Emden is not a name without fame in the theatrical world, in other connections than that of architecture - Mr W. S. Emden, the father of the brothers that now maintain it, was for a long time co-proprietor of the Olympic and a writer of plays. Of his sons, one is a county court judge, another a scenic artist of distinction. The third forms the subject of this article.
For the moment Mr Walter Emden's name is not so prominent in connection with the many schemes for theatre building in and about London. He is, of course, a member of the County Council, and is scrupulously careful to avoid association with undertakings in a merely tentative state, which might seem, to a properly jealous public, to be dependent for completion, in ever so small a degree, upon his political status. Fees, amounting, in fact, to many hundreds of pounds, have during the past few years been returned in this spirit by Mr Emden, who, not to put too fine a point on it, has had no disposition to lend his name to plans for the purposes of financi-eering. He has preferred to address more consideration to the building of restaurants and of newspaper offices, in each of which he is as expert as in theatre design and construction.
To his old clients Mr Emden is faithful; and to the suggestion of sound, responsible, distinguished schemes he is responsive. He has, for instance, under consideration at this moment two vast undertakings, of which particulars must for the time be withheld - a suburban theatre, and one at the West-end - and he is engaged on various provincial theatres.
One asks Mr Emden why he entered the County Council, and learns that he has always cultivated the love of public life. He holds various offices other than that of county councillor. There grew up in Mr Emden a spirit of antagonism to the conduct and methods of the old Board of Works. He is not, on the County Council, the mere apologist of the theatrical proprietor, though on all subjects pertaining to theatres he feels bound to impress on his colleagues the particular experience that he has acquired. Mr Emden deprecates very strongly any disposition on the part of the authorities to assume that proprietors, and those responsible for the construction of theatres, are normally hostile to instruction or control, and that the ideal theatre must be dragged from them by authority. "Why," says Mr Emden, "the pride and the self-interest of the theatrical architect and his principal is all on the side of sound, safe buildings. I think I may claim that Terry's, for instance, was (spontaneously) the first fireproof theatre. The requisitions of the County Council are, in fact, instigated by officials but a little removed from clerks, commanding, say, three hundred a-year. And the position is that the judgment of an architect, as to whose ability and responsibility the fact that they procure him an income of two or three thousand a-year may be cited, is subject to the approval of such officials.
"Pray understand me. It is necessary that the Council should be dependent on its officials. I am against the whole system. I would have the responsibility rest with a Government department, properly instructed and equipped. I do not mean that I am in favour of a State theatre. Private enterprise is the best purveyor of popular entertainment. But the requisitions of the County Council often demand an outlay insupportable by private enterprise. And requisition is piled on requisition by the zeal or the ideas of newer officials. There is really a limitation to this piling on, but the unfortunate music halls, being dependent on the County Council for their licences too, probably think it indiscreet to combat any requisition. One effect of the County Council's incursion to theatrical architecture is that theatres are so built nowadays as to appreciable increase the expense of 'running' a theatre - a great consideration. The managerial staff must needs be much larger, by reason, for instance, of the restrictions placed on intercommunication between the compartments of a house."
As a youngster Mr Emden's skill with his pencil commended him to the notice of Mark Lemon, who offered him a position on the staff of Punch; but the elder Emden's advice was to make the youngster an architect or a civil engineer. For two years Mr Emden was with Messrs Maudslay, Son, and Field; then, for eighteen months, with Mr W. Kelly, a well-known ecclesiastical architect; then with the firm of Brassey - he worked on the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, the Northern and Mid-level (London) Sewers, the Thames Embankment, and the Thames Tunnel line, whereon experiments in iron and concrete construction first engaged him. Leaving Brassey's Mr Emden succeeded to the management of Mr Charles Lawes's business ; and then, in 1870, began business on his own account, one of his first undertakings being to build a warehouse for Sir Henry Isaac. In this the concrete system was employed.
Mr Emden's early commissions in theatrical work were to reconstruct the Globe, to alter the St. James's and the Royalty, and to build the Court Theatre - which in the meantime he has rebuilt. In 1872 Mr Emden was appointed architect to the Dublin Exhibition. He designed an opera house for Rome, which was not built, the Italian Government eventually declining the expenditure; but incidentally acquired a most useful experience of Italian styles. Terry's Theatre was a notable achievement of Mr Emden's - Mr Charles Wilmot, who was the original owner, committing himself unreservedly to the architect's ideas as to a fireproof structure, as Terry's Theatre undoubtedly is. Mr Emden was, by the way, one of the judges of the first firemen's exhibition. The original plans for the Garrick, the Trafalgar-square, and the Tivoli were Mr Emden's work; and he reconstructed the English Opera House, which we now know as the Palace Theatre. Mr Emden has also done a great deal of work in the provinces.
Left - An early postcard of the St. James's Theatre.
Where, to be sure, he sees a field of almost unlimited extent for the operations of the theatrical architect and builder. The more liberal-minded Londoner has no idea of the intolerance toward the theatre that lingered, at any rate, until quite a recent period; at any rate, in the smaller provincial towns. In such places there would be an antiquated, discredited "theatre," or a hall used at odd times by touring companies. But, prejudice having died away, these towns are eager for a theatre, and the demand is by way of being accommodated with handsome, well-equipped theatres. Mr Emden lays it down, in fact, that nowadays every town of 60,000 inhabitants and upwards can support its theatre. But, on one point, he would offer a word of advice, and that is, not to build a playhouse beyond the needs of the playgoing population. Two results are inevitable - the house is saddled with an expenditure beyond the possible income, while a really respectable audience, scattered over a too vast auditorium, has the fatal appearance of "bad business," disheartening to the performer and depressing to the audience. One speaks with Mr Emden about the suburban theatre, which some would have us think is to be the ruin of the West-end house. This Mr Emden strenuously denies. There may be a slight divergence of play-going from the West-end to the suburban house, but its effect will be but temporary. The habitual playgoer, who would not willingly miss any novelty, will not surely be tempted from the West-end house, where alone his desire can be satisfied. But Mr Emden particularly invites your notice of the growth of first-class hotels in London. These establishments may or may not pay - that is not the question. But they are always full. Their temporary inhabitants form a vast, ever-changing population that must be amused, and finds congenial, convenient amusement at the West-end theatre. Mr Emden does not believe that the suburban theatre steals its prosperity from the West-end house. Thousands and thousands of suburban residents, he supposes, who made half-a-dozen excursions to West-end theatres during the course of a year, have become weekly visitors to their own convenient, well-equipped theatres. Nor is Mr Emden at all sure that these same playgoers have abandoned their occasional jaunts to the West-end. A rapid increase of theatres there is, to be sure, but there is also an increase in population, and a more than proportional increase of playgoers.
There is a photograph of Walter Emden here.
From the Building News and Engineering Journal, June 20th 1890
Mr. Walter Emden, of the Strand, was architect to the following buildings, viz: - Dublin Exhibition, 1872; St. James's Hall Restaurant, Piccadilly; St. James's Hall entrances, Piccadilly; old Court Theatre, Terry's Theatre, Strand; new Court Theatre, Chelsea; Garrick Theatre, Charing-cross-road; and the Tivoli Music-hall in the Strand, all of which works have been erected from his designs.
Right - A Portrait of Walter Emden from a double page spread of Contemporary British Architects published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, June 20th 1890.
These works are exclusive of private houses, warehouses, and other classes of work executed by him.
The new theatre at Ipswich is one of Mr. Emden's more recent buildings, and a market in Shaftesbury-avenue is proposed to be built from his plans.
His portrait was specially taken for our series.
The above text and its accompanying image was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, June 20th 1890.
We regret to announce the death, after an operation in a London nursing home, of Mr. Walter Emden, the well-known architect, aged sixty-six. One of his first theatre commissions was the reconstruction of the old Globe. His introduction into theatre designing was assisted by the fact that his father, W. S. Emden, was for many years joint proprietor of the now defunct Olympic. He designed the Garrick, Terry's, the Duke of York's, the Tivoli, and the present Court, the Piccadilly and Victoria Hotels, the Hotel de l'Europe, and Prince's Restaurant.
President of the Society of Architects from 1897 to 1900. Mr. Emden had been member of the LCC. and in 1903-4 was Mayor of Westminster. He was an older brother of Judge Emden. He retired from a lucrative practice in 1906, and from 1907 to 1910 was Mayor of Dover. He had a house at St. Margaret's Bay. - The Stage Newspaper, December 4th 1913.
The Grand Hotel and Brasserie de l'Europe, erected on the north side of Leicester Square from designs by Mr. Walter Emden was opened to private view Yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon and by invitation of Messrs. Baker and Co. a numerous body of Pressmen and others assisted at a fine and well-served luncheon. As to the building itself, the elevation, handsome and imposing, shows a freely treated design in granite, with pilasters of green, while the upper portion of the structure is in terracotta. The projecting corners are surmounted with turrets, which, covered with gilt copper, give a rather striking effect.
The grand cafe on the ground floor is elaborately decorated in the style of the German Renaissance, the panels of the walls being filled in both with mirrors and with pictures representing events famous in German history. Below this, in the basement, is a lager beer hall, decorated in Alhambra style, while above is the Italian Renaissance Room, which will be used as a restaurant. Here the general colouring is ivory-white and gold. The sitting-rooms and bedrooms in the upper part of the building are all decorated and furnished in the most complete and up-to-date manner. It is intended to conduct the establishment as nearly as possible upon the lines of the high-class Parisian Brasserie, and surrounded as it is by all the principal places of amusement, :Messrs. Baker and Co's waiters should be kept very busy both before and after the theatres. - The Stage Newspaper, September 21st 1899.
Some archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: