The tour of Glasgow's palatial century-old City Chambers concluded with the serving of Scotch whiskeys and soft drinks in the Reception Room. The Lord Provost (mayor), Dr. Michael Kelly, was on hand to extend personal greetings; his uniformed staff passed out Glasgow Passports -- a packet containing discount coupons for hotels and restaurants -- and a lapel pin bearing the seal of the city.
This was not a special tour for VIPs. These receptions are held twice a day for all visitors who appear in the lobby requesting a look at the building. How long the city can maintain such personal services depends on how successful it is in transforming its urban landscape into a major tourist attraction.
The city along the River Clyde may not strike many as a natural center for tourism. Its reputation as an industrial badlands is legend. Decades of coal burning and industrial pollution have covered its sandy and gray-colored buildings with black soot.
The post-World War II era was especially damaging to the city. The collapse of the shipbuilding and other industries caused a dramatic decline in the population, from 1 million in 1950 to 750,000 today. Tenements were demolished and replaced by high-rise public-housing towers, visible throughout the city.
Glasgow's image was so negative that businesses considering a move to the city faced rebellion among those staff members who would be required to move there. A few brave souls ventured into the urban wilds to visit the architectural works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the pioneer of modern design, but then quickly made their way east to Edinburgh or north to the Highlands.
In the 19th century, Glasgow was the Second City in the British Empire. Its origins go back as far as the 6th century, when its patron saint, St. Mungo, founded a religious community near the River Clyde at a site that probably was already a small trading center.
In the 18th century, the city experienced its first wave of prosperity generated by the tobacco trade with the American colonies, especially Virginia. The tobacco era was succeeded in the next century by textile, chemical, iron, and steel manufacturing. By the last part of the 19th century, Glasgow was a prime center for shipbuilding in the world and boasted a thriving port.
The wealth that came with this succession of prosperous eras was reflected in the city's architecture. Business enterprises built showy warehouses, factories and office structures; merchants and leading professionals commissioned grand residences and supported the construction of monumental churches; and the city housed its public services in opulent municipal buildings.
Glasgow's architectural heritage received new attention in the 1970s when a city study declared Glasgow to be the "finest surviving example of a great Victorian city," while also noting that it was among the most "neglected and mistreated."
The study inspired modest beginnings in the planning for the protection of Glasgow's architectural heritage, which dates back to the 12th century. A small conservation staff conducted architectural surveys that led to the designation of 15 conservation areas. The Scottish Civic Trust conducted a stone-cleaning campaign, intended to demonstrate its beneficial results on a select number of landmarks.
The pace of improvement has quickened in the last five years. Whole neighborhoods of 19th-century structures have been cleaned and repaired.
All of this makes Glasgow an interesting city for architecture buffs, offering as delicious a feast of historic architecture as will be found in any British city.
To make the best use of limited time, visitors can organize their route by starting with the city's origins, at the Cathedral and the River Clyde, and following the growth of the city westward.
It is natural to start with the Cathedral precinct, symbolizing the origins of the city and site of its major architectural treasure. Early portions of the Cathedral date from the 12th century, but much of what the visitor sees now dates from the 14th and 15th centuries with many alterations made up to the present century. The dignified Gothic structure, reddish in color, is the second-largest such building in Scotland.
To the east of the Cathedral, cross the Bridge of Sighs and enter the necropolis. This City of the Dead, a large burial ground situated on a steep hill, contains numerous monuments to Glasgow's leading citizens of the 19th century. The monuments sport columns, obelisks and domes and serve as a veritable museum of architectural styles of the era.
To the west of the Cathedral is Provand's Lordship, a town home built about 1471. It is believed to be the oldest surviving building in Glasgow. North of the Cathedral is the sprawling Royal Infirmary, part of which stands on the site of Glasgow's medieval Archbishop's Palace.
From Cathedral Square southward along High Street and the Saltmarket, the visitor will see remains of the 17th-century city. The most prominent landmark along the route is the Tolbooth Steeple at Glasgow Cross, the crossroads of High Street and the Trongate. The seven-story steeple was once part of a large square building dating about 1626.
Where Saltmarket terminates at the River Clyde is Glasgow Green, site of protest marches and demonstrations. It has drawn comparisons with London's Hyde Park. It is the oldest public park in the city and has survived numerous attempts at encroachment and alienation.
The park is a pleasant stretch of green along the River Clyde, punctuated by Victorian fountains and the country's first monument to commemorate Lord Nelson's military exploits. At the north end of the park is the 1898 People's Palace, a museum of Glasgow history with an attached glass-enclosed garden. The museum houses a modern, although somewhat cramped, exhibit tracing the history of Glasgow through artifacts and graphic display.
Just across the street, outside the park's northern boundary, is the surprising Templeman's Carpet Factory building dating from 1889. Differing from the spartan stereotype of factory buildings, it is instead modeled after the Doge's Palace in Venice and is richly decorated with painted and glazed brick, towers and battlements. Glasgow historian Frank Worsdall recorded that the building is "recognized today as the finest example of decorative brickwork." Its owner, James Stewart Templeman, was a patron of the arts who sought to bestow the city with "something of permanent architectural interest and beauty."
Another center for architecture viewing is George Square, a short walk northwest of Glasgow Green, named for King George III. Originally developed as the prime residential enclave for Glasgow's 18th-century tobacco lords, this area was engulfed in the following century by commercial and municipal buildings.
To the east of the square is the jewel in Glasgow's civic crown, the City Chambers, commenced in 1883 and completed five years later. It was designed in the Renaissance style by architect William Young. Its interior boasts a grand marble staircase and hall, and a cavernous Banqueting Hall of superhuman proportions.
Two blocks from George Square is Buchanan Street, the city's premier shopping artery. Made a pedestrian street in the mid-1970s, Buchanan is lined with commercial structures, including the 1895 red sandstone Clydesdale Bank, which won a restoration award from the Civic Trust.
At the south end of Buchanan Street stands the diminutive St. Enoch's Station (1892). At one time, it was a ticket office and an entrance to Glasgow's underground subway train system. The Jacobean-style station building was preserved during the recent modernization of the subway (which links 15 stations in a circular path) and now serves as a transportation information center.
At the north end of Buchanan Street, turn left at St. Vincent Street and follow the gradual ascent toward the 1858 St. Vincent Street Church. This is one of Glasgow architect Alexander "Greek" Thompson's best-known church buildings and demonstrates his facility with the language of architectural styles. The main part of the church resembles a Greek temple atop a massive stone foundation.
A short walk northward takes the visitor to Sauchiehill Street, another major shopping street. One block north is Renfrew Street, site of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's best-known work, the Glasgow School of Art. Built in two sections in 1897 and 1907, it has been carefully maintained, and tours are available. As remarkable an example of modern design as it is, the school can also be appreciated for its compatibility with Glasgow's most distinctive residential type, the tenement. These are rows of apartment houses with open stairways, about four or five stories high.
The Tenement House on Buccleuch Street, only a few blocks north of the art school, is the National Trust for Scotland's newest "house museum" project. For an organization most readily identified with stately homes and "little houses" schemes in Scottish towns, the purchase and restoration of a tenement flat represents a radical departure.
The Tenement House contains the trust's two-room flat museum. The flat was once occupied by Agnes Toward, a shopping firm clerk for most of her life until 1966. Toward hoarded her possessions and did little to modernize the flat, leaving the trust and the visitor with an incomparable social document of lower-middle-class life in the early 20th century.
A visit to the West End across the Kelvin River will reward one with a view of the University of Glasgow, the commanding Gothic pile designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott of London in 1866. Scott's building was the first to be built when the university, founded in 1451, moved from High Street to the West End. It remains the centerpiece of the university and dwarfs the later buildings of the academic complex. Down the hill from the university is the renowned Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, housed in a building designed for the 1901 International Exhibition.
There are many 19th-century residential areas that will be of interest to the visitor. Perhaps the most convenient to the city center is the strip along Great Western Way. Here are the grand residential terrace compositions, designed by Alexander Thompson and other architects who fell under his spell. They are long rows of adjoining urban residences arranged in a single coherent and monumental design.
Grosvenor Terrace, now a luxury hotel, was designed in 1855 by John Thomas Rochead of Edinburgh. After a 1978 fire, the fac,ade was rebuilt replicating the original design. Kirklee Terrace, along one edge of the Botanical Gardens, was designed in 1845 by Charles Wilson. Just beyond is the 1869 Great Western Terrace, perhaps Thompson's residential tour de force in the Grecian style.
After viewing Glasgow's architecture, the visitor may well agree with Robin Ward, who wrote in "Some City Glasgow" that Glasgow's beauty was not easily accessible. But for those who make the effort to seek it out it will be as rewarding on the 10th visit as the first.