Elephants have amazing memories, but have we forgotten our own elephant? Paul Maddocks tells us about his memories of the Elephant and his dreams for its future.
At the beginning of the 1970’s there was demand for a City Centre based Sports Centre. The council had opened the Coventry Swimming Baths in Fairfax Street in 1966 which had been a great success.
The Coventry Ring-Road had only just been completed in 1972 and there was a small plot of land both sides of the Cox Street at the end of the Swimming baths before the ring road. Any building of great size would have to straddle the road. The Coventry city council’s own architects department set up a working group to design the new sports centre.
The team led by Rex Chell had just worked on the new Civic CentreTthree building which was the City Council’s committee rooms opposite the Old Council House. It too was a building that also straddling both a road and pathways and was built on a small plot of land (now demolished.
The work on the building started only a few weeks after the country had gone through the tough time of the Three-Day Week in May 1974. The following year I started working at the Herbert Museum and got married at the same time. We moved into Winchester Street in Hillfields which meant every day I would pass by the construction site, and slowly saw its unusual shape take form. over the next year until it opened in the summer of 1976. I was able to have a good look around it when it first opened and was amazed how big it was inside with so many different sports activities going on.
Until the Sport Centre was built the City Council had to hold its election counts in four different buildings – St. Mary’s Hall, Drapers Hall, the police ballroom and the city council staff canteen in Pepper Lane. But how with this large building all the votes could be counted in the same place.
My job over the years was working for the City Council’ Leisure Services, which meant I did a lot of work for the Sports Centre especially the Summer Active Zone advertising and promotion. The building has had various events, shows and rallies. It had famous basketball teams, like the Coventry Crusaders. My children and their cousins would go almost every day in the summer to roller disco or some other activity.
The building was closed a year ago and moth-balled. We understand there will be an announcement about its future soon. it’s now been a year since Rainier, the preferred developer, was appointed. We don’t know what they will propose but the Coventry Society would like to see it remain in the public domain.
It was payed for by the citizens of Coventry and should stay as a leisure or a cultural centre, following examples such as the Tate Gallery or the V&A Dundee or even like the Guggenheim in Bilbao (which does have a similar look especially covered in sheet metal). A cultural centre could have art, film, light, dance, music, performances, exhibitions, rallies and conferences. After all it’s a giant black box on legs and it lends itself to creative ideas within it.
The Coventry Elephant could be a culture hub located at the heart of a new, city centre creative and cultural quarter. There are already plans in place to improve Cox Street. Attractions within 1000m include: The Herbert, Coventry Cathedral, St Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry University Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Ellen Terry Building, Coventry University Hub Venue, the Empire, Drapers Bar, Drapers Hall Concert Venue, Cathedral Quarter, Coventry Transport Museum, the Old Grammar School and Fargo Village.
There could be bright lighting under the building, a new entrance and public realm improvements on the Cox Street level, a new foyer with access to the lifts.
By twining up with a mayor cultural player this would be a landmark building brought back to life.
The Coventry Society tried to get the building listed but was un-successful. But we hope after some research and work with the Twentieth Society we might get the rejection reconsidered. C20 Conservation Adviser, Henrietta Billings, said: “The Elephant is undoubtedly a much loved and striking landmark”, ‘It is a beautiful and carefully thought through design’.
When the new plans are announced we will publish them on our website for your review.
Paul Maddocks, Deputy Chair of the Coventry Society