OhMeOhMy - West Africa House, a Liverpool landmark
Opposite Liverpool’s most famous landmark, the legendary Liver Building, there sits a hidden gem. Well perhaps not too hidden, as it stands grandly nestled between all of the impressive structures along The Strand. Taking pride of place on the corner of Water Street is West Africa House.
Built in 1920 and designed by architects Briggs, Wolstenholme & Thornley, the architectural trio also responsible for the Liverpool University Faculty of Arts Building and the Port of Liverpool Building, West Africa House has served many purposes and seen many faces pass through it’s doors. Purpose built to house the Bank of British West Africa, it measures an impressive 6500 sq ft and consists of 8 storeys including an attic. It’s steel framed structure is faced with Portland stone and Aberdeen granite and typically reflects the grandeur of many buildings from the time, built and designed at great expense to demonstrate the importance of their occupiers.
After the closure of the bank the building sat derelict for many years before being put to use as a photography studio. Named Grey Space Studios, the company took advantage of the massive ceiling height and natural light available in the wide open space of the Grade II listed building, to photograph high end fashion brands and even a few celebrities, namely Lady Gaga who was apparently very taken with the building’s beauty.
From Grey Space to Secret Space, last Summer the buildings lease was taken over by the famous Bold Street tea shop Leaf to host private parties and pop-up events. Appreciated as not only a building steeped in history and culture, but also one of great architectural beauty, the venue has attracted the attention of events organisers all over Liverpool, playing host to last years Liverpool of Architecture Degree Show, the GIT Music Awards and Hidden Liverpool to name a few.
To truly maximise the potential of the building, Leaf put proposals forward earlier this year to Liverpool City Council to turn the venue into a cafe similar to the style of their Bold Street shop. Their plans were to create a cosy daytime tea shop come Italian style bar in the evening, but were however met with some resistance by local residents concerned about the possible night time disturbance of a bar. As a result a proviso was imposed by the council to prevent ‘vertical drinking’, in that there must be enough seating for all guests. Leaf agreed and the newly titled ‘OhMeOhMy-A Secret Space’ was born.
The name plays on the idea that upon entering the building for the first time you will be stunned. Taken aback by the sheer scale of the interior, the marble floors, original classical ceiling moulding and 20ft columns that line the centre of the room. The venue can be enjoyed for a ‘Secret Session’ of Parisian afternoon tea, a Sunday roast accompanied by live music or perhaps if you’re lucky enough you might attend a wedding reception in the no longer so ‘Secret Space’. Whatever the occasion, an excuse should be found to pay a visit to this beautiful and exciting example of Liverpool heritage.
*** this article written by, and photos courtesy of, Jen Abram ***