Leeds has plenty of stunning architecture, but what about those pieces that aren’t fulfilling their potential?
What’s worse than old rickety building lying derelict? Well, probably seeing a building that’s that has loads of potential, sitting empty.
Remarkably, despite all of Leeds’ continued development in the past and present, there are some remarkable buildings, which would stand as city icons, that are currently needing some well deserved attention.
But why aren’t they getting any and what does the future hold? Leeds-List digs a little deeper…
The cornerstone of City Square has been a constant presence since it was built in 1921 and as its 100th birthday approaches, The Majestic has been given another chance to become a vital part of Leeds once again.
Originally a 2,800 seater cinema that opened in 1922, it closed in 1969 before reopening as the Top Rank Bingo Hall until the 1990s when it became the notorious Majestyk night club which shut in mid-2000s.
Its role in Leeds life doesn’t just extend to its uses, but to its materials too. Built using Marmo (imitation marble) Terracotta, made by the Leeds Fireclay Company in Burmantofts. It slots neatly into the Beuax Arts style, with the rusticated first floor exterior, arched windows, statues, pediments, symmetry,
and the classical, particularly Greek, references giving off an imperious stature that remains to this day.
And that is partly down to the renovation put in place by the building’s current owners Rushbond. After Majestyk shut and the old name was restored, Rushbond became owners with a simple intention – “to create a leisure destination” says Richard Baker, Rushbond’s Development Surveyor.
It’s refreshing to see new owners not just tearing an icon to pieces like many have done in the past. For Rushbond it seems that it has been vital to keep in touch with the building’s past, “well it was originally constructed as a purpose built cinema, and all its uses throughout its history have been leisure uses” explains Baker.
“It’s a listed building, in respect of physical work, the redevelopment, we have kept in line with the original building, although obviously modern interventions because of its historic uses, it’s never needed/wanted natural light – until now.”
But why hasn’t it been taken over yet? Well taking on a building the size of The Majestic, even if it is split up into different compartments, is no small commitment. As Baker explains, it’s “non-traditional and it is large, so therefore the market place is narrower than a typical restaurant or leisure unit.”
The Majestic is attempting to move into this new era for Leeds with two units that will be aimed towards bringing some big leisure names to the city. Having recently been used as an exhibition space with contemporary art commissioners Pavilion, it seems its next incarnation isn’t too far away, “we’re in detailed discussions, but we can’t say too much.” Of course, silence is golden, but as long as this Leeds icon makes the most of its stature and space, the city will be better off.
When you’re arriving in Leeds on the train, you strike through the middle of the South side of the city, coming past Holbeck Viaduct, No 1 Whitehall to the left and to the right lies one of the most eye-catching structures in Leeds – Candle House, completed in 2011.
The circular building is not just striking in terms of how it looks but also how it is constructed. The twisting brickwork creates the ‘Leaning Tower of Leeds’ illusion whilst it also possesses the highest garden in the city. The communal space on the roof of the tower was built to instigate an atmosphere that helps residents become a community.
If you can take your eyes off of the cloud cutting building, and bring it down to the base you will notice that for some time there has been a rather sizeable vacant space that has huge potential in building upon the popularity of the apartments above.
Paul Taylor, Director of Creative Space Management, who look after the ongoing interests of Candle House, explains, “the apartments are proving to be very popular – they’re all sold now from the developer and people are now reselling them as well.”
“Uniquely, they’re selling for higher than the original purchase prices which is a positive sign for Leeds and the South side of the city which is becoming very strategically important in terms of people working in the area and living in the area.”
The south side of the city is a vital part of Leeds’ future, particularly with the city’s digital and tech industries taking over the Round Foundry, Marshall Mills and Tower Works and creating around 2,500 jobs. The Candle House and adjacent Waterman’s Place projects have played their role in helping the south of Leeds city centre transform into a bustling area once again.
It makes you wonder why Candle House has a gaping hole at the bottom of it? According to Taylor, it’s actually more straightforward than you may think, “We acted on the whole of the Granary Wharf development” he makes clear.
“I think it was going to be obvious initially that focus was going to be on Waterman’s Place which is the block which we let to Fazenda and various others. Simply because that is on the city side of Granary Wharf so that kind of had to happen first, before Candle House could.”
As it turns out, all this waiting has paid off with Candle House finally getting the chance to show itself off to investors by the end of 2013. Paul explains, “We brought Candle House to the market formally about six months ago when we put the glazing into it and finished it off, and I have to say it went under offer within a week. We were fortunate in that there were very little challenges in disposing of it.”
Disposing of it might be a little harsh, but either way, this building has the potential to be a Leeds icon, so it’s only right that all aspects of it are there to be enjoyed. Details of who will be taking over the building are scarce, but needless to say, whether it’s a shop, restaurant or office, the fact it has a 100% occupied apartment block ready and waiting above means it should be a sure fire success.
Playing further into Leeds’ heritage is Midland Mills, based in the Holbeck Urban Village to the south of the River Aire. Built for John Jubb’s mill empire in 1793, it had been at the heart of Leeds flax and textile industry up until as recently as the 1980s. Over the years it changed hands, through some of the biggest names in the industry, from Jubb and the Drabble Brothers to Taylor, Wordsworth and co. and the last stewards Platt Brothers.
Whilst its role in Leeds’ history is obviously notable, it’s in fact the role it had on the wider industrial revolution that is key to the building’s prominence, and hence its value to the city as a working building. Here, under the Taylor, Wordsworth and Co’s name, was where the noble comb machine was invented – a way of combing down worsted fabrics which would be used for high end suits, something previously achieved by hand.
Architecturally, the Grade II listed building is one of only a few of its kind left in the country, and preserved in an area that is quite rare in that many of the buildings and streets have changed very little since the mid 19th century. The two entrances to the Mills are on Silver Street and Water Street and possess a rather unusual feature on the former with a cast iron bridge flying over the top.
This all sounds well and good but why is Midland Mill still empty? It’s rather peculiar considering many of its neighbours in the Holbeck Urban Village have been reinvented as centres for the new technological and digital revolution (as mentioned previously). Just see the success of Round Foundry, Tower Works and Temple Works to see potential realised.
What’s even odder is that back in 2010 it looked as if Midland Mills were all set to be given such a chance for regeneration. Plans, drawn up by Leeds firm Nick Brown Architects, envisaged offices, apartments and a quite striking 1,500 square foot glass atrium that would reinvent a part of the building that dates back to the start of the 1800s.
And this was to be part of a local success story too – taken over by Kevin Durkin and Neil Ramsey at the back end of the last decade, they have been a vital part of the HUV area with their breaker yard, Prestige Salvage. They secured permission to create a 17 storey building with 20,000 square foot of offices and 56 duplex apartments on their old sire whilst they moved to a new site.
However, for Midland Mills it seems everything has ground to a halt – and mainly due to the economic issues that have affected construction across the board. Whilst the rest of the area is no doubt playing its role in the wider improvement of Leeds, Midland Mill, and the plans made for it, should be indicative of the future of the this part of the city. Whilst the size, age and complexity of bringing the building forwards are complex, let’s hope it’s not impossible. South Leeds as a whole is making strides in its efforts to fulfill its untapped potential, and Midland Mill would be a welcome addition.