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Glory restored in London with St. Pancras renovation

The St. Pancras hotel, closed in 1935, reopened this spring as the St. Pancras Renaissance.

July 17, 2011|By Carolyn Lyons, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • At the St. Pancras Station and Hotel, architect Sir Gilbert Scott's cantilevered double staircase rises up three floors and is lit by a 50-foot window. The walls have been repainted the original red and stencilled with bright gold fleur-de-lys and the blue ceiling sparkles with stars and blazing suns.
At the St. Pancras Station and Hotel, architect Sir Gilbert Scott's… (Carolyn Lyons / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from London — — Londoners could never decide whether they loved or hated the huge red Gothic Revival St. Pancras railway station and hotel. A fantastical pile better suited to Hollywood than North London, the hotel was closed to the public in 1935; much later the site was used as a location for "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "Batman Begins."

A few years ago, the station was redeveloped as the terminus for Eurostar, the high-speed train that whisks passengers from London to Paris in just over two hours. Then this spring, after a meticulous $250-million, seven-year restoration of its high Victorian glories, the hotel reopened as the St. Pancras Renaissance, London's newest luxury lodging, operated by Marriott.

During St. Pancras' long dereliction, I led tour groups through the ravaged remains, which were always deathly cold and damp. So I was a bit nervous going back, afraid of what I would find.

As soon as I walked from the station proper into the old Booking Hall, I knew that the building had been restored to its original grandeur. I was in a large, dark but comfortable room with tables and sofas. Behind the long bar, noted mixologist Nick Strangeway was concocting Victorian punches and cocktails and pouring English sparkling wine.

A tunnel once ran through the center of the hotel so taxis could drop off passengers for the railway. With the ends now closed, the tunnel has become an airy lobby. There are 211 rooms and 34 suites, with most of the rooms in a new modern extension.

The highlight of my old guided tour was architect George Gilbert Scott's cantilevered double staircase rising three floors and lighted by a 50-foot window. Damp and dirt couldn't hide its structural majesty. Now it is magnificent. The walls have been repainted the original red and stenciled with bright gold fleurs-de-lis, and the blue ceiling sparkles with stars and blazing suns.

The elegant curved dining room, damaged when it was used as railway offices, has been reborn as the Gilbert Scott, a chic restaurant created by celebrity chef Marcus Wareing's protégée Chantelle Nicholson, serving British dishes with a modern twist.

Though Scott, whose other work included extending Westminster Abbey's 13th century Cosmati pavement, embraced such innovations as a Ladies Smoking Room — the first place in Europe where women could smoke in public — and a revolving door supplied by its American inventor, he designed the hotel just before the advent of the electric light and modern plumbing. It was lighted with gas and had only five bathrooms, relying on a staff of servants to carry hot water to each room and remove chamber pots. As a result, it was almost immediately surpassed by the Savoy and other hotels with bathrooms and lighting — not a problem that should trouble the current version.

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