Reading Gregory and Audrey Bracken’s Dublin Strolls recently was a reminder to always look up. Divided into eleven seperate walks, the book shines a light on some of the lesser-known architectural gems in the city, alongside the well-known and important works that in some cases have become much more than just buildings, like Francis Johnston’s General Post Office.
One building mentioned in the work is 52 Grafton Street. Depending who you ask, it’s known as Noblett’s Corner (Noblett’s sweet shop was once located here), Gaiety Corner or just ‘the old Gael Linn building’. Whatever one calls it, it’s a beautiful Art Deco building in the heart of the city, and one I’m kind of embarrassed I missed for so long, with its very distinctive corner tower certainly standing out from the pack.
Robinson and Keefe Architects transformed this corner building in the early 1930s, and it is just one example of their work that can still be found in the city today. The popular Gas Company premises on D’Olier Street, the Carlton Cinema on O’Connell Street and the DIT building on Cathal Brugha Street are just some of their surviving works.
Architectural historian Patricia Bayer has described the firm as being “probably the foremost Irish exponent of the Art Deco style.” John Robinson, the senior partner in the firm, championed a new architectural style and approach, and had little time for a nostalgic longing for the past. In his survey history of the capital, David Dickson quotes him as stating that “the Georgian era is over, and there is little sense in seeking to perpetuate it.”
Robinson and Keefe managed to incorporate much of the existing building into something new. The excellent More than concrete blocks: Dublin city’s twentieth century buildings and their stories notes how:
The architects retained and reworked the existing fabric to create an Art-Deco-style building. The extensive reconstruction involved incorporating a new steel and reinforced-concrete structural framework, raising the parapet level to enclose the attic story, reconfiguring and replacing windows throughout and re-cladding the exterior. The work also included the construction of a new shopfront and corner tower.
The building was warmly praised at the time; The Irish Times noted that it “has been designed in the modern manner, and relies for appearance on its clean cut lines and proportions”.
The Grafton Street Noblett’s shouldn’t be confused with the O’Connell Street sweet shop of the same name, emptied by the “denizens of the slums” (to quote one Volunteer) on the first day of the Easter Rising. Beyond sweet shops, the building was also home to Gael Linn for many years, whose distinctive branding once graced it.