The derelict White Swan Hotel on Piccadilly has gained a great deal of attention since it was declared unfit for human habitation in 1992. Briefly a squat in 2003, members of the public were invited to view the renamed ‘Rainbow Peace Hotel’. This would have been the last chance anyone in York had to see the innards of the place, unless you count the numerous break-ins, including a homeless man rescued by emergency services after falling through the rotting floorboards. The building has generally divided opinion, though perhaps it has only gained public notoriety because it is so close to town. The bus depot further down towards Fishergate, though featuring heavily in a level of the PS3 game Resistance: Fall of Man, has in reality been empty for as long and is a far greater blemish. However, let us not forget that Piccadilly is a street of diverse buildings, with often debated architectural or aesthetic value. Argos, Topshop and the betting shop share (in my opinion) a forgettable style of frontage and it is only the grand wreck of Dave Dee’s Banana Warehouse that stands out in one’s memory. Now that the public toilets have been removed in Parliament Square, the area surrounding the old hotel has opened up.
The White Swan, built in 1912 after the demolition of the original coaching inn at the turn of the century, is a mismatched mock Tudor affair. The fire escape hangs branchlike from its wounded ribs and the ground level doors are chipboards reeking of the nightly ritual of urine or worse. Though the ladies and gentlemen of letters in York have written countless pieces for the papers over the last 25 years, the decision has never been a council matter. The Graham Family Trust, which owns the site, has allowed it to remain derelict since it closed in the 80s. It is sad that the trust never had an interest in refurbishing the property whilst times were good and retail was likely to buy up site.
However, after One&Other ran a much-discussed feature in October last year called ‘Save the White Swan’, the owners of the building previously earmarked for demolition did change their mind. The trust have now shown the designs for planned work by architects Paul Davis & Partners, the decision to accept or deny these plans now sits with the Council Planning Authority. The proposal for the site shows a completely refurbished set of upper floors housing 14 new apartments. The ground level will become a set of new retail units meant to “revitalize the area”. It is satisfying that if the plans do go ahead, the frontage of the building will remain the same faux-beamed white and black that it is today.