ESB to tear down Dublin block that ruined ‘Georgian Mile’
New development will not see restoration of Georgian facade
The ESB offices on Fitzwilliam Street Lower. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Almost 50 years since the demolition of 16 Georgian houses in what was described by conservationists as one of the worst acts of vandalism in the history of the State, the ESB plans to redevelop its headquarters on Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Street.
However, it does not intend to comply with the council’s policy that it should restore the lost Georgian facades of the street.
Mansion House protest
Plans announced by the ESB in the early 1960s to break up what was Dublin’s longest Georgian facade, from Mount Street to Leeson Street, resulted in a resistance campaign which culminated in nearly 1,000 Dubliners attending a protest meeting at the Mansion House in 1962.
Dublin Corporation heeded the protests and refused permission for the demolition. But on September 30th, 1964, the day before the new Planning Act which established a national planning system came into force, Neil Blaney, then minister for local government, signed an order overturning the corporation’s decision. Protests continued but destruction of the 16 houses went ahead.
In the 1990s the ESB made an attempt at amends when it considered a plan, also by Stephenson, to re-establish the Georgian facade as a Millennium project. But this was deemed problematic and rejected.
The company, four years ago, announced its intention to rebuild its headquarters. Since that announcement a new city development plan was passed which gave councillors the opportunity to ensure the ESB would have to include restoration of the 16 facades in any new development on the site.
Fianna Fáil Cllr Jim O’Callaghan, who proposed inclusion of the restoration policy in the development plan, said the company’s new scheme fails to take the council’s policy into account.
“This is the last opportunity to reinstate Fitzwilliam Street . . . Some effort should have been made by the ESB to reinstate the Georgian facade.”
The ESB conceded that its new design by Grafton Architects and O‘Mahony Pike Architects does not involve full facade reinstatement but said it “re-interprets” but “respects” the surrounding architectural heritage.
Background: Widespread opposition to ESB’s 1962 plan to demolish houses
The announcement by the ESB in 1962 that it planned to demolish 16 houses on Lower Fitzwilliam Street provoked widespread opposition from conservationists, but it also got some support from architectural students who wanted to see modernism enshrined in Dublin’s Georgian core.
Opponents included the new Irish Georgian Society, leading actor Micheál MacLiammóir and artist Seán Keating, who warned that “the next move will be to feed the books in the library of Trinity College to the boilers of the Pigeon House” – then an ESB power station.