The Trocadero – the end of one of London’s greatest entertainment centres
London’s Trocadero in Picadilly Circus. In the past it has hosted the Palace of Varieties, the New Private Subscription Theatre, the Royal Albion Theatre, the New Queen’s Theatre, the Argyll Subscription Rooms, the Trocadero Music Hall, the Royal Trocadero Music Hall, the Eden Theatre and the Trocadero Restaurant!
To give more info to the closure of the Trocadero as an amusement centre, it is worth delving into the recent history of the building. In the late 1990s, the current Trocadero was home to the first 3D IMAX cinema in the UK and Segaworld, which opened on the 7th of September, 1996.
Leslau and Wray bought back the lease on the Trocadero in 1997. In 2000 they renamed the whole establishment “Funland”, after Segaworld was making a loss of £2.4 million a year.
The present owners, Criterion, then bought the building in 2005. Swiftly announcing their plans in 2006 to create a 471 room and subsequently a 495 room hotel on The Trocadero site, it seemed like the writing for Funland was on the wall. These plans were originally granted permission in 2008 and 2010.
In that same year, the once redundant passage connecting Piccadilly Circus tube line to the Troc was given a new lease of life via “The Trocadero Underground”. This tunnel space for street dancers was painted by the graffiti artists collective “EOTC” and was a central and free meeting point for dancers to hang out and train. The opening event, sponsored by Eastpak, was on Saturday the 10th of April 2010.
On 3 July 2011, Funland was shut down due to a dispute about the rent. The more popular rhythm games were moved to “Las Vegas Arcade Soho”, which remains Family Leisure’s last videogame dedicated arcade. On the 28th November 2011, the idea spawned on the UK fighting game site “Neo Empire” to buying the remaining Funland sit-down cabinets. These remained on-site until power was restored to open the shutters and move them a year later where they currently reside at “The Heart of Gaming” arcade in London, Acton.
A few months after Funland shut down, Crown Direct and other companies (Star Attraction, 5D World) moved in, filling the corridors, walkways, basement areas and even the loading bay with arcade machines. Brick a Brack and souvenir shops also popped up, which gave the once mighty building a tatty feel, especially for a central London location. Rumour has it all sites were on a 2 week contract period with free rental, giving 70% of their earnings to Criterion in return.
However all was not lost here as a gaming location. At HMV that same year, “Gamerbase” opened up, a successful haven for gamers to play consoles and PC’s in competitive events. This boosted that particular HMV’s retail game sales by 80%. However due to HMV entering administration, that shop was shut down taking Gamerbase with it in February 2013.
Fast forward to present day; the Tuesday the 11th February 2014. The arcades were handed their 2 week notice and the basement shops, their 30 days notice. By Thursday the 13th some barriers had gone up in the Trocadero Underground area, with dancers carrying on regardless. The next day security staff were present to move them away and the entire dance area was closed off. Less than a week later the back and front access to the Trocadero was now fully barricaded, bar the main entrance with Starbucks, Tokyo Toys, a couple of souvenir shops and the History Studios.
Remaining arcade venues;
- Las Vegas Soho. A 5 minute walk away from the Trocadero site, run by Family Leisure; the same owners as Funland. It has been focusing on it’s Chinatown clientele with Japanese and Korean music games, many the only existing cabinets in Europe. https://www.facebook.com/LasVegasArcadeSoho
- Namco Funscape County Hall. Focuses more on tourists with redemption. While not many videogames can be found, it is more of an entertainment centre with bowling, karaoke and a licensed bar. https://namcofunscape.com/
- Queens Bowl. In Bayswater, this underground arcade lies in an oriental area and reflects that with some Japanese import racing and dance machines.
- The Heart of Gaming, North Acton. Here lie the remaining Trocadero sit down cabinets as well as dance machines and console setups. https://www.facebook.com/TheHeartOfGaming
Impact on the current London arcade scene
Without Trocadero closing, the Heart of Gaming would not be hosting weekly competitive tournaments (and Capcom officially unveiling Ultra Street Fighter IV there) with a variety of fighting games on refurbished Funland machines. I would not be working at Las Vegas Arcade Soho myself, focusing on the current (and vastly different) present generation arcade market with Korean pop, rhythm and action games, wifi and bubble tea. Effectively these are examples of two brilliant arcades catering to different audiences while Funland was trying to walk the line on both.
Namco Funscape has not been considered a gaming venue since the mid 2000′s (when their remaining machines from Namco Wonderpark finally disappeared) as they have focused more on the corporate events side. To add salt to the wound, newer Namco videogames can be found in other arcades.
The downside is many people who knew of Trocadero as the only London arcade will now arrive there without knowing of other places to go. In fact now in 2014 with the dedicated locations outlined above, there is more quality of choice with videogames than ever before. Trocadero will remain iconic; whether as Segaworld, for the Pepsi Max Drop (which now can be found alive and well in Hayling Island, alongside perhaps the only SEGA Virtual On cabinet in the country), Sports Bar or just that place in Piccadilly everyone went to hang out in, and more recently dance… A symbolic once mighty arcade and entertainment centre remembered by all.
By Toby na Nakhorn, Social Media & Community Manager at Family Leisure and arcade editor at Coin-op Community
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