Phibsboro Shopping Centre is one of Dublin’s most domineering buildings. Rashers Tierney writes about the fortress of pre-cast grey concrete that haunts the horizons of D7.
One of the advantages of this towering behemoth of late 1960’s brutalist architecture is how it frames the old village of Phibsborough in partnership with the lights of Dalymount. So, it’s near impossible to get lost or misdirect eegits home.
You see those two opposing vertical turrets reaching into sky in an awful mangled silhouette of failed urbanism? Well, that’s Phibsborough and these towering tentacles are its boundary markers.
Legend has it that on Galen Weston’s 24th birthday on October 29th 1964, he applied for planning permission to build a shopping centre in Phibsborough. He was an English-Canadian businessman who came here in the early 1960s, spotted how boggers were moving to Dublin and eyed up the expanding grocery trade. By 1965 his interests had grown to six grocery stores
This was an era when Phibsboro was a buzzing inner huburb, somewhere you could go instead of town, complete with not one but two cinemas. It hosted a Ramones gig while around the corner Bob Marley gigged in Dalyer. So, why the fuck shouldn’t it have a six story concrete shopping centre with offices?
For Weston the shopping centre was a potent symbol of this changing consumer Ireland. He told Mary Kenny, in a 1970 Irish Press interview, that only 8% of Irish people had drank wine but potato sales were falling and frozen food purchases were going up. “Everywhere the sign of a rising standard of living,” he declared. If Liberty Hall was meant to signal a socialist seventies, then the Phibsborough shopping centre was a consumerist swipe at the 200 ft steeple of St Peters Church up the road.
Aside from Phibsboro’s dark tower, the greatest other asset Weston bequeathed to us was Penneys – the brand name he created after buying out the bankrupt Todd Burns store. He lost control of the shopping centre in the recession of 1972.
What is there to say about the building itself apart from the fact that it could do with a serious spit clean? The structure was completed in 1968 by architect David Keane and technically, it’s not a shopping centre – only the ground floor is. The rest is office space and car parking units. The economics of the build were based on the retail units, with the offices subsidised to seduce snooty 1970’s executives out of their South side enclaves to Phibsboro.
There was meant to be a swimming pool as part of the deal. Weston offered up £5,000 towards the total £70,000 needed. He’d even bought a site across the road for it. Like much of these things, and despite a fashion show – it fell by the wayside. We’re still waiting on that swimming pool big man.
This abrupt landmark has sailed through different owners over the years, flogged off in 1988 for half a million and flipped again in 1990 by Power Supermarkets for a whopper £6.35 million.
Before he made an arseclown out of himself running errands for Garth Brooks, the once respected republican Christy Burke cheered on the 2008 Local Area Action Plan centred around redeveloping Dalymount and the shopping centre that would “give us a Ranelagh in Phibsboro”. A key angle they pushed was the creation of a major new civic plaza on the combined Dalymount and Phibsborough Shopping Centre site.
Let’s not talk about the patchwork mess of Dalymount, of Albion properties, court cases and NAMA. In short, recession fucked that and the action plan went out the window in 2013.
For some Phibsboro shopping centre is leapt on as a portent of all that is wrong with the area, for me its more symbolic of a mentality that would force 3 motorways to collide in a village area and value islands of carparking space over civic uses and call that progress.
Maybe one day we’ll be fortunate enough to see the Garda Representative Association ferreted out of their fifth floor lair, graffiti let loose on those pre-cast beams and it turned over for community use to the tribes of Phibsboro.
For now though, it’ll never ceases to impress me anytime I stare up at it blanking out the sun, while chomping on a rollie at the door of our neighbourhood refuge The Hut. It reminds me of UCD, something built to resist attack – a giant big dalek that will withstand you, me and probably this so called economic recovery.