Re: Re: Clerys

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Clerys is built of concrete. The entire structure is one giant reinforced concrete frame of the Hennebique technique, using simple interlocking elements, namely posts and lintels. The system was well established by the late 1910s when Clerys was designed, having been used in many countries, particularly in Europe. It is based on the simple premise using supporting columns, beams and floor slabs to create large spaces without the need for invasive partition walls. Of course steel and iron could also do this, but was probably in short supply at the time of conception. Reinforced concrete had also been widely used in Ireland by this stage.

This drawing, whilst not of Clerys, demonstrates almost precisely how the store was constructed, minus the curved arms.

Reinforced concrete posts (rounded in Clerys) support traversing reinforced beams, on top of which are placed large concrete ceiling/floor slabs. To help conceal the beams, they were often decoratively coved over as seen here, forming a coffered ceiling across an entire floor comprised of shallowly coved sections. This was done in Clerys. In modern day builds suspended ceilings usually cover all of this, with services concealed in between.

In this rare photograph from c.1920 of the building under construction you can clearly see the concrete frame behind the timber scaffolding.

And another from about the same time – note the neighbouring 1920 terrace is just being finished off.

Clerys, minus its neoclassical finery, as with many other post-1916 buildings, is a giant concrete box. As has also been noted, without concrete beams needless to say the vast stone façade could not be supported on the mere six ground floor piers with such expansive glazing in between.

Clerys is also something of a charade in terms of scale. Not only is the store less substantial than the four storeys suggested on O’Connell Street, but originally didn’t even correlate with the impression of three storeys as given on Sackville Place. The department store as initially built rose to the decidedly damp squib of two storeys behind the monumental principal façade.

In this diagram as viewed from the rear, the majority of the store proper was a large two storey concrete shell, flanked by a three storey section on Sackville Place, and the full height block with attic storey facing O’Connell Street.

And here you can clearly see the shallow nature of the upper part of the main block. By contrast the lower floors are in shadow.

Presumably all these upper floors contained substantial administration and staff quarters. Perhaps it is possible that the main store block below was designed to accommodate an extra storey if the store expanded in the future, replicating the structural techniques below.

Moving inside, the structural system is immediately apparent, the supporting posts dressed up in neoclassical finery as the store’s trademark Ionic columns.

© Clerys

In the recent refurbishment the elegant coffers were unfortunately largely covered with suspended panels, probably for the best however given the surface-mounted sprinkler system and lighting that had been subsequently installed, with their pipes and cables scarring the ceilings. As the capitals are now less visible and the plasterwork is almost concealed, the store has a more modern feel to it.

The original interior of Clerys was spectacularly different to what we have today – it was a much more architectural space, designed with customer circulation and clear orientation in mind, as well an element of grandeur. As such, a focal point of a large double-height space punctuating the first floor was sited in the centre of the store, creating a galleried upper floor overlooking the main entrance mall below. Light flooded the space through a glazed ceiling in the first floor roof, which of course was positioned behind the full height main block which is only two bays deep. Tragically this dramatic feature of the store was completely removed in order to build the famous Clery’s Ballroom and lounge, as initiated by Denis Guiney – not a scrap of it remains.

Denis Guiney, a Kerryman, moved to Dublin in 1917 working for a number of years as a salesman both in the capital and later in England. He returned to Dublin in 1921 to open Guineys on Talbot Street which became an instant success as a seller of bargain goods. By contrast Clerys around the corner was gradually going into decline, and was eventually put into receivership around 1940. Guiney snapped it up for £230,000 and proceeded to turn the business around, making use of the flagship premises on O’Connell Street as a location for a fashionable restaurant and ballroom to rival businesses like the Metropole’s ballroom upstairs across the road, and capture the patrons of the street’s numerous cinemas who would migrate into night venues, restaurants and parlours after screenings.

From what can be gathered (though may be open to correction), the new ballroom and lounges were installed on the first floor, with the ground floor being retained for retail. A good quality, seemingly oak, dance floor was laid, along with a bandstand with Art Deco ceiling which is still in place. At this point the store’s magnificent gallery was sadly filled in and the glazed ceiling above lost forever, radically altering the design of the original department store. Exactly how access was gained to the ballroom is unclear, but either way the grand staircase to the back of the store was a remarkable survivor in this reforming context. Perhaps its grandeur appealed to Guiney for direct access to the new evening ballroom; certainly its bifurcating design had good capacity. Structurally the first floor bears all the marks of major alterations – many changes have been made to the ceilings and columns. The ballroom proved a big success, with regular showbands and local and national talent featuring, adding to O’Connell Street as an attractive night time destination.

However, as happened across Dublin and urban Ireland in the 1970s, dancehalls, ballrooms, cinemas and fashionable social venues closed down in favour of discos, television and other forms of modern entertainment. Developers were also scavenging about, offering lucrative amounts to owners of what was often prime real estate that were faced with dwindling revenues. Clery’s Ballroom closed in the 1970s, and the next chapter in the store’s history commenced.

Considering the venerable institution now faced a major new competitor directly across the road in the form of BHS’s new department store, Roches Stores’ relatively recent department store on Henry Street along with an expanded Arnotts opposite, as well as a revamped Brown Thomas on Grafton Street, Clerys had been well and truly left behind in city centre retailing. In a massive expansion programme started around 1978, the ballroom was converted back into retail, a third storey was added to the original building linking through to the second floor frontage on O’Connell Street accessed via a new series of escalators piercing the heart of the building, the basement was possibly opened up at this time, and a substantial new extension of brown brick with glazing (pictured is more recent) was built to the north facing onto North Earl Street, all combined at least doubling the size of the store.

The added third storey can clearly be seen to the rear.

This is when Clerys’ famously numerous restaurants came into being, including the rooftop restaurant overlooking the dingy north inner city. It was now a largely purpose-built modern department store, with retail and services providing an all-inclusive shopping experience just like Roches and Arnotts.

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