Penney’s have recently expanded their store on Mary Street significantly, with much more of the building now being used as retail space. Architecturally, the building is very interesting, having originally been constructed for the department shop Todd Burns, described in newspaper reports as a “palatial Dublin warehouse” at the time of its opening in 1905. The building boasted a principal frontage over 120 feet in length facing onto Mary Street, with the building running 300 feet along Jervis Street. The project cost in excess of £70,000 at the time, and the architect was William Mitchell who was also responsible for the Hotel Metropole on O’Connell Street, destroyed in the 1916 insurrection.
This premises had been constructed following a fire which destroyed the original Todd Burns building in January 1902. Incredibly, within a month the business were trading on the site again! Out of a wooden ‘temporary structure’, described here in The Irish Times:
The site now occupied by Penney’s is marked by two historic plaques, connected to two hugely important characters in Dublin’s history. On the Jervis Street side of the building, a small plaque marks the birthplace and home of Dublin historian J.T Gilbert.
Gilbert wrote the classic A History of the City of Dublin in 1861, a detailed history of the city from its viking origins to the contemporary world Gilbert knew. This was a groundbreaking study in its day, and it is fitting that today the Dublin City Library and Archive on Pearse Street is known as the Gilbert Library in his honour. Gilbert was knighted by Queen Victoria for his work in the field of history, and remains one of Dublin’s most important local historians. You can read the work in full here.
On the Mary Street side of the building, is a plaque which marks the location of the Volta Cinema.
This was Dublin’s first dedicated cinema, it opened in December 1909 and was first managed by James Joyce. This cinema seated between 600 and 700 people, and:
It was a simple shop conversion i.e. no racking, and only the plainest of comforts. Doors opened at 5.00 pm and there were continuous 35 to 40-minute programmes every hour up to 10.00 pm. One extraordinary feature was that the titles of the films were all in Italian – Joyce received the films direct from the Trieste source rather than through English film exchanges, and so handbills were given out with English translations. Music was supplied by a small string orchestra, led by Reginald Morgan. Tickets were 2d, 4d and 6d, children half price.
The cinema closed in 1948, having undergone several changes of name, and the location was not marked by a plaque until 2007.
The architecture of the Penney’s building is well documented on Archiseek, who note that the passing eye shouldn’t miss its ” glorious red brick with terracotta details, all capped with the beautiful bronze dome.”