Fire Destroys Historic Grand Hall at South London's BAC

News   Fire Destroys Historic Grand Hall at South London's BAC
A serious fire has destroyed a historic part of South London's influential BAC (once known as Battersea Arts Centre). The fire, which broke out in the venue's Grand Hall March 14 at around 4.15 PM local time, was attended by over a dozen fire engines and 80 firefighters.

BAC, which is located on Lavender Hill, near Clapham Junction railway station, was formerly a town hall building which became a community arts centre in the 1970s. In the last twenty years, it has become an important home for emerging companies to operate out of, such as 1927 (whose latest production Golem transfers to the West End's Trafalgar Studios in April).

Punchdrunk also performed its 2007 show The Masque of the Red Death at BAC, and the early incarnations of Jerry Springer--the Opera were developed at BAC in 2001 before a full version was premiered at the National Theatre in 2003.

In a fundraising appeal that was launched in the immediate wake of the fire, artistic director David Jubb has commented, "Yesterday there was a fire at Battersea Arts Centre that destroyed the Grand Hall and Lower Hall. Most importantly everyone is OK. And the organisation and the front half of the building live to fight another day. We start now.

"As I cycled towards the building last night I thought about the millions of people who have shared and enjoyed the Grand Hall and Lower Hall over the last 120 years – as a public space – for everyone. These public spaces are reducing in number – which makes it all the more heartbreaking.

"Today we start the next chapter. We want to get the shows back on and rebuild the building brick by brick. At the moment we have no offices, no Grand Hall theatre, and we have to re-establish a new financial model for the next 12 months." For further details on the venue, visit

There was a time when such conflagrations were a grim fact of life for the theatre world. In the era before electric light, when theatres were lit with the open flame of candles, gaslight or limelight, fire was a constant threat to the existence of these buildings. The Park Theatre, at one time the leading playhouse in Manhattan, opened in 1798, and burned down in 1820, was rebuilt, then burned down again in 1848. New York’s first Winter Garden Theatre, located at 667 Broadway, (near Houston Street), home of the original production of The Octoroon, opened in 1850 and burned down at least twice in its brief history. When you see red-lit exit signs up and down the side aisles of theatres today, remember that the 1876 Brooklyn Theatre fire killed at least 278 people, partly owing to a lack of fire exits and fire escapes. Those factors also contributed to the deadliest theatre fire in U.S. history, Chicago's infamous Iroquois Theatre fire in 1903, in which 602 died.

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