The Guide

Fancy super­market

The Hoover Building, Western Avenue, Perivale

Hoover Building main door

The Hoover Building’s front door

The Guide wouldn’t as a rule feature a super­market, even one belonging to a business that began on a market stall in South Hackney, set up by Whitechapel-born Jack Cohen in 1919. But this particular branch of Tesco’s occupies a former factory that’s one of London’s finest art deco landmarks.

Modern warehouses and manufac­turing plants tend to be shed-​​like blots on the landscape but the interwar years were a golden age for industrial archi­tecture. In particular, American corpor­ations spared no cost in setting up European bases that would serve as showcases for their products. In the 1920s and 30s prestigious factories lined newly-​​built arterial highways like the Great West Road (primarily along its so-​​called Golden Mile, in Brentford) and the Eastern and Western Avenues. Some of these striking structures fell victim to the Luftwaffe’s bombs, others to rapacious postwar developers, but a few survive, almost all now turned to other uses.

In 1931 Ohio-​​based vacuum cleaner makers the Hoover Company commis­sioned Wallis, Gilbert and Partners to create a factory on the Western Avenue in Perivale. The London-​​based archi­tectural partnership – initially Wallis, Gilbert & Partner, singular – had been founded in 1916, primarily for the purpose of collab­orating with an American company that specialised in providing the reinforcement technology and materials for large concrete factories.

The partnership was commis­sioned to work on several monumental projects, including Victoria coach station and factories for Wrigley’s chewing gum in Wembley, the Gramophone Company in Hayes, and Firestone tyres, Pyrene fire extin­guishers and Coty cosmetics, all on the Great West Road. Incidentally, there’s no evidence that there ever was a Gilbert at Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, nor that there was originally any other partner. Gilbert and his anonymous colleague may have been invented by the genuine founder, Thomas Wallis, simply to make his practice sound bigger than it was.

Modern archi­tectural commentators generally treat the Hoover factory as an art deco design, but Thomas Wallis called his style ‘Fancy’. The building’s ornamentation is said to have been inspired by the art of Central and North American Indians, though there are Egyptian touches too.

Hoover Building west wing

The Hoover factory opened in 1933 and work on various extensions (upwards as well as outwards) and outbuildings continued almost until the outbreak of the Second World War. It was this piecemeal process that’s to blame for the most legitimate criticism that can be aimed at the factory: its lack of a cohesive overall form. Contemporary critics also condemned what they saw as its brash, vulgar style, but the company and its employees liked it and so did the general public.

Vacuum cleaner production ceased in 1982 and the Hoover factory closed. It reopened ten years later – magni­fi­cently restored, with the rear ground floor converted into a Tesco superstore. Although the building’s glory resides primarily in its sweeping white façade, there are some pleasing design touches in and around the rear car park too, but not inside the store, which sadly looks like any other.

The Old Hoover Building, Western Avenue, Perivale, Greenford UB6 8DW
Phone: 0845 677 9308
Web page: Tesco Greenford
Open: Monday–Saturday 6.00am–midnight; Sunday: 10.00am–4.00pm
Nearest station: Perivale (Central line)
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