Sunday, December 11, 2011

Battersea Power Station

We bounce around the magnificent ruin, packed into a golf cart, yellow hardhats bobbing on our heads, as mist comes through where the roof used to be be and our guide points out the nesting place of the only known pair of peregrine falcons in central London. Someday, he promises, this place will be a chic dining, drinking, shopping and partying destination, served by a fleet of water taxis and up and running for the 2012 London Olympics.

"This place'' is the Battersea Power Station, located hard by the River Thames on the south bank just outside central London. The year is 2005. A Hong Kong investor has big plans for revamping the old power plant, a fixture on the river with its four towering smokestacks since 1933 and abandoned since 1983.

That was then. This is now: The battered old site is up for sale again, the Hong Kong investor having sold in 2006 to an Irish group that couldn't keep up with ballooning costs of redevelopment. The banks want their money back. The whole complicated, on-going story is detailed at in a terrific, if slightly saddening, New York Times story by Julia Werdigier, posted Dec. 9.

As it happens, my wife was born in and raised in Battersea, the gritty, gradually gentrifying neighborhood that surrounds the former power station - designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, who, the Times story reports, "also designed London's red telephone boxes and the power station that now houses the Tate Modern museum ...''

Locals - and interested non-locals, like me - have been hoping for some time now to see a similarly glorious new chapter for the enormous Battersea Power Station - commanding even in decrepitude. My wife and I were briefly hopeful after our tour in '05, transfixed by a developer's vision that included putting a bar in the Art Deco control room, with its parquet floor and view of the vast former turbine hall. If that bar is ever built, it will become the coolest bar in London the day it opens.

Much rides on redevelopment of the listed building and its 40-acre site - including, apparently, whether Battersea will get two planned subway stations on the London Underground. Incredibly, this long-time working class area - now also a favorite of artists, architects and estate agents - does not have a Tube station to call its own. This must be unique for a district this size so close to central London. Posh Chelsea sits directly across the Thames.

I'd say Stay Tuned - one of those stock cliches so beloved by journalists - but you may have to stay tuned for an awfully long time to find out what's going to happen to this brooding old building.

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