This Oxford Circus Building Is The Mini Me Of An Iconic Manhattan Skyscraper

This Oxford Circus Building Is The Mini Me Of An Iconic Manhattan Skyscraper

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A black granite building
Spoiler alert: this building was not originally a Spaghetti House. Image: Londonist

A stunning building at Oxford Circus that's a miniature version of a classic NYC skyscraper.

During the tail end of the 19th century, the end of the open fireplace seemed nigh, its replacement: a nifty Russian invention called the radiator. The innovation-loving Americans soon cottoned on, and radiator manufacturers began springing up all over the States. In 1892, the American Radiator Company was established by three existing companies, and — fast forward to the mid-1920s — was enjoying huge success, tapping into the European market as the National Radiator Company, as well as showing off with a glimmering art deco/gothic headquarters in New York City, the American Radiator Building. This ritzy black and gold megalith was one of the first skyscrapers in Manhattan, and didn't look unlike a soaring multi-storey radiator.

A tall black and gold deco skyscraper
The American Radiator Building has overlooked Bryant Park in NYC since 1924. Image: Jean-Christophe BENOIST via creative commons
A black polish granite building with gold decorative trimming
Palladium House, as it's called now, gets short shrift thanks to its popular neighbours. Image: Londonist

And this is where London comes in. Although the company's English factory was in Hull, it chose central London for its headquarters and showrooms, namely the corner of Argyll Street and Great Marlborough Street, near Oxford Circus tube station. Another skyscraper wasn't required here (nor, probably, would it have been allowed), but in the interest of consistency, the company did call on the same architect it used for its NYC base — namely, Raymond Hood, once described as the "wittiest and most thoughtful of the inter-war New York skyscraper architects" — asking him to come up with a building that echoed his Manhattan skyscraper. Working alongside the British architect Gordon Jeeves (whose Gainsborough House stands on nearby Oxford Street), Hood did exactly that.

An advert showing Ideal House as 'the new home of warmth'
An ad for the new building in 1929. Image © Reach PLC, courtesy of the British Library Board
A man in a bowtie
Raymond Hood designed both the American Radiator Building and its mini London version. Image: public domain

Ideal House (named after Ideal Boilers & Radiators Ltd, a subsidiary of the National Radiator Company — sorry, lots of names going on here) opened in 1929, as a head-turning art deco creation of polished black granite, trimmed at the top with glimmering Egyptian-influenced motifs, and featuring inlaid frames of bronze champleve enamelled plates with colourful lotus and jazz-moderne geometric patterns around the ground floor doors and windows. It was the only European building Hood ever designed, and its natty deco visuals helped lure in Bright Young Londoners, curious to hear more about this newfangled 'central heating' lark.

an avert for Ideal central heating
An advert for Ideal central heating from 1936. Courtesy of the British Library Board.
A lotus flower motif above a window
The beautiful bronze champleve enamelled plates remain in place. Image: Londonist

Today, Ideal House (or Palladium House as it's now called) is occupied by the likes of Spaghetti House and Marugame Udon, but most of its beautiful exteriors survive. Especially given that it's a tribute act to another building, it's one stunning hunk of architecture. And yet, because it neighbours the splendour of the London Palladium — and faces-off the much-loved Liberty department store on the other side of Great Marlborough Street — it gets short shrift. The fact it's in one of the most bustling corners of the city doesn't help, either. If it stood somewhere less cluttered in London — or pretty much anywhere else in the country — it'd turn many more heads than it does. In particular, visiting New Yorkers who'd reckon it looked somehow familiar...

Featured image: Jean-Christophe BENOIST via creative commons/Londonist

Last Updated 15 February 2024

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