Why did Clark Gable join the military?

London : Waiting for Clark Gable

Clark Gable is coming in soon. Cocktail glass in one hand, beautiful woman in the other arm, smug smile on face. He will sit down on the cream-colored sofa and take one of the cigarettes that are in transparent tins on the table, lean back and sigh with pleasure. With an ironic wink, of course. Otherwise he wouldn't be Clark Gable.

Hollywood couldn't have imagined it to be more splendid, more elegant: the salon in the Eltham Palace is simply overwhelming. A large, round, wood-paneled hall, with a glass block dome and a high ribbon of windows; the whole room seems to consist only of light and air - and furniture that is extremely inviting. It is as if the landlords had only stepped out of the drawing room and into the garden for a moment. But what does that mean, the garden itself is so beautiful and so big that you can stroll in it for a while.

The reception hall is the heart of an Art Deco palace in south-east London, and its impression is all the more overwhelming as nothing prepares the visitor for it. From the outside, the building appears rather inconspicuously historicizing, as if it were much older than it is in reality and not an extension from the 1930s. The actual Eltham Palace is a medieval royal palace - or what remains of it, a vast hall, as high as a cathedral, where Henry VIII spent his childhood. Today's tourist is led through a narrow, hospital-like hallway, and only after pulling blue plastic socks over his shoes, as in the operating room, is he allowed to enter the domed hall. And just thinks: Wow!

Everything here is of the finest quality and - for back then - the most modern, in-house telephones, built-in cupboards, chrome bars in the bathroom everywhere. Each room seems to have been designed by a different architect or designer; the Swede Rolf Engströmer designed the salon. It is a very personal building, shaped entirely according to the wishes of the builders Stephen and Ginie Courtauld. She: daughter of an Italian father and a Hungarian mother, a divorced Marchesa, full of temperament and humor, he: passionate alpinist and art collector, fascinated by the military, rather reserved. They didn't have any children, instead they had a dog and a lemur, they also say they got their own luxury bedroom: a cage set into the wall with wall painting and central heating. The Courtaulds, wealthy patrons, did what they liked personally. Images of ancient warriors, views of Italian cities and scenes from “Alice in Wonderland” are engraved in the paneling of the salon.

The Courtaulds enjoyed life here, you can see that in the rooms, which include a number of elegant guest rooms, and you can hear that in the acoustic guide, who brings the world of yore to life with swing music and eyewitness testimony. Yes, on amateur film recordings you can see that they had a lot of fun here. The weekend was four days long, chatting, dining, dancing and playing squash, joking around and listening to concerts in the medieval hall.

But the Courtaulds didn't have much time to enjoy Eltham Palace. They built their house in 1933, and the war began in 1939; the valuables were mothballed, the staff drafted. The couple moved to Zimbabwe after a Scottish interlude and bequeathed their pleasure palace to the Army Educational Corps. The military evidently handled the building in a very civilized manner, as everything is in good condition; In 1995 it was taken over by "English Heritage" and renovated, and it has only been open to the public for a few years.

Today Eltham Palace is often presented as a special highlight of London Art Deco, which has recently been rediscovered through a series of publications and a large exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. And there are quite a number of splendid specimens in London - once you look at them. Because Art Déco in London is not as outstanding as the skyscrapers in New York, does not offer such a closed picture as in Miami, is not as opulent as in Paris.

Art Déco actually didn't even exist, not in its time. The name was first coined in 1966 as part of an exhibition. Basically, there is only agreement about the period: Art Déco emerged in the 20s and 30s, was an expression of the attitude towards life between the wars and covered everything from the cinema to the coffee pot. As a style, it was as eclectic as the design of the various rooms in Eltham Palace. Basically, as one critic once said, one should speak of “Art Décos”, ten to 15 different styles: there is the Egyptian version, the oriental, the very modern, the streamlined, the geometric, the strict, massive, and the not last reminded by the figures of the reliefs that they were created at the same time as the fascists were building or at least planning in Germany.

Many buildings appear luxurious, as if life were a steamship trip - on an Ocean Liner, of course, not on the Haveldampfer. You just have to go to the Park Lane Hotel on Piccadilly, the men's room on the ground floor alone is worth a visit, with the chrome like the railing - and only then the ballroom in its golden and silver splendor. No wonder that some of the scenes for the (old) film "Titanic" were filmed here on the wide staircase. And even if hardly any room has survived in its original form: the corridors are still as wide today as it was necessary back then when the guests from overseas arrived with their cupboard trunks - if the crossing alone took days, the journey had to be worth it, the Americans were not satisfied with “Europe in five days”. And even if you can't afford a room at Claridge's, a visit to the bar is sure to be an option: “If I had an appointment with God for a cocktail,” the writer Carole Morin once said, “I would take him to this Art Deco paradise lead. ”To a chocolate martini.

The modern age had a very difficult time in Great Britain. The English may have been industrial revolutionaries - they are downright conservative when it comes to architecture. Half-timbered houses were also built in the middle of the 20th century, just like in Shakespeare's time. Art Déco, however, is a gentler, more decorative modern, with soft curves, not as angular as the Bauhaus built, and not as ideologically influenced either. One did not want to make better people out of the residents.

Private houses and interiors that pay homage to the style as consistently as Eltham Palace are rarely found in London these days. But Art Deco was quite popular in and in public buildings that wanted to express their modernity and is still there.

The buildings became advertising media in their own right. The main building of the BBC, for example - the radio was still a very young medium - looks like a steamer, but more like a warship. The Hoover vacuum cleaner factory shone in Egyptian elegance (“And all that to suck up shit!” Remarked a contemporary), cinemas, especially those of the Odeon chain, were built as progressive dream palaces, the London underground stations from the 30 years come breathtakingly close to classic modernism, and auto repair shops like the Bluebird in Chelsea were opulent. The shop windows of the department stores were designed particularly elegantly; Even if the department stores are long gone, their windows are still beautiful today: in the former Simpson’s, for example, on Piccadilly, where the Waterstone’s bookstore is today, or in the Barker’s on Kensington High Street, whose lettering is still on the facade. A number of offices and shops are housed there today, the most interesting of which is Whole Foods: the finest organic food store you have ever seen, spread over three floors.

Many Art Deco buildings have been preserved, at least as a facade, as a result of the conversion. Odeon cinemas, for example, have often turned into bingo halls, a Tesco supermarket has moved into the Hoover factory, and the Bluebird auto repair shop has become a classy Conran restaurant with attached designer shops.

Only the Battersea Power Station, that huge work on the Thames, which with its four white columns has become one of the city's landmarks, is still waiting for its new purpose. It was designed by the same architect to whom the British owe the red telephone booth and the power station that is now the Tate Modern. If you take the train from Victoria Station to Eltham Palace, you can see the decay from up close as you roll past.

One of the few Art Deco buildings next to Eltham Palace that can also be admired from the inside in the original - if not the furniture, then the architecture - is the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Just a few steps away from Regent Park and from the BBC, it is similar to this one built in the rather massive, strict style. The house is a must for anyone interested in architecture, there are always interesting exhibitions here, an excellent bookstore on the ground floor and a café, bar and restaurant on the first floor, the terrace of which is a London insider tip in summer. And when you sip your cappuccino in the café and eat your raisin snail - with a knife and fork, that's how it is served here - with a view of the imposing staircase: you feel a bit like a passenger on the luxury steamer. Only at lower prices.

To home page