Discover the 'Glamour and Gloom' of 1930s Belfast

Online tour from Ulster Architectural Heritage is supported by Belfast City Council

Discover the 'Glamour and Gloom' of 1930s Belfast

The Strand Cinema on the Holywood Road.

By Damian Mullan


By Damian Mullan


DISCOVER the glamour and gloom of 1930s architecture in Belfast in a new online tour from Ulster Architectural Heritage, supported by Belfast City Council which will celebrate the wealth of Belfast’s 1930s and Art Deco architecture.

The tour is FREE, open to all, and can be taken from the comfort of home from Friday February 12.

The title 'Glamour and Gloom' refers to the glamour of the 1930s and the gloom of these years that were also marked by political and social crisis. Gloom also refers to the ways in which, whilst landmark buildings of that period are still here to be celebrated, some have been neglected and are under threat today.

The new tour by Ulster Architectural Heritage will highlight selected Art Deco gems of Belfast - both well-known landmarks and lesser-known buildings including houses, schools, cinemas and more.

It will also include some of those which have since been demolished and those which are derelict and/or earmarked for demolition.

The exhibition celebrates the varied architectural styles, social and technological advancements of the 1930s, and the value and breadth of architectural heritage remaining in Belfast from this era.

It also serves as a wake-up call to the potential for loss of these buildings if they are not well enough valued or protected.

The tour is based on the popular book 'Glamour & Gloom: 1930s Architecture in Belfast,' edited by Tanja Poppelreuter and published by Ulster Architectural Heritage.

The publication was co-authored by a number of Ulster University architecture students and it was hoped that the book would encourage further research into what remains an under-valued architectural period, particularly in the context of Northern Ireland. This sentiment remains as prescient as when the book was published in 2017.

From the carved elephants on the city centre former Burton’s Building on Ann Street, to the Strand Cinema on Holywood Road, which recently celebrated its 85th birthday, and the hugely innovative Botanic Primary School, there is a wealth of fantastic buildings waiting to be discovered.

While a great deal of the buildings of this era are well maintained and in use, the tour reveals the vulnerability of others.

Previously arson attacked and now at risk, North Street Arcade, Lower North Street and Donegall Street, City Centre, is set for internal demolition and a 'façade retention' as part of the contentious Tribeca development in the Cathedral Quarter, despite the admission in the applicant’s own Heritage Statement: “The North Street Arcade is highly significant as it represents the only example of a 1930s shopping arcade in Northern Ireland and is only one of a handful left in the UK."

If the outline approved proposals go ahead, the façade retention will see only the Donegall Street entrance retaining its 1930s character, whilst the North Street entrance will be replaced by a Victorian style shopfront.

Additionally, Floral Hall, the Bank of Ireland building and the School of music remain derelict, in poor repair and on the Heritage At Risk Register for Northern Ireland today.

It's hoped that the tour will reinvigorate interest in Belfast’s 1930s Architecture and inspire better understanding of this architectural era in Belfast. It will also offer the general public a welcome distraction during the COVID pandemic, by way of exploring the city from their own home.

Nikki McVeigh, Chief Executive of Ulster Architectural Heritage: "UAH is excited to be supported by Belfast City Council to deliver the new Glamour and Gloom tour.

"The 1930s saw a wave of architectural and social innovations and it is fantastic to have the opportunity to promote the quality and variety of 1930s architecture which still exists in Belfast.

"We hope that the general public will enjoy the tour, but also reawaken an interest in these buildings so that they may be preserved for future generations."

An exhibition supporting the tour is also expected to be launched in 2021 following the easing of COVID 19 restrictions, after which it will travel around libraries in the Belfast area. You can keep up to date by following UAH on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Glamour and Gloom online tour is available from February 12 through the Ulster Architectural Heritage Website,, FREE, no download required.

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