Caludon Castle A presentation by the city’s former Conservation Officer, George Demidowicz
Monday, March 9 at 7.30pm
Shop Front Theatre, City Arcade Refreshments Non-members £2
With redevelopment of Coventry University’s James Starley building in Cox Street on the cards, surely it’s time to think about the creation of an exciting thoroughfare here, right next to the Faculty of Art. Perhaps a street of fantastic modernist architecture that could and should rub shoulders with Coventry’s iconic sports hall—the ’Elephant’. It’s an important stage in the redevelopment of this city centre quarter and deserves a proper design brief that should include the ‘Elephant’ itself. The Society decided therefore to ask English Heritage to list this building before it is lost forever. Lady Godiva apart, our city’s claim to fame has to be its post-war architecture—our trail blazing pedestrian precinct, the first post-war theatre in Europe - the Belgrade, our unique circular Retail Market, our world-famous cathedral and many others. Yet amazingly, two of our most iconic buildings—the Central Swimming Baths, and right next door to it, the ’Elephant’, are both threatened. The former with closure, the latter with demolition. Now whether you love it or hate it the ’Elephant’ is a remarkable building. It’s clearly a forerunner of Spain’s Gugenheim. Even the doubters have to agree that both buildings have changed the way people think about architecture. The Gugenheim was created by Frank Gehry. Our ‘Elephant’ was designed by the civic housing division in the Council’s Architect’s Department and is attributed to Michael McLennan. Clad with oblong panels of zinc, its angular form has few windows and those on the north elevation help to define the shape as an elephant, symbolic of course in Coventry’s coat-of-arms. If we are to stand a chance of becoming a city of culture we need to up our game. Even with the financial constraints of these times we need to promote our illustrious post-war heritage. For that reason alone it is hoped our ‘Elephant’ will follow the Circular Retail Market onto the National List. The ‘Elephant’ was completed in 1975 and consisted when built, of a main sports hall of double court size, a bowling hall with six lanes, three squash courts (later added to with an annexe on the east side), a crèche, committee room, and seating for around 500 spectators.
March 2015 The decision to ask English Heritage to put the ‘Elephant’ on the National List will not be popular in some quarters of the City Council. But it’s not just about this remarkable example of modernist architecture, it’s all about people, Coventry people from every generation, who enjoy this hugely important central sports facility. When I called in the other day to take a look at the two huge sports halls, (and they are very large), it was good to see so many enjoying sport. On the first floor all six lanes of the bowling greens were in use. On the second floor there were several games of badminton taking place. In a ‘curtained off’ area there was a single game of table-tennis underway, with several other tables awaiting use. The rest of the large centre was eerily quiet but judging by the notices there is a thriving basketball association and gymnastics club. There are also good play facilities for the very young. On the second floor there is even a ‘wall’ of tiered seating for some 500 spectators that can be brought into use apparently with little effort, making it possible to stage tournaments with a large audience. In conversation with several players it was clear that the sports halls are greatly valued and it was pointed out that no replacements are planned should demolition go ahead. While the interior could do with smartening up, for a variety of reasons the ‘Elephant’ has to be of immense value to the city. The spacious sports halls and other spaces are clearly an undervalued community asset that could and should be better promoted, especially when our City is hoping for cultural recognition. All in all I hope that English Heritage will recognise the importance of this unusual building. National Listing might just bring about a new enthusiasm for more cultural activity in our city centre. Keith Draper
More news and views on our website: www.coventrysociety.org.uk
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We welcomed the planning application to convert the upper storeys into accommodation units and the ground floor into retail space. Although our committee did not object to the building being extended, it was felt that a three storey extension in keeping with the original design of the building would be preferable to the single storey in the plan.
The T a spo t a d Ge e al Wo ke s head ua te s i Pa kside that e elie e has ee pu hased Co e t U i e sit Su s ipio s fo a e o due a d uite a fe e e s ha e fo gote to fo a d a he ue to ou postal add ess. £ si gle £ joi t O di ect t ansfe to Co e t So iet o - - a ou t a d use ou i iial a d su a e as the efe e e. Please e ail to o i a t a sfe : oli @ oll o les.f s. o Contacts Postal address: 77 Craven Street, Coventry CV5 8DT Chairman’s tel: 024 7640 2030 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org You can follow us at https://twitter.com/#!/CovSoc or http://www.facebook.com/CoventrySociety