New vision for Glasgow's ABC venue whitewashes away its cultural heritage - Brian Ferguson
There is something special about returning to a cultural venue that has played a big part in your life. Nostalgia has a lot to do with that.
The site might be the location of a first date, the venue you saw your favourite band play in before they made it big, the theatre you return to every Christmas with your family or the museum you always proudly show visitors to your town or city around.
But is there anything to beat the memory of a magical childhood experience?
Trips to the cinema are the source of my earliest memories of cultural venues. The first that really stand-out were to the ABC on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, in 1980, when I saw both The Empire Strikes Back and Flash Gordon.
More than 20 years after my first trips there, the ABC was reinvented as a music venue and club. It quickly became a cornerstone of Glasgow’s cultural and night-life.
I was on my way to one of its shows in a nearby basement venue a couple of weeks ago when I passed what remains of the ABC building, which was devastated by the second Glasgow School of Art fire in the summer of 2018.
A whole host of memories inevitably flooded back. But there was also dismay, anger and bemusement at the obvious decline of Sauchiehall Street since then and the failure to bring the ABC venue back to life in any way, shape or form.
Those views have only hardened this week after it emerged that student housing, a food hall and an urban park were proposed for the site. There was no mention of the art deco building's previous uses from the Vita Group, the company behind the scheme.
That was quite an achievement given it has been a home of arts, culture and entertainment since 1875, including a diorama, a circus, an ice skating rink, a cinema, a live music venue and a nightclub. Yet this history has already been whitewashed away.
The Vita Group even has the audacity to declare the site will become one of its “House of Social” developments, which will “bring together the elements of city living residents love and adore”.
Its plans appear to have drawn inspiration from a council blueprint published several months ago, which suggested a music venue could return to the site, but also left the door open for new student housing, restaurants and bars to be created.
This laissez-faire approach to a site of such important cultural heritage is not only irresponsible, but also irrational given the clear need for action to revive Sauchiehall Street’s fortunes.
The city council should have been working with heritage organisations to pull out all the stops to ensure the ABC site was reborn as a cultural venue, rather than ushering in alternative uses at a time when Sauchiehall Street is crying out for venues and attractions to help bring the public back.
The ABC scheme appears destined to lead to drawn-out battles with the city council and the site’s developers, and be one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism in modern times in Glasgow, if it is allowed to go ahead.
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