Now that's some quality paving! (and architecture)
In assessing the flagship buildings of Lower Oâ€™Connell Street as rebuilt post-1916, it is easy to gloss over the most muted of this otherwise ebullient ensemble of structures, dressed as they are for the most part in a decorous cloak of stripped neoclassical pretension. By contrast, the corner building at No. 45-46 Lower Oâ€™Connell Street, sited at the junction with Middle Abbey Street, is without question the structure that is most expressive of the rational modern ideal, if sadly also the least illustrious of all the major buildings arising from the reconstructions. Indeed, taking account of its role as a pivotal corner building, it is probably the poorest design realised at this time relative to its siting and streetscape function.
Comprising one of the four ceremonial corners which denote the first major intersection on Oâ€™Connell Street, No. 45-46 is awkwardly upstaged by its eminently more refined trio of colleagues on the opposing sides, executed by the established architectural houses of Bachelor & Hicks, McDonnell & Dixon and W. H. Byrne & Son. Medium to large-scale practices, they played a prominent role in the Dublin architectural scene of the early 20th century.
The architect of No. 45-46 was also, perhaps surprisingly, a leading figure in Dublin commercial architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, he almost single-handedly built and rebuilt large tracts of the north inner city before and after 1916, in some cases even rebuilding premises he had only designed a matter of months before the Rising took place. His successful career as architect to Dublin commercial interests appears to have been based upon the major coup of acquiring the commission for the largest retail development in Dublin of the late Victorian period â€“ namely the construction of Arnotts department store. This man was one George Palmer Beater.
Beater was undeniably a promoter of brick. Nearly all of his developments make abundant, often exclusive, use of the material in all its glossy, precision-machined perfection, if to rather glum effect. His buildings have a sullen, leaden character, regularly exuding that stuffy, closeted, Edwardian institutional sobriety which so fails to attract the eye or lift the spirit. Nonetheless, some designs do exhibit a curiously detailed, bordering on sinister, character which injects a morbid interest into the streetscape â€“ his Hibernian Bible Society on Dawson Street ironically being such an example.
No. 45-46 O'Connell Street sits on the site of two former Wide Streets Commission terraced buildings of the 1780s, the corner one of which originally featured a tripartite window at first floor level demarcating the end of the terrace in typically reticent Georgian style, as with all WSC terraces on then Lower Sackville Street. Need the stark contrast in architectural thought in little over a century regarding the design treatment of urban corners even be noted...
Constructed in 1917-18, the erection of the new building was overseen by contractors J. & W. Stewart. Here it can be seen in 1923 facing the sparkling new Manfield Chambers across the road.
And for what itâ€™s worth, again in the 1940s, where little has changed (aside from the completion of the Metropole) other than the colour of the buildings!
A solitary clue remains on the exterior of the building today as to the client and intended occupier of this flagship new premises: the small granite ledge which protrudes above the fascia at first floor level.
An innocuous enough feature, it could easily be construed as a frivolous feature balcony stripped of a long-lost railing.
Not so. It was purpose-designed for hosting none other than an elephant!
A wider view reveals all. It was of course to become the new premises of J. W. Elvery & Company, the sportswear suppliers â€“ the elephant their well known logo.
No. 45-46 was pioneering on Oâ€™Connell Street for its time in its expression of structural form in the manner of the Chicago School: the internal concrete frame clearly expressed to the exterior through the use of narrow granite-clad pilasters framing double-height ranks of fenestration. In this respect, this building pre-dates the much-noted Clerys department store across the road by at least a year, where a similar design approach was taken.
The voids between the piers are filled with ambitiously scaled, cast-iron canted bays of double-height windows made by the MacFarlane & Company ironworks at their Saracen Foundry in Scotland.