ooking like a modern post-war development, Empress Building appeared far ahead of its time when it was announced in the Midland Daily Telegraph in July 1933:
BINLEY ROAD IMPROVEMENT
Important Building Scheme Commenced
MODERN STRUCTURE WITH BALLROOM AND SKATING RINKAn important improvement that will give added beauty to Binley Road is soon to be commenced, the scheme embodying the demolition of a block of old buildings opposite the "Bull's Head Hotel," which has been standing for very many years. The buildings, which appear to have first been used for farming purposes, include a blacksmith's shop, and the deeds of the property are about four hundred years old.
The scheme provides for the pulling down of about a dozen old cottages and shops, and on the site is to be built an attractive modern three storey building, comprising eleven retail shops, a restaurant and flats. The building - which will be known as the "Empress Building," and forms one of the biggest building schemes in the Stoke district - has been designed to form one complete balanced block with a central entrance. The facade is to be executed in rustic bricks with stone dressings, and at night-time a striking effect will be produced by a Neon tubular lighting scheme in red and blue extending the whole length of the building which is about 175 feet. The cost of this initial portion of the scheme is approximately £10,000.
BEAUTIFYING BINLEY ROADThis forms only the first part of the ultimate development, for, later on, it is intended to proceed with a scheme at the rear, the principal features of which provide for an arcade to form the main entrance to a proposed commodious building to be called the "Empress Ballroom," one floor of which will be utilised as a skating rink and another floor for billiards and socials. Provision will also be made for adequate car-parking accommodation.
Already the demolition of the old property on the site has been commenced. The improvement at this spot will not only wipe away a block of dilapidated property, which for many years has been an eye-sore along the Binley Road, but will be the means of permitting an extension to the charming and spacious grass verge which the Corporation have laid along Binley Road. The existing stretch of grass verge running in front of Stoke Park to Bray's Lane has added considerably to the amenities of the neighbourhood, and, facing as it does the spacious Stoke common land, the road is looked upon as one of the most picturesque in Coventry. The improvement contemplated will give the Corporation the opportunity of extending the grass verge and pavement for some distance past Brays Lane.
The "Empress Building!" is being developed by the enterprise of a Stoke resident, Mr. E. J. Woodhead, and new houses have been built to accommodate tenants dispossessed by the demolition work. The architect is Mr. George Cave, L.R.I.B.A., and the contractors, Messrs. E. Harris and Son, all of Coventry. A drawing reproduced on this page conveys some idea of the imposing elevation which will be presented to Binley Road.
Well, it didn't quite turn out like that in the end, did it? We got the main shopping centre, but what became of the grand plans for the Empress Ballroom with skating rink, billiards and social event space, I wonder?
But at least the pre-war shoppers got Hildots, the hairdressers, who appear to have been the first business to open in the new centre, advertising their presence in the Midland Daily Telegraph on the 8th December 1934. Hildots was soon joined by others, though, including two Ladies Outfitters, the Empress Wine & Spirit Stores, Walker's the Pork Butcher, a Baby Linen shop, Stevens the Florist and, perhaps most memorably, Starling's Electrical Services, who even sold Bicycles back then, and who were there until relatively recent years.
But perhaps most well known to many of us will be the "B Barber Shop", which has been there since 1966. Run for many years by Biagio Madia, the barbers working there were perhaps almost as well known for their football fanaticism as they were for hair-cuts! The shop began in the arcade in the centre of the Empress Building, but as business improved they moved out to the front, where it still thrives, incorporating, as I write in 2022, Frankies Hair Studio.
If you wish to compare how this place looked in the 1960s to 2022, please see this Now and then page.
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