Significant Spaces: Alexandra Palace.

14/04/20

In a city that is host to hundreds of exciting venues, galleries, gigs, events, our focus seems so often to be on the new and undiscovered. When your list of new exciting places to visit seems to be endless it’s important to think about the places you return to time and time again. Here, Ella McCarron (Open House Project Coordinator) talks about Alexandra Palace, an entertainment venue and park in North London, and reflects on the spaces of meaning around the city.

Now that I’m confined to my flat and a few square feet of balcony I’ve been thinking about the places I will run to with open arms when life returns to a semblance of normality. When people ask you what your favourite building in London is (and with my job people do that a lot) it feels like a very intimate question. The places we put value on can tell others a lot about us, should you pick somewhere arty to show you’re cultured? Something unusual to be quirky? God FORBID you pick somewhere touristy. Ultimately, I think the answer should be somewhere that you can visit and feel a sense of belonging, and for me that place is Ally Pally.  

As a teenager Alexandra Palace was a gig venue occasionally trekked to from the depths of South London, and I must confess I didn’t pay much mind to the architectural wonders it held in those years. I could appreciate it was a beautiful building of course, but not quite as intriguing as the floppy fringed teenage boys who were also there to awkwardly mosh to Kasabian and be home before midnight.

Then a few years ago I moved into a flat in Crouch End, where from our tiny weed-swamped balcony you could spy Alexandra Palace nestled at the top of a hill. One weekend I went on a pointless meandering walk and found myself at the top of the stairs underneath the building looking at at what is in my mind, one of the best views in London. I couldn’t believe that this had all been a short walk away from me for weeks, I felt like grabbing strangers walking past and gesturing wildly around me while yelling, “Have you seen this? Did you know this was here?!” as if there had been a massive cover-up involved. From then on whenever I had the chance my feet would trace a route around the park that sprawls around the building itself. These walks soothed bad days, distracted me from my anxieties and allowed me to breathe. It’s strange that somewhere like Ally Pally which hosts hundreds and thousands of visitors a year can have such uniquely personal meaning to me, but I think this is true for so many of us. We are made to attach ourselves emotionally, to each other, to animals, and with our environment. Our experiences in public places cultivate themselves into private relationships, and it’s wonderful to think about all the different things Ally Pally has meant to people stretching back to the 1800s. 

Even now that I don’t live nearly as close anymore, I make time when I can to go back. Sometimes for those familiar peaceful walks but often for new experiences in that familiar place. Disastrous ice-skating attempts, vegan food festivals, firework displays, Hot Chip performing with an obscene amount of lasers. And still despite the many, many times I’ve climbed towards the towering Victorian façade the view from the top of the steps gives me a sense of peacefulness not often afforded in this city. I could do with that sense of calm now more than ever, but the memories I have of Ally Pally will keep me going until I can once again find myself there.

Currently Alexandra Palace has had to cancel all events and close to visitors, but has offered the building for use as a food distribution centre to help vulnerable residents in the local area. To show your support and allow them to continue their programmes please consider donating here: https://www.alexandrapalace.com/support-us/overview/

If you are interested in writing about a building in London which holds a special significance to you, please email hello@open-city.org.uk