyland's Tomorrowland 1957 to 1967.
Photo courtesy Orange County Archives/Wikimedia Commons

In 1957, Monsanto demonstrated its vision for future housing, emphasizing one word: plastics. Its House of the Future was displayed at Disneyland from 1957 through 1967, and it envisioned a future home from the then-distant future of 1986. The house featured lavish conveniences including a microwave oven, ultrasonic dishwasher (for plastic dishes, of course), "cold zones" to replace refrigerators and freezers (with a special zone for irradiated foods), and dimmable ceiling lights—and that's just the kitchen.

While the House of the Future was a little silly around its plastic edges, a lot of its vision was actually correct. We do indeed use microwaves, we have lots of plasticware and even plastic furniture (hello IKEA), and Monsanto's vision of easy cleanup flooring is very realistic (though plastic may not be the most common material, Monsanto's heart was in the right place). Some details like electric toothbrushes and intercom/security systems ring true. The exterior architecture of the house was slightly Jetsons, but frankly, I've seen condos with very similar design cues. The Danish Modern living room looks thoroughly modern-retro to me (although it lacks art on the walls). Check out these videos and see what 1957 thought 1986 would look like. How'd they do?

One big mistake in its vision that stands out to me is the use of height adjustment on virtually everything (right down the children's sink)—everything in the house uses tracks to hide when not in use. While we have a little of that today, it isn't exactly pervasive; it just looks cool in a demo. The other major difference is Monsanto's attempt to sell plastic as a classy material for everything. On the whole, people of the future (meaning us) don't see plastic as classy, and indeed have gone retro on what we think denotes quality—we're looking for steel, wood, and even materials like cork that had no place in the House of the Future. On the flip side, we seem just fine with buying plastic stuff (even pretty stylish plastic) if it's a bargain (again, IKEA and even Target come to mind here).

In a little side-trivia, the House of the Future was very hard to demolish. Apparently a wrecking ball bounced right off the shell (plastics!) so the house had to be ripped to pieces with saws, taking weeks. 

Susan B. Anthony’s Childhood Home in Upstate New York Is Getting a $700,000 Renovation

George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication
George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In 1833, a 13-year-old Susan B. Anthony moved with her family to a two-story brick house in Battenville, New York, where her father managed a cotton mill. Though Anthony only lived there a few years before financial troubles caused her family to relocate once again, it was in that house that she first became aware of the deplorable state of women’s rights—setting her on a path to change the course of history.

According to The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Anthony’s father started homeschooling her after a local teacher refused to teach Anthony long division on the grounds that women didn’t need the skill. Then, a temporary stint at her father’s mill revealed that the wages of many female employees went directly to their husbands or fathers, and Anthony learned about the gender pay gap firsthand when she was hired as a schoolteacher for a much lower salary than her male predecessor.

Right now, there are only two small indicators of Anthony’s history in the Battenville house—a placard on a nearby stone retaining wall and a sign on a post in the front yard—and the house itself is riddled with black mold and moisture damage.

But that’ll change soon: House Beautiful reports that New York’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which purchased the foreclosed property for just $1 back in 2006, is now planning a $700,000 renovation that includes general repairs, drainage improvements, and mold abatement. A considerable portion of those funds was collected by Senator Betty Little and Assembly member Carrie Woerner.

Whether the house will eventually become a museum remains to be seen. It’s located on a perilous curve on Route 29, and there’s very limited surrounding land or space for parking. Having said that, locals are committed to finding a worthy purpose for it after the restoration is complete. Debi Craig, former president of the Washington County Historical Society, told the Times Union that she thinks there’s potential for an international research center or library on women’s rights.

Regardless of what the Battenville house’s second life ends up looking like, the focus on this particular historic site is perfectly timed—not only does 2020 mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it’s also Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday.

Learn more about the trailblazing suffragette here.

[h/t House Beautiful]

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