Crystal Palace (the National Recreation Centre)

1964

It is almost 30 years since, overnight, the Crystal Palace, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition of 1851, was destroyed by fire. Modern architecture lost what was, and remains in illustration, its most potent creation; and London lost what, from all accounts, had been an incomparable recreational resort. Shortly before World War I funds were raised by public subscription to preserve the site from development and under the Crystal Palace Act of 1914 it became the property of the nation. At the end of World War II the grounds were largely derelict, but the trustees, without resources were still clinging to the original great idea. The trustees transferred under the Crystal Palace Act of 1951 their responsibilities to the L.C.C. ‘to use the Crystal Palace for purposes of education and recreation and the furtherance of commerce, art and industry.’

The £2,500,00 Crystal Palace Recreation Centre, only part of a plan commissioned from Sir Gerald Barry, and designed by the Council’s Architect’s Department, was recently opened by the Duke of Edinburgh. Sir Gerald, who was also behind the 1951 South Bank Exhibition, had produced an overall scheme mindful of ‘the traditions of the Palace, and its metropolitan and national significance’ and of a magnitude in line with those traditions. The other part of his proposals, a £7,000,000 exhibition centre, had been shelved. But it has been reformulated by the Federation of British Industries in comparable terms, and is now being discussed by the Government and the L.C.C.

The purpose of the Recreational Centre was outlined in Sir Gerald’ s report to the L.C.C:

‘It may perhaps seem remarkable that the British nation, which invented and bequeathed to others most of the forms of sport which are now enjoyed throughout the Western world, should have no central home for sport of their own to which their own athletes and those of others nations can look as a focal point.’ So far so good. But only recreation, commerce and industry seem to be getting attention. What about “the furtherance of art” and “the purposes of education”?

Note: Readers are reminded that this article was written in 1964, and that water is still passing under the bridge!

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