Standing on the south-west banks of the River Ouse, between the Lendal and Ouse Bridges, the Park Inn by Radisson hotel is a modernist ten-storey tower. Officially opened on 1 January 1969 following the final completion of the upper two storeys, it was the first hotel built in York for ninety years, marking the city’s first step into the modern tourist industry.
The building was originally commissioned by Spiers & Pond Ltd, a leading hotelier and restaurateur in Britain and the world’s first large scale caterers.1 It was a combined national and local project. Designed by London-based architects, Fitzroy Robinson & Partners (now part of the international firm Aukett Swanke), it was built by an established York-based firm, Shepherd Construction Ltd.2
The brick slab design, with its large surface area of steel-framed windows predominant on the front and rear elevations, was quite a departure for York. A noticeable feature is the projecting first-floor section cantilevered over the public walkway (provided by the developers) on the riverside and over the pavement on the roadside, where it is partly supported by pilotis (see figs 2 & 3).
The main entrance is located at first floor level accessed by a broad staircase, with car parking provided beneath the building at ground floor level – a design feature, no doubt intended to cope with periodic flooding in the riverside location.
Until the hotel’s arrival, this part of the riverbank had been largely devoted to warehouses and workshops and it was intended to be surrounded by open space: the landscaped North Street Gardens, on one side and the remaining vacant site of the former warehouse, on the other.3 Whilst the architect and town-planner, Lord Esher supported modernist design, he commented in York: A Study in Conservation (1968), that the building was ‘regrettably tall’.4 This may be on account of the building’s isolation. As Peter Carolin has observed in Scandinavian tower development, popular at the time, ‘blocks were almost always built in groups (reaping the benefits of repetition) rather than an isolated townscape feature’ as in the case of the Park Inn.5 The hotel does not take account of the immediate landscape – either its prominent riverside location or the neighbouring, medieval buildings. Esher recommended that the proposed retention of the adjacent vacant site for further public open space should be reconsidered, and the land redeveloped with a restaurant or public house, with car parking below, to reduce the impression of height.6 This led to planning consent being granted in 1979, for the adjoining five-storey, brick-built block, set around an internal courtyard. Although it has the appearance of being freestanding, the extension is an integral part of the hotel, designed by local firm, Tom Adam Design Associates.
Once again, Shepherd Construction Ltd. were the main contractors. The hotel now offers 200 bedrooms and conference facilities, together with restaurants and bars overlooking the river.
Keen to establish a York-based identity and acknowledging the area’s immediate links with the city’s Scandinavian invaders, the original owners launched the hotel as the Viking Hotel, a name still often used by local people. The interior design also had a modern Scandinavian influence, with glass murals depicting Viking stories. However, the hotel has gone through a number of refurbishments since then and the present owners, the American Radisson group, promote its status as part of an international chain. In the hotel’s many changes it has lost its attempts at a local image, and the structure, described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘intrusive’ is now considered a detractor by the local authority.7 Similarly, whilst the hotel commands magnificent views, particularly from the upper storeys, historians John Hutchinson and David Palliser comment that the ‘painfully solid’ building, ‘dominates so many views without contributing to any.’8 Likewise, the local press denigrate the building. For example, in an article written in 2019, the York Press, describing the whole era as ‘architecturally pretty – well, dismal’, commented of Park Inn what ‘a monument to block-headed, blocky design it is: the ultimate square of a building put up in a decade that was supposed to be anything but.’
Yet, though unloved by many, the Park Inn is nonetheless a well-established part of York’s riverside and the city’s modern tourist industry.