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Report - Streatham Megabowl, Streatham, April-December 2014

Discussion in 'Leisure Sites' started by PlapPlap, Mar 19, 2015.

  1. PlapPlap

    PlapPlap 28DL Full Member
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    This is my first report and it covers three solo trips to this South London landmark. What follows is probably too much info / speculation / weird detail / shit photography for what a lot of people might see as an unremarkable place, so apologies in advance for that, and for rambling. I'm blown away by some of the things I see on this site and I know this is just a bowling alley, but I'm glad I did this so I might as well document it.


    I visited Streatham Megabowl regularly as a kid and again in my 20s, and I've always lived quite close by so I have a strong personal connection to it. This, and the fact that I haven't done any of this sort of exploration for about two decades made actually getting inside again quite thrilling. After my first trip I found myself lying awake at night thinking about the interior of the roof and some mysterious doors in the basement and I knew I'd have to go back and visit again. I think that the itch has now been scratched, which is handy because the building is currently being gutted and partially demolished so that it can be redeveloped as housing. Huge thanks to The Raw for discussing this with me at various points. Also, big shout out to the demo firm for lighting it so nicely for my final trip.

    The history is already up on a couple of reports but:

    [​IMG]

    Opened as The Gaumont Palace Cinema in 1932, damaged (but not much) by a V2 rocket in 1944, closed 1961, auditorium divided into two floors of bowling lanes and reopened 1962. In the early 90s Zapp Zone opened in the upper levels and although the whole place was well looked after and updated quite frequently it closed in the mid-late 2000s. 2008 is the date on some other reports but graffiti inside is dated 2006 so I'm not sure what to believe. In late 2009 it hosted at least one illegal psy-trance rave and people have dossed there but I don't think it was ever squatted long- term. Recently this site and most of the rest of the block (including Caesar's Nightclub next door) was sold to be redeveloped, and because the facade of the Megabowl is Grade 2 listed it will be retained when most of the rest is flattened. It appears that the Gaumont Palace was also a theatre, which I didn't know until my second visit, although on my first I blundered through the stage area without realising it. There's a block at the back which was apparently made up of dressing rooms and which was separated from the main building when it was Megabowl. I don't think it was actually in use for much of that time as there were handwritten notices in there from the 1970s, and it was generally in much worse condition with less signs of modernisation than other areas.​


    FIRST VISIT: This took place around midday on a weekday in April, before demolition started. As this was my first explore and I was on my own I was slightly jumpy and although I had a Canon Powershot G7 and tripod with me I only took photos on my phone because I didn't want to stay in any one place for too long. I had heard (mad) rumours that people were living inside and the building was dark, damp, smelled disgusting and was also extremely cold, especially in the basement. Sorry for the poor quality of these photos, but they sum up the overall feeling of this excursion quite well for me. It was, however, fascinating to not only be back inside a place I'd last seen operational in the mid 2000s but to have free roam of areas which were sealed off then. I.. er... breached the perimeter after a bit of hanging around waiting for the street to empty. I can't remember when I last climbed a seven foot wall so I was delighted to find that part of the block at the rear was accessible and a good place to catch my breath, recover from groin strain and listen to the cries of pigeons echoing around the enormous space beyond. I understand now that the room I was in was originally the stage but it was unrecognisable as such, walled off and full of clutter including several wheelchairs, a disabled bath and a lot of box files. It also boasted a spectacularly filthy toilet (possibly originally for the benefit of performers suffering from stage fright) which I think someone had set up for a photo before me:

    [​IMG]

    and a lot of these little wire men which I think were probably left by ravers. Bit Blair Witch.

    [​IMG]

    The floor was rotted right through in places, revealing a deep drop into darkness below and everything was caked in a revolting mishmash of pigeon shit and pigeon corpses. After a poke around I nipped out and round the corner into the main building. Working my way on my own up the rubbish-strewn stairwell in total darkness felt much dicier than it probably actually was. I emerged on the second floor, more or less where the pins would have been at the end of one of the lanes, and I was struck for the first time by how huge, dark, empty and quiet the space was, and how different that was to the brightness and cacophony I'd been accustomed to when it was an operational bowling alley.

    I spent the next two hours picking my way around the site. As other reports show, the second floor had hosted a rave at some point and been extensively repainted. Although the machinery which reset the pins and returned the balls had gone the lanes were mainly intact and there were still bits of bowling equipment to be seen around the place:

    [​IMG]

    Creeping across the lanes and past the old shoe hire desk I found the first floor bar where in a previous life I used to buy pints of awful fizzy lager and now thin fake parquet flooring was soaking up the damp and rising in waves at one end of the room. I scuttled up a nearby stairwell for a peek at the Zapp Zone, passing this charming old door and staircase (and making a brief sortie onto the roof but heading back inside because I was overlooked by a very active building site opposite):

    [​IMG]

    Zapp Zone, a laser tag combat arena, was pretty much as I remembered it although a little quieter. When I was a kid one of my mates became notorious here for failing to score any points in a battle and smashing his laser gun into an opponent's face instead. This fellow was still there:

    [​IMG]

    - but beyond all this was the thing that really stuck in my mind and brought me back a few months later. Past the old projection room, which was quite interesting in itself, not least because the projection hatches seem to open into the roof space instead of where I'd expect them to point is the roof space, which has been photographed a bit on here before - much better than this. It's an extremely large and well-engineered space.

    I was impressed by the high quality of the carpentry and the M.C. Escher-like walkways and staircases zig-zagging around the dome of the auditorium ceiling which is just below them. I'm struck by the amount of work which went into this, how handsome it is when you consider that it would never have been seen by Joe Public and how it's a bit of a shame that it's all going to be smashed up and disposed of in the immediate future.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    After spending a while up here I headed down to ground level. The lower floor was extensively trashed and decayed and smelled a lot worse than the floors above. The carpet squelched underfoot, ceiling tiles were breaking down and in some places there were spiderwebs from floor to ceiling. It was cool. There was also a load of poignant graffiti left by employees of the Megabowl in its final hours, eg:

    [​IMG]

    (She was right, by the way).

    I also went down to the basement where some rooms which seemed not to have been modernised since the building's time as a cinema, but they were in very poor condition, it was extremely dark and cold (my breath was visible in my torchlight even though it was warm outside) and the place stank- I stepped on a dead rat and saw a decomposing cat or fox in one corner and decided it was probably time to call it a day before I caught something manky. As I headed out I noticed this door, down a flight of stairs and behind a partially demolished breezeblock wall:

    [​IMG]

    This seemed quite unusual at the time. Subsequently I came to the conclusion that this led into the basement of the sealed block of dressing rooms, and I think I was just on the other side of it during my second visit.



    SECOND VISIT I drove past one weekend morning in early November and saw that demolition had started. The site was now surrounded by metal fencing, the seven foot wall was gone, and the dressing room block at the rear was apparently open, along with lots of doors and windows which had been closed for years. I returned that afternoon, hoping to get another look inside the roof, but the street was unusually busy and I wasn't able to get in until dusk. I decided to have a look at the dressing rooms (not very effectively as the windows are very exposed and I didn't want to use my torch) and mooched around the basement there then worked my way up to the roof of that section which was a great vantage point for watching fireworks until there was a traffic accident and fight in the street below me about ten feet from my exit point. I decided to abandon my visit immediately as I was on a tight schedule and didn't want the cops to turn up and trap me inside for who knows how long.



    THIRD VISIT I went back in the last weekend of November, in the daytime, with a better camera. I was delighted to see that somebody had made a huge gap in the perimeter fencing, so I was able to walk right in- probably metal thieves, because when I returned to the basement of the dressing room block I noticed that most of the wiring from the demo crew's temporary lighting had gone. The dressing rooms weren't that interesting, being mainly empty rooms with small toilets attached, and obviously hadn't been renovated or used for years:

    [​IMG]

    I think that this has vended its last johnny:

    [​IMG]

    The basement of this section was slightly more interesting because of original features like this, which I guess is part of the old gas supply:

    [​IMG]

    and this, which is what seems to be a briefcase for transporting three bowling balls (but small bowling balls... maybe lawn bowls balls now that I think of it):

    [​IMG]

    From here it was easy to jog across to one of the wide open doors into the main building, leading to the ground floor bowling lanes. Unfortunately they were being dismantled, but on the plus side the whole area (and most of the building as it turned out) was really well lit by the demo crew's temporary lighting which I presume was just blazing away all weekend. It sounded as though someone was moving around nearby so I hid my water bottle (it sloshed noisily when I walked) and moved as quickly and quietly as I could further into the building to take some pics:

    [​IMG]

    Demolition was well underway:

    [​IMG]

    It was extremely interesting seeing the place again but with all these lights blazing, and holes in the walls which I suspect were made just to ventilate the place during demolition.

    Anyway - the main aim of this trip was to get another look inside the roof (and unless I get on with this I'll never finish it) but here's the second floor lanes on the way up....

    [​IMG]

    and here's the bastard loft, where I spent about 20 minutes just hanging out and enjoying the big spooky space.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Oh yes- and while I was up here, I heard a metallic sound coming from downstairs, which I rightly assumed was someone repairing the fence. Once I got down to the ground floor it was clear that someone else had arrived as there was a transit van right in front of the door and the gap in the fence had been repaired. So I freaked out and spent a frantic, massively embarrassed five minutes pacing backwards and forwards behind the fence looking for an out. I tried to get underneath but got completely jammed between the fence and the floor, on my back, half on the pavement and half in the mud, trapped by the wires which snagged my clothing. Thankfully I was able to wriggle free, scale a nearby container and leap off that over the palisade fence without getting skewered, then run away laughing.
     
    #1 PlapPlap, Mar 19, 2015
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2015

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  2. The Lone Ranger

    The Lone Ranger Safety is paramount!
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    Not bad for a first report, nice bit of history and personal memories there.
     
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  3. KM_Punk

    KM_Punk Muppet
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    I enjoyed reading this. You've got some good shots of the place :thumb
     
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  4. The Queen

    The Queen Super Duper Moderator
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    Great first report, that- well done
     
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  5. Paradox

    Paradox 28DL Regular User
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    Enjoyed reading that mate, made me giggle too! Nice pics you got there :thumb
     
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  6. Ojay

    Ojay Admin
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    As others have said, a good first thread, keep 'em coming :thumb
     
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  7. Lavino

    Lavino 28ÐŁ ƦEGUŁλƦ U$EƦ
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    Very good that I enjoyed reading that felt like I was there with you lol keep em coming :thumb
     
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  8. The_Raw

    The_Raw 28DL Regular User
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    I've only just seen this @PlapPlap courtesy of us both getting a mention in Vice :p http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/rip-streatham-megabowl-the-sad-story-of-a-long-goodbye-998

    Cool report, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this as I visited numerous times myself (as you know) and it brought back some good memories. I also went back and had a look in the dressing rooms when demo started, it was nice to see the bits I'd missed despite there not being a lot to see. I also made it into Caesars just in the nick of time, report here if you're interested.... http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/caesar...outh-london-november-2014.t92981#post-1062407
     
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  9. Techwreckie

    Techwreckie 28DL Regular User
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    Nice to see this, I couldn't get into that dressing room block so always wondered what was in there!
     
  10. PlapPlap

    PlapPlap 28DL Full Member
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    @The_Raw cheers! And thanks for letting me know about Vice, that's funny. I'm really glad I got in when I did - the entire building apart from the very front section has been demolished now, as I expect you've seen.
     
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