We have a new development on Dame Street.
The previously virtually invisible No. 54 Dame Street on the corner with Temple Lane has been reinvented as a KC Peaches wholefoods café. Its facelift, from dirty white to a smart variation of teal, has demonstrated in stark terms the value of judicious use of colour on exterior facades. This famously lacklustre vista closure, terminating the view from South Great George’s Street has been rendered, well, that bit less lacklustre.
What is so remarkable about this simple repainting is how it has markedly pronounced the step of the building line along this stretch of Dame Street, even viewed as far away as College Green. Quite literally, a new streetscape has emerged.
It must have spectacular views from the upper floors (the first of which also has public access) down Dame Street towards the West Front of Trinity.
Now, there’s no getting away from the fact that No. 54 is never going to win architectural awards, not least for its ridiculously clunky handling of such a critical corner site in the city, but the repainting has at least injected it with a certain provincial charm which heretofore manifested itself as hamfisted pretension, with its bizarre array of underscaled gables projecting skyward like a cluster of submarine telescopes.
It is no match for the cool restraint next door of what is arguably the best block by the Wide Streets Commission surviving in Dublin today.
And what on earth they were at coming up with this yoke is anyone’s guess.
No. 54 is almost certainly the work of Millar & Symes, a breathtakingly prolific architectural practice of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Dublin, operating on a retainer basis for Bank of Ireland for their national branch network. Most of their other work was considerably more accomplished than this example, which dates to c.1881 and was erected for a long established merchant tailors. According to the excellent conservation report and method statement submitted with the recent planning application, The Irish Times reported a new premises of ‘red brick with sandstone dressings’ being worked on in that year, somewhat at odds with the current building. But this explains everything.
Zooming in on the building, it became quite apparent that something curious is going on at No. 54. The stucco detailing is strangely chunky and unrefined, with cumbersome resolution and a slightly stippled, modern finish at the uppermost levels. The pediments are oddly resolved and the guttering and downpipe arrangements don’t quite add up for what is supposedly a new-build structure. There also seems to be at least one missing urn at parapet level.
It appears that the sandstone dressings – Millar & Symes used notoriously corrosive Mountcharles sandstone on some of their other buildings – began to decay at a rapid rate, and were thus rendered over some time in the twentieth-century. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that’s what we’re looking at here in this photograph from the late 1960s.
The rainwater channelling is clever nonetheless.