Art Deco Highbury

Arsenal's Highbury Stadium - Art Deco Charm Remembered and Preserved

Originally built in 1913 and not without considerable controversy, when Woolwich Arsenal owner Sir Henry Norris moved the club from South East London to its new home in North London, Highbury Stadium provided the opportunity for the club to attract a larger following and increase attendances.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that 93 years later, the same reasons would apply when the club moved the shorter distance away to the newly constructed Emirates Stadium. Since that move, Arsenal haven't won the Premier League, and this season, football betting odds have lengthened to 80/1 for the title, as the Gunners struggle to recapture the Highbury years that regularly kept the trophy cabinet stocked with silverware.

In its heyday, the former home of Arsenal was a venue that set the standards for football grounds in the pre-war era. These days we often take for granted the ease of access we have to football, either online or via digital television broadcasts. Back in January 1927, the first live radio commentary broadcast took place at Highbury, followed by the first live televised football broadcast a decade later in September 1937, as the BBC captured images of a practice match between the Arsenal first team and reserves.

It was during the 1930s golden age for Arsenal and a decade in which the team dominated English football, that Highbury also gained its beautiful and Art Deco look. The West Stand was opened in December 1932 and designed by acclaimed architect of the period, Claude Waterlow Ferrier, although he sadly passed away before the East Stand would follow in 1936. Both would remain iconic features of the stadium for decades to follow.

Amidst these major redevelopments, the two large terraced ends were also improved. Originally called the Gillespie Road End, a roof was erected over what would later become known as the North Bank in 1936. A novelty at the time in football grounds, a 45-minute clock was also installed. However, damage suffered to the ground during the World War II years would lead to further adaptions at both ends of the ground.

The roof over the North Bank was destroyed during a Luftwaffe bombing raid in the midst of the London Blitz. In 1945, St John's College was also destroyed by fire at the other end of the stadium. The clock was moved to the south and the College End became known as the Clock End, whilst the North Bank would have to wait until 1954 for the roof to eventually be replaced.

Through the decades that followed, little really changed at Highbury. The Clock End was redeveloped in the late 1980s with a roof and two tiers of executive boxes constructed above the terrace. The advent of the Taylor Report in the early 1990s then led to that terracing being converted to seats in 1993. The popular and famous old North Bank was also demolished and replaced with a new two-tier all-seater stand, which also contained a museum and host of modern amenities.

Heading into the new millennium and with the stadium filled to capacity each match, options for further expansion were severely restricted. Although the preferred option would have been to stay at Highbury, any options for expansion were severely restricted. The East Stand and its famed marble halls was a Grade Two listed building, whilst all the stands were surrounded by residential areas, meaning any proposed expansions would be prohibitively expensive. Only moving to a new venue would meet modern demands.

Leaving such a classic stadium was always going to tug at the hearts of Arsenal fans, having been the venue of so many fond memories. Up and down the country, various classic stadiums have been demolished, though little remains of their legacy other than a plaque or a few sculptures, amidst the housing developments or shopping centres constructed in their place.

However, since Arsenal moved to the Emirates Stadium, at least the iconic Art Deco facades of the classic East and West stands remain, incorporated into the Highbury Stadium Square residential development so future generations may still enjoy their classic architectural charm. Now surrounded by apartments instead of the terraces or seating of bygone years, the hallowed pitch is now a communal garden. At least some of the essence and history still remains intact.

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