The Great White City

by 5ocietyx

Until 1908, when it was used as the site of the Franco-British Exhibition and the Summer Olympics, the area in West London now known as White City was farmland. It was apparently imagined by a famous stage artist of the day, Imre Kiralfy, and two architects supervised the construction. John Belcher was the architect-in-chief of the Palaces, and M. Tourdoire was the architect-in-chief of the Pavilions. It became known as the Great White City because all of its exteriors were constructed using white-washed fibrous plaster. This incredibly effective technique – which had rarely been seen in Britain until this project – essentially involved draping lengths of plaster-soaked cloth over wire, wood and metal frames. By this method, and some artistic painting, the highly-skilled tradesmen and modelers were able to construct a waterproof city of exotic palaces, pavilions, a fountain, and statues numbering in their hundreds, as well as the giant cable cars-on-cranes known as the ‘Flip-Flap’.

The Great White City of the Franco-British Exhibition

The Olympic stadium was a last-minute addition to the exhibition. It was designed by the pier-building engineer J.J. Webster and hastily built in 10 months by successful local stone mason George Wimpey’s construction firm, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906 had devastated Naples the original location for the games. Famously, the starting point of the marathon was Windsor Castle, 26 miles and 385 yards away from the finish line (and the Royal box) at White City stadium. In 1921 this distance was adopted as the standard for the modern marathon.

The Olympic stadium at White City, 1908

After the Olympics, the stadium was used for speedway and greyhound racing, until 1985 when it was demolished to make way for the BBC White City building. The 1908 Olympics are commemorated with a list of athletes inscribed on the side of the BBC Building, where the athletics finish line is still marked in the paving outside.

On the same site of the original White City, opposite the BBC TV Centre is Ariel Way. Building number 1 is ‘Network House’, let to Zodiak Entertainment in September 2009. Endemol are also housed nearby, as well as Escape Studios, which provides computer graphics training for the visual effects industry in London. see