Barber Eddie Wykes can’t believe the building is still standing.
Before his next customer arrives for a trim, Wykes peers across the street at No. 144 Upper Abbey Street.
The stained red-brick structure rises up four floors, standing alone on a vacant lot, ballasted on its right side by iron scaffolding. Overgrown weeds and plants sprout from the chimney.
A red-line Luas train glides past. A laminated white sign, the planning permission notice attached to the fence beside No. 144, announces the intention to demolish the building.
But there are still no signs of the bulldozer.
In a Bad Way
The structure was never solid, says Wykes, moving slightly to the right and pointing over to a small, exposed-brick kitchenette to the rear of 144.
Clumps of bramble and leaf poke through the walls. “There’s a hole in the roof there as well,” says Wykes. “See that tree? That tree actually grew through the back wall of the shop’s kitchen.”
The hastily tacked-on plank, rotted over time, was the work of one of several landlords Wykes would endure in his tenure at 144.
Ed’s Barber Shop was originally on the ground floor of the now derelict building. Wykes took up residence in 1983. Back then the building was owned by an octogenarian by the name of Clare Baker.
Wykes crosses over to the far end of the barbershop. He comes back with a battered, orange rent book, dating back to 1987.
Baker would send around her representative from Herman White properties in Rathmines to collect Wykes’ weekly rent, £225 up until 1990.
After Baker’s death, a construction company took over the ownership of 144, says Wykes. Walsh Brothers of London followed after them.
Damp and rot, unchecked over the years, has led to the building’s current sorry state, says Wykes. “Six and a half years ago it was to be developed,” he says. “The insulation’s pretty bad, the roof is in a bad way, a big crack down the back wall.”
In the mid-1990s, No. 144 was purchased by what was then Guardian PMPA Insurance, now AXA Insurance Ltd, when the building went up for auction, according to Wykes.
Wykes, 13 years in the building at this stage, mulled over making an offer. “They [PMPA] offered £24,000 and the auction price they were looking for was £25,000. They offered £24,000 and the crowd said to me, ‘What do you think Eddy?’ and I said I couldn’t buy it,” says Wykes. “But I went to the bank and did a deal. And then it was, all of sudden, ‘Nah sorry, you didn’t get it.’”
The new owners, PMPA, moved fast with plans for redevelopment.
When Wykes first opened on the ground floor, there were three buildings in a row adjacent to No. 144, leading down to the corner of Wolfe Tone Street.
Beside Wykes at No. 143 was Eileen Nolan, who ran a fruit and veg shop. Next to her, says Wykes, was Pauline and her son Andrew in No. 142, with a shoe repair shop at No. 141.
In 1996, PMPA (now AXA) applied for planning permission to demolish Nos. 141 to 143, which it also owned.
Since then, the building has stood unsteadily alone. But it’s due to be knocked down, too, according to the planning permission.
In November last year AXA applied for planning permission for “a temporary scheme of improvement” of the existing site, including No. 144.
The plan, over a five-year period, is to provide staff working at AXA HQ on Wolfe Tone Street with a garden, planter boxes, seating and an additional seven parking spaces.
The scheme includes the demolition of No. 144 as well as the corner building at No. 53 Wolfe Tone Street. AXA Insurance didn’t respond to requests for further details.
Wykes says he’s surprised it has taken so long.
In its last year as a working building, No. 144 had a “dangerous building – cross over” sign affixed to the exterior wall on the right-hand side.
Despite the structure’s rickety condition, Wykes persevered and placed his own “Ed’s Barbers – Business as Usual” notice in the window, only to be told he’d have to remove it.
He was the last leave the red-brick relic before moving across the street. Before that though, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, most of the floors above were in use, he says.
“There were three old lads, one on each floor,” says Wykes. “One of them was well known in the area, they used to call him the Lord Mayor of Capel Street. John McCann, that was it.”
“He used to burn palettes to keep the place warm,” he says. “McCann would come in to the barbers and say ‘I’ll keep an eye on everything for ye.’ I only got rid of him in 2000 when he died!”
After what was PMPA bought the building in 1996, Wykes had little trouble with his new landlords. Some, however, weren’t so reliable.
“AXA were always good landlords,” says Wykes.
The dealers before them, though, were something else, he said. “I’d get a phone call from the lads saying, ‘Water came in through the roof!’ So I’d come down and confront your man [the landlord] and he said, get this, ‘Ah jaysus, someone came in a 11 o’clock in the morning and stole the ball cock out of the tank in the attic.’ He’d be standing there bare-faced lookin’ at ye saying this!”
For Wykes, it’s past time the lonely building came down.
“It’s going to go. A lot of the locals around here are shocked it’s still standing,” he says. “The fact that it said ‘dangerous building – cross over’, you know?”