Why Don't People Accept Beauty When They See It?; Will One Man Save Northern England's Greatest Art Deco Building? Peter Elson Meets the Man Behind the New Battle of Edge Hill I Achieved Every Material Ambition, but When I Couldn't Decide Which of My Two Sports Cars to Go out in, I Began to Feel the Situation Was Obscene. I Was Spiritually Poorer

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Byline: Peter Elson

PLAYING in the old bomb sites of post-war Liverpool, a six-yearold boy one day found a black vase in a derelict house awaiting demolition.

Even at his young age, he was struck by the beauty of its design and so he took it back to his family's terraced house in Everton. His mother was less than impressed, but it was allowed pride of place on a window sill.

``I was distraught when it got broken sometime later,'' recalls Wayne Colquhoun, now aged 42 and a leading art dealer.

``Since then I've found out it was Wedgwood black basalt ewer. The next time I saw an identical one was two years ago at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, in Port Sunlight. At least I knew I could spot the right stuff from an early age.''

It's this same innate sense of aesthetic appreciation which has led him in a one-man battle to save what is possibly the greatest art deco building in the north of England. This is the Littlewoods's Building, built by the multi-millionaire pools founder, the late John Moores.

Colquhoun has marshalled support from the highly influential 20th Century Society and Save Britain's Heritage. Merseyside Civic Society has also supported his campaign for the building's preservation, yet, as is often the case, other important local support from Liverpool City Council and the North West Development Agency is lukewarm or non-existent.

However, with the sale of Littlewoods's and the regrouping of its assets, what was once the centrepiece of the Moores' family empire is now surplus to requirements.

The present plan is to clear the site with and with the currently vacant former Edge Lane bus and tram depot site redevelop it entirely as a business park. Colquhoun sees his mission as stopping the building's destruction - which is likely in the sell-off.

Viewed from across the expanse of Liverpool's Botanic Gardens, the Littlewoods's Building looks like some vast, luminous, aircraft carrier, steaming over the rolling greensward and punching its way through the swelling mass of trees.

Its central, white, cenotaph-style clock tower, over a long, low building extending on either side, reflects dark red sandstone shape of Liverpool Cathedral; commercial and ecclesiastical mirror images of a city that once had the confidence to assert itself in either world.

`T HIS is a building of its time. It has all the true elements of a classical building, but has been pared down to a carefullymassed shape, which is more difficult to do as the eye is not distracted by extra detail,'' says Colquhoun.

Not only is the property a valuable asset to the city, but John Moores is an important figure whose memory should be cherished, he believes.

Thought to be designed by the architect Gerald de Coursy Fraser and completed in 1938, Colquhoun believes that the Littlewoods's Building could have a great future as the focal point of both the local and wider community.

The Moores family's generous and high-profile sponsorship for Liverpool's art scene with the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition painting competition and James Moores' sponsorship of the Liverpool Biennial provides an invaluable link withthe building's preservation. ``What a perfect place for the next Liverpool Biennial in 2004,'' says Colquhoun. ``The building is the equivalent of London's redundant Bankside Power Station, which has become the incredibly popular Tate Modern Gallery.''

``Not only could the building be filled with art but outside installation art works could be put all around the Botanic Gardens, which is one of Liverpool's hidden jewels.

``This could be linked with revitalising Edge Hill railway station, possibly the world's oldest and most historic station, but completely unexploited for tourism. …