Posted on June 9, 2022
This is an update of my post published on June 9, 2011:
In Victorian England, the southern portion of London already had a recreation center called the Crystal Palace, which had been originally built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Northern Londoners wanted their own recreation center, and after a few financing hiccups, the center and a railway line that connected it to Highgate Station were complete, and Alexandra Palace and Park were officially opened to the public.
On that opening day, 102,000 people came to hear a performance at the palace.
On this day in 1873 – just 16 days after the palace opened – the whole place burned to the ground! A priceless collection of pottery and porcelain was lost. Only the outer walls survived.
Tragically, three people died in the fire.
The palace was quickly rebuilt and reopened on May 1, 1875. There was a concert hall, art galleries, a museum, a lecture hall, a library, a banquet hall, and a theater. In the adjoining park were a swimming pool, a racecourse with grandstand, a Japanese village, a “switchback ride,” a boating lake, and a pitch-and-putt golf course. Cricket and football were played in the center of the racecourse, and an organ was installed in the arena as well.
Alexandra Palace still exists today, although the pool is closed and grown over. These days the building is used as an exhibition center, music venue, and conference center, and there is also an ice-skating rink and “Palm Court,” which are open to the public. In 1936 the palace became the headquarters of the world's first regular public “high definition” television service, operated by the BBC, and the TV station and radio tower were located on site. The original Victorian theater, complete with old-fashioned stage machinery, still survives but is “at risk.” I assume that means that it isn't being used, nor is it being kept up properly. It would take money to keep it up, but far less than to later have to completely rebuild or restore it if it falls into further ruin.
People have fought off at least two attempts to sell the park and palace and build something new there. For now the historical building is safe...
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