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The Death of British Conservation Areas & Twentieth Century Fox House, Soho Square.

  • April 5, 2022
  • 4 min read
The Death of British Conservation Areas & Twentieth Century Fox House, Soho Square.

The future for a historic Art Deco Building at 31-32 Soho Square currently hangs in the balance. Century House was opened on May 12th 1938 by the Lancastrian actress and singer Gracie Fields, leading to her Fox UK wartime movie debut in Shipyard Sally. The Art Deco building, designed by Dolphin Square architect Gordon Jeeves, boasted an interior that looked like a set from the F Scott Fitzgerald movie The Great Gatsby. Prior to directing The Great Gatsby in 1972, British director Jack Clayton made Britain’s greatest filmed ghost story in 1961 via Henry James’s novel The Turn of The Screw. His Twentieth Century Fox version featuring Deborah Kerr, The Innocents, was produced out of this very building.

Marilyn Monroe’s visit to 31-32 Soho Square saw a Hollywood boutique bedroom built especially for her replete with an ensuite luxury bathroom. This suite remained fully intact until the sale of the building prior to Covid.

Century House oversaw diverse productions ranging from the 1950’s Jules Dassin ‘Film Noir’ Night In The City to The Sound of Music, The Prime of Miss Jean Broadie, Star Wars, Alien, The Empire Strikes Back, Chariots of Fire and The Full Monty. This British HQ for The Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation ran continually from 1938 till 2019 when Disney took over the company and subsequently sold-on the building to a property developer called Royal London – The Pensions & Investments Company – who wish to demolish it and turn it into a Shopping Mall, Offices and Flats in 2023.

Even more annoying is the mysterious disappearance of the Twentieth Century Fox neon sign above the building, which had resided there for over 80 years alongside the removal of the lead Twentieth Century Fox lettering formerly seen on the stone frontage. In the light of this, what remains of Marilyn Monroe’s suite and the Art Deco board room remains a moot point that nobody is owning up to. 

Century House’s missing neon sign. Courtesy of The Soho Society

The Conservative Government’s recent changes to Planning Laws and, in particular, how ‘Conservation Areas’ function are now hugely at odds with the so-called caring picture they paint. Despite basking in the glory of a rebuilt and wrongly demolished ‘Listed Pub’ in Westminster’s Kilburn district, it now appears in 2022 that should a Council such as Westminster wish to approve the demolition of buildings formerly deemed to be ‘of historic and cultural merit, within a designated Conservation Area’, the Planners can give their consent for demolition. Thereby negating very the term ‘conservation’. Meanwhile, public objections are now reduced to a toothless formality. 

On February 27th 2022 Soho Society Chairman, Tim Lord, publicly asked Councillor Matthew Green, “Why are you demolishing a building of merit in the Soho conservation area, which is linked so closely with Soho’s Heritage?” This did lead to the area’s MP Nicky Aiken finally meeting-up with the freeholder Royal London in early March 2022. Westminster Council and their Whitehall pals have a history of caring not a stuff for West End conservation. So thank goodness for Leslie Hardcastle’s long running Soho Society. Many of us in the field of campaigns for the preservation of built heritage are encouraged by the current chairman Tim Lord’s environmental stance. Lord asked this of Westminster Council, “How will Westminster ever reach its Climate goals (net zero by 2040) if you demolish this perfectly serviceable building and release 9.6 thousand tonnes of CO2 for no good reason?”

Meanwhile, former CEO of Twentieth Century Fox, Sandy Lieberson, former Beatle Paul McCartney (who has offices in the area), Chariots of Fire Producer, David Puttnam, and local  residential campaigner, and Gangs of New York Producer, Colin Vaines, have all made their objections known to Westminster Council’s ‘Area Planning Officer’ Mike Walton, as have I.

Henry Scott-Irvine

Film maker & Chairman-Founder of The Save Denmark St Campaign  

Main Image: Henry Scott-Irvine & Oil painting by artist Dave Crocker. Photo by Dave Crocker

Twentieth Century Fox House – Archive

1. Century House being built + The 1938 Opening Ceremony. British Movietone News’s reels from 1937 & 1938. C/o Associated Press News

2. Henry Scott-Irvine’s Presents 80 Years of Movie Music from Twentieth Century Fox House at 31-32 Soho Square, London. Syndicated Radio Show. 

3. “Century Fox House. Due For Demolition”. ITN 1pm & 6pm News. 3rd May 2021. Reporter Charlotte Cross. Featuring Henry Scott-Irvine, Tim Lord, and Colin Vaines

4. Dave Crocker’s Twentieth Century Fox House ‘time lapse video’ of 11th May 2021

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