Long overdue that we found proper future for Segas House

The SEGAS building: is it really suitable for conversion to use as a primary school?

Segas House, right in the town centre and on Wellesley Road’s six-lane urban motorway: was it ever really suitable for conversion to use as a primary school?

CROYDON COMMENTARY: According to senior sources at the Town Hall, the scheme to convert the Grade II-listed Segas House into a primary school, the brainchild during the previous Tory council of Tim Pollard, has been abandoned because the building would cost too much to convert.

DAVID CALLAM puts forward another idea for what he suggests is no more than “a useless carbuncle”

Segas House stands on the corner of Park Lane and Katharine Street in central Croydon. Is it an architectural gem, an outstanding example of the Art Deco movement? Or is it a useless carbuncle?

Any suggestion that it might not be one of Croydon’s treasures will immediately raise hackles among those who want to preserve any structure, no matter how unprepossessing, that pre-dates the 1950s town centre building boom.

I understand and agree with the affection in which the Town Hall is held, or the Whitgift Almshouses, even the North End frontage of Allders: all three are assets to the town, as are many – but definitely not all – the building frontages in North End.

I believe Westfield’s plan to replace the bad ones, like pulling diseased teeth, will improve the streetscape substantially.

Segas House is unremarkable to look at. I understand it excites architects because its steel frame, built in 1939-1941, is of the type used to build New York skyscrapers. Call me a Philistine, but I think that’s a pretty flimsy reason for letting it stand, empty and decaying, on a prime town centre site.

Not that I’m championing many of the later buildings in the town centre. Stand with your back to Segas House and look around: the Fairfield is box-like and boring compared with a traditional theatre, indeed, a stranger might not recognise it as a place of entertainment at all; Croydon College, even with its new space-pod frontage, is another example of municipal also-ran; while Norfolk and Suffolk Houses are distinctly dull and long overdue for demolition.

An example of some of the Art Deco design on the exterior of the Segas building

An example of some of the Art Deco design on the exterior of the Segas building

Apparently the free school proposal for Segas House has been booted, with Jonny Wilkinson accuracy, well down the field and into touch. The idea of a playground on the roof seemed a bit desperate, to say nothing of the potential traffic chaos to be caused by doting parents clogging up Park Lane with their Kensington tractors twice a day as they deposit or collect their over-indulged offspring.

So, what can we do with it?

Maybe we could offer it to Roehampton University for its Croydon campus. The council has been trying to persuade the university to rent space in Bernard Weatherill House, its £220 million white elephant headquarters in Mint Walk, to help defray running costs.

The university, I am told, has been blowing hot and cold on that idea (perhaps a negotiating technique), but could they be persuaded instead to move into a stand-alone, inter-war pile in a convenient location, just a short walk from East Croydon station? That assumes Segas House doesn’t suffer from the same problem that blights so many of Croydon’s commercial buildings: that there is not enough room between the floors to run the bundles of cables now required to feed the banks of electronic equipment that are such an essential part of any modern enterprise.

The more I think about it, the less able I am to come up with a useful purpose for this mediocre hangover from a bygone age. Personally, I think the Segas House site would be better occupied by a modern building.

As a vacant site, with planning permission for a tall tower of offices or flats, Croydon Council could sell it to one of its property-developer chums for a good price that might help to defray the huge debts run up by Mike Fisher and his spiv Tory friends in Croydon’s previous spendthrift administration.


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15 Responses to Long overdue that we found proper future for Segas House

  1. Ian Hunter says:

    I have followed David Callam’s, often acerbic, comments on more than a few issues in Inside Croydon and have agreed with many of them.

    However, in the matter of what to do with Segas House in the wake of the very sensible council decision not to convert it into a primary school I am more than happy to call him a “Philistine”.

    For many years, in comments, on many council plans for the redevelopment of Croydon’s Metropolitan Centre, I have suggested, until it seems I am blue in the face, that the iconic 1940s Grade II-listed building be turned into a proper Museum of Croydon.

    My recent efforts include a reference to such a state in my comments to councillors on the 2nd Sep of the revised Taberner house/Queens Gardens presentation (14/3456/PRE}) and at Timothy Godfrey’s seminar on how culture and leisure activity in Croydon might develop, at which time I showed him copies of the plans and photos of Segas House, as completed in 1942 which I obtained from The Builder magazine of Jan 10 1947 – something Mr Callam might consult before he dismisses the Museum suggestion out of hand, as he seems to have done with any option other than an offer to Roehampton University.

    He might also wish to see my nine-paragraph comments regarding the building in response to the 2011 Mid-Croydon Masterplan consultation (MC10: 3-4 to 3-10). Were he to Google “Maison du Roi” or “Broodhuis” he will see what the citizens of Brussels did to a redundant building in the Grand Place, a building which is their Museum of Brussels.

    I think I might more appreciate Mr Callam’s opinion on this subject were he to attempt to look beyond the building as it now appears and more into what its refurbishment could be.

    • Ian: There is already a (albeit denuded) Museum of Croydon. What would be done with that space and those facilities were your notion of taking the whole of the Segas House for a museum?

  2. Primary school in the middle of the town centre? With a playground on the roof? That’s bonkers.

    I am sure the current administration would come up with an excellent idea to build some affordable homes in the middle of co-operative “Lambeth South”.

    Oops, sorry. Affordable homes in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Croydon.

  3. mnemosene says:

    If we are talking of carbuncles, how about demolishing the still unfinished pink and purple monstrosity on Wellesley Road.

  4. Ian Hunter says:

    Since Laings off-loaded responsibility for the running of Croydon’s central library to Carillion, with the resultant loss of jobs and demarcation in the use of the study area, any space made available by the removal of the residue of that “Museum” and its storage capacity should be utilised for the expansion of student study and research facilities.

  5. davidcallam says:

    Philistine here!

    The flaw in your argument Ian is that your solution will cost money; money we don’t have and we are unlikely to have for many years to come, thanks to the spendthrift habits of the last Tory council.

    It ran up a substantial deficit, of which Mike Fisher was keen to boast once it was clear that he and his cronies had lost the confidence of the Croydon electorate.

    Perhaps Belgium has been better governed than Croydon recently: let’s face it, that wouldn’t be difficult.

  6. marzia27 says:

    I find the building one of few of architectural interest in Croydon and I would like to visit it.
    I would like it to be transformed into an Arts Centre with a large community area on the ground floor offering various cultural and musical activities and a creche.
    Money is always found when there is a will and a little vision.

  7. Danny Stanzl says:

    It’s one of the nicest buildings in Croydon… it would make a stunning hotel… especially when all the good stuff is finally built around it.

  8. I Geary says:

    Other than David Callam’s overly simplistic view of why Croydon Council is needing to find savings, I would agree with the view that the town cannot support a museum about itself of that size. Nor does it need one.

    I would also say to Ian Hunter, that if after many years – and many paragraphs – of comments, your ideas are not being listened to, perhaps it is because they are not workable. Rather than repeat them at every opportunity, you should look to see what aspects of them are not realistic, and amend them accordingly.

    The issue of school places has not gone away of course – Croydon will need new town centre secondary school places pretty soon.

    PS the gardens were not going to be on the roof as if you were building a helipad – the design was to be of tiered deck areas behind the building.

  9. Qwest says:

    I’ve often passed Segas House and wondered what it’s like inside. Like Marzia said, I think it’s one of the nicer looking buildings in Croydon. It’s from when buildings had character, and not 1960s concrete slab with pokey windows. It also gives nice contrast against the sheets of curtain glass walls that are so ‘on trend’ right now.

    I’d like to see it turned into a unique creative space, workshops, studios and flexible office space aimed at the tech industry that’s on the rise in Croydon. Obviously, whatever happens, it’ll cost money. I’m sure the Council will use a similar argument to Taberner House that it’s cheaper to give it to a developer to tear down and build another residential block than strip it of any hazardous materials and bring it up to scratch for rent or re-purpose.

  10. Justin Owens says:

    Land Registry records indicate the owners of the building are Minerva. That being the case it would be their decision as to what they do with the building. They would of course need to submit a planning application for Croydon Council to decide if it conforms to planning policy.

    I personally feel the building has some great architectural merit and, with a sympathetic proposal, could become a stand out development in the town centre. I would much rather see its retention than being replaced by another skyscraper.

    On that note my company would, and have tried to express an interest in the building, but as yet have not received a response from the registered owners. We will persevere in the hope that we gain a response.

    • davidcallam says:

      I hope you’re not expecting to buy or rent this eyesore for a penny less than market value. Minerva has a long history of maximising its assets: look at the fuss its making about the sale of the Allders’ site

  11. Ian Hunter says:

    The storage spaces, as opposed to the proposed released exhibition spaces are, I hope, currently maintained to the standards required to keep delicate documents, works of art etc. from deteriorating ( if not they should be, despite Council funding cuts, otherwise the Borough’s unseen history will rot away).

    The present exhibition spaces should also be maintained, in every sense of the word, as part of the Clocktower complex. The removal of exhibits to a new museum will free-up areas which could be used to expand the research facilities for students and go a long way to ameliorating the current demarcation issues with Carillion.

    In response to I Geary, I say look to the future; the citizens of Brussels and thousands of visitors (each paying money) can enjoy the fruits of their city’s history on display, as should my grandchildren when they are old enough to appreciate history. Unless you have seen my fairly detailed suggestions, you cannot say that they were rejected because they were unworkable.

    The start of this post concerned the likely abandonment of a proposal to build a primary school within the Segas House structure. Unless my proposals are tested in the same way, and I see a marked difference between renovation and major structural change, no one will know if, with the involvement of such bodies as English Heritage, the Arts Council (bridges could be mended here!), the National Lottery and others, such a project can come to fruition.

  12. I’m with Qwest on this, small workshops and business startups. Perhaps Croydon Business Venture http://www.cbvltd.co.uk/Home could benefit from this or run this. I rented space from them in the 1980s and it got me going.

    Of course it’s up to Minerva but imagination and entrepreneurship is needed here. Alternatively an art deco hotel. Let’s see inside first. Anyone got any pictures?

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