IT WAS with great interest that I read Robert Cumber's report in the Chronicle that the art deco gates from the old Firestone building on the Great West Road are now on display at the Museum of London.
This is not the first artifact from the area that is on show at the museum. The double bow shop front of Rattenbury's the Pawn Brokers, which stood in the old Brentford High Street, complete with its three brass balls, is on show on the lower floor of the Victorian gallery. I did the story in this column some time ago.
The Firestone factory was the first of nine commercial buildings designed and constructed in 1928 by the well-known Wallis, Gilbert and Partners on the Great West Road and Great South West Road (a fact gleaned from James Marshall's book, The History of the Great West Road, which is sadly now out of print).
The factory was built very quickly, with just seven months between laying the foundation stone and making the first tyre. Situated on higher ground than the busy arterial road, it stood as a fine example of the art deco architecture of the time, and a great advert for the US-owned company and its product.
Inside, great thought had gone into the design and layout for the process and manufacture of its products.
A great deal of excavation took place for the foundations and basement, and the main process area for the making of the tyres was situated centrally on the ground floor.
About 1,500 people were employed by the company in 1938, although 200 staff who were reservists were sent off to fight when the Second World War broke out. Subsequent recruiting and efforts by the Ministry of Labour to hire personnel from non-essential work meant more than 2,000 people were part of the manufacture of tyres needed for the war effort, especially for the campaign in north Africa.
I remember seeing the factory, like others on the Great West Road, working day and night. Huge tyres were made for the Lancaster and Halifax bombers, as well as supplying the RAF and the American Air Force with other types of tyres.
When the fall of Singapore and Malaya cut off the supply of pure rubber, synthetic materials were used instead. Production methods and processes were readjusted and became more labour-intensive.
After the war, when the blackout ceased, it was a joy to cycle or drive down the Great West Road and see the floodlit art deco frontage of the Firestone works, which for the victory celebrations gradually changed from red to white, to blue. Christmas was another time to stare at the display of festive trees and Santa and his reindeers, with the factory as a floodlit backdrop.
All this was to finish in 1979, when Firestone decided to cease production in west London and transfer its operation to the USA.
The property was sold and in 1980 developers the Trafalgar House Group had the art deco frontage demolished one bank holiday weekend while the unsigned preservation order lay on the minister's desk in Whitehall. This scandal drew national attention to the destruction of part of our heritage and many important buildings of the era now have protection status. One muses whether another candidate for the museum should be the Minimax Tiled Doorway, on its neglected site on the Staines/Faggs Road corner in Feltham, described as an excellent example of art deco design. Perhaps read-ers have their own views?