Two office buildings bookend the ‘sunny side’ of Thomas Street, and the recent refurbishment and remodelling of these properties highlights the continuing evolution and renewal of this historic street.
The placename ‘Cornmarket’ stems from a long-gone market hall that once stood in the centre of Thomas Street, at the point where it approached the old western gate of Dublin. The corn market gave way to the street-ordering efforts of the Wide Streets Commissioners in the early 19th century, and the place we now call Cornmarket is itself as much a creation of later 20th century road widening to create the heavily traffic route of High Street and Bridge Street.
This end of Thomas Street is marked by its solid and confident commercial buildings, and No 10-13 Cornmarket is an example in point. Built in 1877, the seven-bay four storey building was originally constructed to be a warehouse for Webb & Company, a provisions merchant selling clothes and homewares.
The Buildings of Ireland website appraises the building as follows:
A fine purpose-built commercial premises with ornate granite detailing, this building retains much of its original form and fabric… It was built to designs by McCurdy & Mitchell as a warehouse for James H. Webb & Company, listed in Thom’s Directory of 1880 as ‘clothiers, woollen drapers, house furnishing, linen and Manchester warehouse’. This building has a commanding presence, built to express the solidity and wealth of the company. It appears to have been designed as a shop as well as warehouse, with large display windows at the ground floor level. In 1901 and 1911, it was the residence of several draper’s assistants, typical of Dublin department stores of the time.
The original design provided for open windows to the street, but in the 1950s the use of the building changed to local health offices, including an infamous dentist, and the ground floor windows were bricked up, giving the building a forbidding appearance.
Over the past 2 years the building has been substantially refurbished by HSE Estates, who intend to locate the HSE Communications Office in the premises. A design team, led by Van Dijk Architects, have worked to ensure that each work element respects the buildings original grandeur. Outwardly that has seen the restoration of timber sash windows to the main façade and the reinstatement of the original ground floor profile, opening the building to the street. Internal fit-out of the building is currently being completed ahead of occupation later in Spring.
At the west end of Thomas Street, sitting rather obtrusively in the middle of a run of Georgian buildings, is Emmet House, now reverting to its address of 140 Thomas Street. The building was constructed in 1972 to be a modern retail and office space on what was then a bustling Thomas Street. Spurred on by the recent arrival of Woolworths at 126-127 Thomas Street, developer JJ Smith sought to attract a similar ‘big box’ retailer to a street which, then as now, had very few larger retail spaces. The future was big, bright and modern.
The building was let in 1974 to the then Eastern Health Board and converted largely to offices and use for community projects. This continued until c. 2011, when the building became vacant and the current owner, JJ Smith’s son Gerry, set out to redevelop the site.
The €2m remodelling of 140 Thomas Street by architects Cantrell & Crowley reflects the aspirations the 21st century street. While the core has been retained, the exterior is now totally changed with a new brick façade that replaces the overly-dominant horizontal appearance of the former with a more considerate design that reintroduces traditional plot widths to this section of street. A new penthouse storey offers exceptional panoramic views of The Liberties and the west of the city, and in total, the building now provides over 1,000sqm of floorspace with a new retail/restaurant unit at ground floor. The internal fitout of the building is expected to be completed over the coming two months.