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City landmark makes way for '1930s wireless'

AFTER 35 years of controversy, three public inquiries and even the intervention of the House of Lords, the landmark Mappin & Webb building in the City of London is to be demolished in the next few weeks, to make way for what the Prince of Wales once described as a '1930s wireless'.

Demolition of the Grade II listed decorative building and its replacement with a Post- Modern design follow a battle spanning five decades and two generations. Lord Palumbo, the former chairman of the Arts Council, took over the plans for the site at No 1 Poultry from his father, and the final design for the site was the work of the late Sir James Stirling.

Last week, the project manager, Alstadt Bau, announced that demolition of the Mappin & Webb building will start in late May. Construction of the Stirling building should be completed in 1996.

The battle for No 1 Poultry began in 1958, when Lord Palumbo's late father, Rudolph, bought the first freehold of the site. He spent the next 25 years acquiring 12 other freeholds and 345 leaseholds to form a wedge-shaped site for redevelopment. It was Lord Palumbo himself who commissioned the German-born Modernist Mies van der Rohe to design a skyscraper for the site. It, too, incurred the Prince of Wales's wrath - he described it as 'a glass stump more suited to downtown Chicago'.

At first it seemed that Palumbo would nevertheless get it built, for in 1969 the City Corporation gave conditional approval. However, after a protracted battle it was turned down at a public inquiry 15 years later. Palumbo, determined not to give up, then relinquished that design and commissioned Sir James Stirling, who is best known for the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart.

A second public inquiry followed in 1988, and consent was given to demolish eight listed buildings. Then followed a lengthy High Court battle with conservationists, ending three years ago when the House of Lords finally approved Palumbo's plans. After one more public inquiry, on the closure of a narrow road on the site, only the fine details remain to be worked out - including the future of four outstanding mid- Victorian terracotta panels depicting the Lord Mayor's Show procession.

The planning permission given for the Stirling building included a condition that the panels should be preserved. They are to be removed and refurbished and will be relocated over the public walkway through the building. The interiors of two pubs - The Shades and The Green Man - may also be re-used.

An excavation of the site and a search for human remains will be carried out because the buildings stand on the site of the old Church of St Benet Sherehog. (Photographs omitted)