Selfridges, Oxford Street

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Template:Infobox building Selfridges, Oxford Street is a Grade II listed retail premises, located in Oxford Street, London, England. It was designed by Daniel Burnham for Harry Gordon Selfridge, and opened in 1909.<ref name=Heritage/> Still the headquarters of Selfridge & Co. department stores, with Template:Convert of selling space,<ref name=BizWeek744054>Template:Cite web</ref> the store is the second largest retail premises in the UK,<ref name=Heritage/> half as big as the biggest department store in Europe, Harrods.<ref name=BizWeek744054/> It was named the world's best department store in 2010,<ref name=Telg7825262/> and again in 2012.<ref name=GuardAdams/>

Background

In 1906, Harry Gordon Selfridge travelled to England on holiday with his wife, Rose. Unimpressed with the quality of existing British retaillers, he noticed that the large stores in London had not adopted the latest selling ideas that were being used in the United States. Selfridge decided to invest £400,000 in building his own department store in what was then the unfashionable western end of Oxford Street, by slowly buying up a series of Georgian architecture buildings which were on the desired block defined by the surrounding four streets: Somerset, Wigmore, Orchard and Duke.<ref name=Gorst>Template:Cite book</ref>

Design and construction

The building was designed by American architect Daniel Burnham, who also crafted Marshall Field's main store in his home town of Chicago, and the Flatiron Building in New York. The building was an early example in the UK of the use of a steel frame, five stories high with three basement levels and a roof terrace, originally laid out to accommodate 100 departments.<ref name=Morrison/>

American-trained Swedish structural engineer Sven Bylander was engaged to design the steel frame structure. As the building was one of the early examples of steel frame in the UK, Bylander had to first agree appropriate building regulations with the London County Council, requiring amendments to the London Building Act 1844.<ref name=Goodman/> Using as a basis the regulations which covered the similarly-designed London docklands warehouses, Bylander then agreed changes which enabled greater spans within lesser beam dimensions due to the use of steel over stone.<ref name=Goodman/> Bylander designed the entire supporting structure which was approved by the LCC in 1907,<ref name=Goodman/> with a steel frame based on blue brick pile foundations, supporting a steel frame which holds all of the internal walls and the concrete floors.<ref name=Goodman/> Bylander designed in additional supported internal walls, as LCC would not approve store areas above Template:Convert due to the then approved fire safety regulations, many of which were removed 20 years later in light of new legislation.<ref name=Goodman/> Bylander submitted a 13 page fully illustrated account of the design of the building to Concrete and Constructional Engineering, which was published in 1909.<ref name=Goodman/> The work of Burnham and Bylander with LCC led to the passing of the LCC (General Powers) Act 1909, also called the Steel Frame Act, which gave the council the power to regulate the construction of reinforced concrete structures.<ref name=Goodman>Template:Cite book</ref>

American architect Francis Swales, who trained at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, was briefed to design the frontispiece. Aided by British architects R. Frank Atkinson and Thomas Smith Tait,<ref name=Morrison>Template:Cite book</ref><ref name="tait">Template:Cite web</ref> the final design was highly influenced by John Burnet's 1904 extension to the British Museum.<ref name=Gorst/> The steel supporting columns are hidden behind Ionic columns, to create a facade which present a visually uniform, classical, Beaux-Arts appearance.<ref name=Beare/> The distinctive polychrome sculpture above the Oxford Street entrance is the work of British sculptor Gilbert Bayes. The final frontage, through use of cast iron window frames to a maximum size of Template:Convert by Template:Convert, means that both the Oxford Street and Duke Street frontages are made up of more glass than stone or iron works.<ref name=Goodman/>

Construction

Opened on 15 March 1909,<ref name=Heritage>Template:Cite web</ref> the store was built in phases. The first phase consisted of the nine-and-a-half bays closest to the Duke Street corner,<ref name=EngHer>Template:Cite web</ref> a site of Template:Convert wide on Oxford Street by Template:Convert along Duke Street.<ref name=Goodman/> The floor heights averaged Template:Convert, and the initial structure contained nine passenger lifts, two service lifts and six staircases.<ref name=Goodman/>

The main entrance and all of the bays to its left were added some 18 years after the store first opened, using a modified construction system.<ref name=Beare>Template:Cite web</ref> The complete building opened fully in 1928, and resultantly through the use of supporting spandrel steel panels, the scale of the glass panes within the main entrance could be greatly enlarged.<ref name=Gorst/>

A scheme to erect a massive tower above the store post-World War I was never carried out. Harry Selfridge also proposed a subway link to Bond Street station, and renaming it "Selfridges"; however, contemporary opposition quashed the idea.

The final design of the building completed in 1928, although classical in visible style and frontage, is thoroughly modern in its steel frame construction. In part due to new schools of architectural thought emerging apart from the classical schools, and in part due to the close proximity of World War I, the building is seen as the last of the great classical buildings undertaken within the UK. Although the UK was late in adopting modern architecture only from the 1930s onwards, by the mid-20th century many architects looked at Selfridges as if it were pre-historic in design, accepted just because Harry Gordon Selfridge wanted to advetise his business with a confident display of classicism in stone.<ref name=Gorst/>

Basements

There are two levels of basement beneath the lower-ground shop floor: the ‘sub’ and the ‘sub-sub’. Combined, these descend Template:Convert below street level.<ref name=Gorst/><ref name=AClayton>Template:Cite web</ref> These two areas are then split into two more areas: the dry sub and sub-sub, and their "wet" equivalents.<ref name=Gorst/><ref name=AClayton/> The wet area is beneath the original nine-and-a-half bays closest to the Duke Street corner of the 1909 building. The "dry" is under the rear of the building, known as the SWOD after the surrounding four streets - Somerset, Wigmore, Orchard and Duke – that once enclosed it.<ref name=Gorst/><ref name=AClayton/><ref name=TOut2241>Template:Cite web</ref> During World War II after the entry of the United States into the conflict, from 1942 the dry sub-sub SWOD was used by the United States Army. The building had one of the only secure telex lines, was safe from bombing, and was close to the US Embassy on Grosvenor Square. Initially used by General Eisenhower, the commander of SHAEF, it later housed 50 soldiers from the 805th Signal Service Company of the US Army Signal Corps,<ref name=TOut2241/> who installed a SIGSALY code-scrambling device connected to a similar terminal in the Pentagon building. The first conference took place on the 15 July 1943. Initial visitors included Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to enable secure communications with the President of the United States, although later extensions were installed to both 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet War Rooms. Rumours persist of a tunnel built from Selfridges to the embassy so that personnel could move between the two in safety, with interrogation cells for prisoners hewn from the resultant uneven space available.<ref name=AClayton/>

2002 restoration

While restoration work was carried in 2002,<ref name=Beare/> the scaffold surround was used to carry the largest photographic artwork ever produced, Template:Convert tall by Template:Convert long and weighing two tons. Created by Sam Taylor-Wood, it showed a gathering of well-known pop and cultural figures of the time, including Sir Elton John.

Operations

thumb Template:Main The new store opened to the public on 15 March 1909, employing 1,400 staff,<ref name=Goodman/> setting new standards for the retailing business.

At that time, women were beginning to enjoy the fruits of emancipation by wandering unescorted around London. A canny marketer, Selfridge promoted the radical notion of shopping for pleasure rather than necessity. The store was extensively promoted through paid advertising. The shop floors were structured so that goods could be made more accessible to customers. There were elegant restaurants with modest prices, a library, reading and writing rooms, special reception rooms for French, German, American and "Colonial" customers, a First Aid Room, and a Silence Room, with soft lights, deep chairs, and double-glazing, all intended to keep customers in the store as long as possible. Staff members were taught to be on hand to assist customers, but not too aggressively, and to sell the merchandise. Oliver Lyttleton observed that, when one called on Selfridge, he would have nothing on his desk except one's letter, smoothed and ironed.

Selfridge also managed to obtain from the GPO the privilege of having the number "1" as its own phone number, so anybody had to just dial 1 to be connected to Selfridge's operators.

The roof terrace hosted terraced gardens, cafes, a mini golf course and an all-girl gun club. The roof, with its spectacular views across London, was a popular place for strolling after a shopping trip and was often used for fashion shows. As with much of central London during World War II, Selfridges suffered serious damage on a number of occasions during the 57 nights of the London Blitz from 7 September 1940, and in 1941 and 1944.<ref name=BBC8937074>Template:Cite web</ref> After the devastating bombing of the west end on 17/18 September 1940 by a combined force of 268 Heinkel 111 and Dornier Do 17 bombers<ref name=BBC8937074/> - after which the stores Art Deco lifts didn't work again until post-WW2, and the signature window was shattered<ref name=BBC8937074/><ref name=WEaW/> - Harry vowed never to open the rooftop gardens again,<ref name=DMail2017623/> and had the ground floor windows bricked-up.<ref name=BBC8937074/><ref name=WEaW/> The roof terrace reopened again for the first time since in July 2011, for a promotional event staged by Truvia as part of their UK launch. Bompas & Parr designed a publicly accessible art-installation, consisting of a rowing lake which was dyed green, with 12 rowing boats and an accompanying bar.<ref name=DMail2017623>Template:Cite web</ref> In Summer 2012, Bompas & Parr designed an art installation themed as "The Big British Tea Party", which included a cake-themed 9-hole crazy golf course, accompanied by a Daylesford Organic sponsored tea house.

The bomb on the 17 April 1941 only destroyed the beautiful Palm Court Restaurant, venue for the rich and famous.<ref name=BBC8937074/> However, at 11pm on 6 December 1944, a V-2 rocket hit the Red Lion pub on the corner of Duke Street and Barrett Street. A canteen in the SWOD was massively damaged, with eight American servicemen killed and 32 injured, as well as ten civilian deaths and seven injuries.<ref name=BBC8937074/> In the main building, ruptured water mains threatened SIGSALY, and while the Food Hall was the only department that did not need cleaning, Selfridges’ shop-front Christmas tree displays were blown into Oxford Street.<ref name=BBC8937074/><ref name=WEaW>Template:Cite web</ref> By 2010, only two of the four major pre-World War II Oxford Street retaillers - Selfridges and John Lewis - survive in retail, while Bourne & Hollingsworth (now remembered in the name of a bar in Fitzrovia), and Peter Robinson (acquired 1946 by Burton's), are no longer trading.<ref name=BBC8937074/> Selfridges are the only retailer still trading in the same building, which still bears the scars of war damage, while Lewis's have moved.<ref name=BBC8937074/> Bourne & Hollingsworth is now the Plaza Shopping Centre at No 120, while Peter Robinson is now Niketown at No 200-236.<ref name=BBC8937074/>

A Milne-Shaw seismograph was set up on the Selfridges' third floor in 1932, attached to one of the building's main stanchions, unaffected by traffic or shoppers. It recorded the Belgian earthquake of 11 June 1938 which was also felt in London. At the outbreak of war, the seismograph was moved from its original site near the Post Office to another part of the store. In 1947, the seismograph was given to the British Museum.

In 2002, Selfridges was awarded the London Tourism Award for visitors' favourite London store. Selfridges was named world's best department store in 2010,<ref name=Telg7825262>Template:Cite news</ref> and again in 2012.<ref name=GuardAdams>Template:Cite web</ref> It claims to contain the UK's largest beauty department,<ref name=TOut2241/> and Europe's busiest doorway which siphons 250,000 people a week past the Louis Vuitton concession on to Oxford Street.<ref name=TOut2241/>

Windows

File:Selfridges windows.jpg
Selfridges window display, 2009

Selfridges' 27 Oxford Street windows have become synonymous with the brand, and to a certain degree have become as famous as the store and the Oxford Street location itself. The windows consistently attract tourists, designers and fashionistas alike to marvel at the current designs and styling and fashion trends.<ref name=Meredith/>

Selfridges has a history of bold art initiatives when it comes to the window designs. When the building opened, Harry Selfridge initiated a "signature" window which was signed by all of the stars and famous people who came to shop at the store. This was cracked in the first bombing during the blitz, and was never restored.<ref name=BBC8937074/>

Today, the visual merchandising team calculate that 20% of business-winning trade is from the windows.<ref name=TOut2241/> When Alannah Weston became Creative Director after the purchase by her family in 2003, she approached artist Alison Jackson to put her trademark Tony Blair and David Beckham lookalikes in the windows. The resultant display brought traffic to a standstill, with the Metropolitan Police finally insisting they stop the project because it was clogging up Oxford Street.<ref name=TOut2241/>

Since 2002, the windows have been photographed by London photographer Andrew Meredith and published in magazines such as Vogue, Dwell, Icon, Frame Magazine, Creative Review, Hungarian Stylus Magazine, Design Week, Harper's Bazaar, New York Times, WGSN and much more including world wide press, journals, blogs and published books all over the world.<ref name=Meredith>Template:Cite web</ref>

Ownership

After his wife died in 1918, and his mother in 1922, Gordon squandered his fortune. In 1941, he left Selfridges.

In 1951 the store was acquired by the Liverpool-based Lewis's chain of department stores, which was in turn taken over in 1965 by the Sears Group owned by Charles Clore.<ref name="oxford">Template:Cite websubscription required</ref> Expanded under the Sears group to include branches in Oxford, Manchester and Birmingham, in 2003 the chain was acquired by Canada's Galen Weston for £598 million.

Expansion

In 2011, the Weston family bought 388-396 Oxford Street, which is located immediately to the east of the Selfridges building across Duke Street, on which fashion chain French Connection has a lease until 2025.

In early 2012, Selfridges commissioned Italian architect Renzo Piano (responsible for London's The Shard skyscraper), to work on an extension to the 1909 department store. News Agency CoStar commented that the project could feature a hotel as well as office space, or additional shopping departments. In May 2012, a Selfridges representative said:<ref name=RW5044292/> Template:Cquote In December 2012, Selfridges acquired the Template:Convert Nations House office building from Hermes, which is located immediately behind its Oxford Street store in Wigmore Street, for around £130m.<ref name=RW5044292>Template:Cite web</ref>

References

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External links

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