Nostalgia: St James Centre a site for eyesore

St James Square in 1956, now the St James Centre
St James Square in 1956, now the St James Centre
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SINCE it was created in 1966 it has been considered one of the city’s biggest eyesores.

But those eager to see the back of the St James Centre will have to wait a little bit longer after plans for a huge redevelopment were put on hold indefinitely this week.

Work takes place on the site that would later become St James Centre

Work takes place on the site that would later become St James Centre

The £850 million project to knock down the shopping centre and former Scottish Office buildings was due to see demolition on parts of the site start this year.

If the project ever does go ahead it will bring about a major change to the local landscape – which is today almost unrecognisable from its original splendour.

Once an area of housing, with a grand square that was mooted to be the home for an opera house at one stage, the area was changed forever in the 1960s with plans for the Capital’s “modern” shopping centre.

The seven-storey tenements which once housed hundreds of families were ripped down, to make way for what was an ambitious development. Only St Mary’s Cathedral remains of the buildings that were once there.

The £7 million project saw a stream of lorries moving rubble from the site, which was used to reclaim land at West Granton Harbour.

One of the project’s biggest challenges was putting in place the £100,000 footbridge across Leith Street, a delicate operation which required a 200-ton crane – the biggest in Scotland – standing almost 30 feet high.

When the centre was eventually completed, however, it was not exactly hailed as a masterpiece – indeed, one early visitor described it as “all a bit alien” with automatic doors that “imprison” people.

gedwards@edinburghnews.com