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Carlisle's Central Plaza: From city jewel to eyesore

It was once one of the jewels in Carlisle’s heritage crown. But years of neglect and indecision have reduced the 84-bedroom Central Plaza Hotel to an eyesore, targeted by arsonists, vandals and thieves.

Central Plaza hotel photo
A former function room and bar area on the lower ground floor

Now, thanks to the intervention of Carlisle City Council, emergency repair work on the Victorian landmark is nearing completion.

The owners of the building are due to be landed with a bill for at least £75,000 for the work after they refused to organise the repairs themselves.

The work – much of it on the roof – has been done by the Cumbrian firm Team Northern Construction.

As they continued working on and inside the Victoria Viaduct hotel this week, The Cumberland News was given a rare chance to explore its near derelict interior.

Project manager Martin Faulder took us on a tour of the once classy hotel, which has been empty since 2004.

He led us through the gloom of the now crumbling central lobby, its floor piled high with hundreds of broken tiles once destined for the roof.

Above our heads, white paint peeled from the still impressive arched ceiling and huge unsightly damp patches spread across the wall near the main stone staircase.

It was here, on the first-floor landing, that the hotel faced its greatest peril after vandals made a pile of rubbish and set fire to it.

Though charred and blackened, the huge mahogany banister posts and wooden panelling on the walls somehow survived the blaze.

“Whoever did this piled mattresses and rubbish on the first-floor landing and then set fire to it all and the fire went straight up to the top,” said Martin.

On the upper floors, room after room had been stripped, many piled with the debris that the thieves didn’t want.

Electric cables have been ripped from walls, many now stripped to bare brick.

We were shown into function rooms, the biggest dominated by a series of huge wall mirrors, every one of them shattered, the shards scattered across the dusty floor.

The bar area was still largely intact, though the ceiling was destroyed, a patchwork of holes, and lath and plaster.

Martin said the primary aim of the team working on the hotel was to make it weather-proof – and that meant patching up the roof.

Taking us onto the scaffolding at roof level, he said: “The first job was to make sure the scaffolding was secure. A lot of it needed tightening up.

“But the lead had been stripped from the roof, and slates were piled up ready to be put on but they never were. There were holes everywhere, so water was just pouring into the building.”

The biggest hole was about 15 metres square – leaving the hotel’s interior exposed to the worst of the weather.

The Team Northern workmen should have completed their repairs by the end of today, ensuring that for the time being at least the building is not exposed to the elements. The view of the roof revealed yet more problems – the shoddy state of some of the hotel’s massive chimneys.

Many ornamental corner bricks were in remarkably good condition but the chimneys, though safe, were clearly beginning to crumble. But the weeds – and even sapling trees – that had taken root in the gutters and holes between bricks were gone.

The huge gutters – painted black and fashioned from thick wrought iron – remain intact and are still doing their job.

We were joined on the scaffolding by Carlisle city councillor Joe Hendry, who has spoken previously of the need to preserve the Central Plaza Hotel.

He said: “Looking at this building close up, you have to give credit to the Victorian workmanship, which has survived despite everything that has happened here.

“We have to show a bit of vision and imagination.”

Though the future of the building remains uncertain, another city councillor believes the Central Plaza could be revived as a hotel.

Marilyn Bowman said: “My aspiration is for the building to be improved and returned to its former glory.

"The frontage of the building is spectacular and if we could redevelop that site it would benefit Carlisle.”

But the cost of a full scale redevelopment is likely to run into millions of pounds.

Phil Sandham, of Team Northern, said: “It was a great shame to see what had become of this lovely old building.

“It’s possible it could be restored but there would have to be a lot of money spent on it.”

The Cumberland News has established that the last known owner of The Central Plaza was Goldenfern Properties, of Prestwich, Manchester. In 2009 a spokesman for the firm said it was trying to resolve planning issues but had asked builders to give quotes for repairs, adding: “It’s a monster of a building and the process is taking longer than we expected.”

In 2007, an unnamed hotel chain expressed interest in taking on building but a deal never materialised.

The owners also once secured permission to transform it into 35 apartments, three town houses, a bar and a restaurant – but then the property marked collapsed.

The Grade II listed building, once valued at more than £2 million, was built by John Laing in 1882. When it closed in 2004, its entire contents were auctioned off – and raised £12,000.

Andrew Gale, managing director of neighbouring Carlisle Bed Centre, welcomed the repair work, but added: “My biggest concern has been the fact that people have been going in there, starting fires. I stopped two fires myself.

If that goes then this building will go as well – and probably Tesco with it."

Have your say

I hope someone with the time and money buy this place soon and bring it back to life

Posted by Edward Wise on 26 March 2012 at 12:08

I worked at the Plaza years ago, shame to see the condition the building is in now. Su Black's comment about weddings bringing back memories of greeting the Bride on the red carpeted marble steps

Posted by Linda Richardson on 24 March 2012 at 18:20

View all 4 comments on this article

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