This is a new alley next to Piccadilly Circus caused by a recent redevelopment of the Regent Palace Hotel, and it’s not a restoration of an old alley, it’s entirely new.
The area first appears on William Morgan’s map of 1682 as a new development on the very edge of London. This was all once fields. Before the Regent Palace Hotel was built in 1912-15, the whole block was a cluster of shops and officers with a small long since lost yard in the middle.
Built by J Lyons, when it opened in 1915, with 1,028 bedrooms, it was the largest hotel in Europe. Although it was said to have had the opulence and scale of a transatlantic liner, in post-WW2 years it declined to the point that it ended up being a cheap hotel for backpackers.
Which was quite a climbdown for a building that’s owned by the Crown Estate.
Your correspondent once spent a very drunken night in the hotel while working on a trade show, sitting with colleagues next to an internal pub that had a tendency to let customers stock up on beers at last orders then spend the next few hours sitting in the lobby.
The hotel closed in 2006, and a couple of years later permission was given to gut the entire interior and rebuild it behind retained facades on two sides as an office block. That is now known as Quadrant 3, and while most of the interior is a clean modern design, they’re retained the art deco elements on the ground floor.
One of the more striking features of the new development is the use of rich faience tiles in greens and blues that are a subtle nod to the former hotel’s Edwardian grandeur. In a twist, the southern nose of the hotel frontage that remains today was the part that was damaged during WW2. Later repaired, it survived the demolition of the back three-quarters of the back of the hotel.
It was this redevelopment that caused the alley to appear, in a place where it couldn’t have in the past as it would have run right through the hotel lobby. The alley is not just a passage and entrance to part of the offices though, it’s also an artwork called Timelines.
The art is a light installation encased within layered glass panels along the sides of the alley. We’re told that the movement of the light echoes the passage of the pedestrian through the walkway and creates, in the words of the artist, Daniela Schönbächler ‘an experience indicative of a more natural environment’.
Candidly, most people will notice the other major feature of the alley though – the huge selfie-friendly mirrors on the ceiling, and I saw a number of people stop and pose when walking through.
The name of the new alley? It’s named after Ian Wilder, a former councillor for the area who died in 2009 and is remembered for his work on behalf of people living in Soho.