SWING WIDE THE GATES TO OPPORTUNITY (2)
A member of the FSAOF (Former SA Officers Fellowship) living in Canberra Australia, where incidentally my oldest daughter was born, kindly posts SA magazines and general reading material to me every few months. An early 2015 War Cry, a SA weekly shared a six paragraph report; Strawberry Field Orphanage. The last sentence of the lead article reads, “Strawberry Field is now a Salvation Army prayer and mission centre. The famous gates marking its entrance still stand.”
Clearly the news of the gates disappearance 15 years ago had not reached the land ‘down under’. The theft of the famous Strawberry Field gates was reported on the 11th May 2000, when newswires alerted media outlets worldwide that two thieves had cut them down. Children playing in the grounds of Strawberry Fields, a Salvation Army home made famous by a Beatles hit of 1967, watched as thieves cut down the 8 foot high wrought-iron gates, loading them into and driving off in haste in a Transit van.
At first, it was feared that the 100-year-old gates might have been stolen to order for a Beatles fan.
The gates stolen from the Liverpool children's home were made famous by the Beatles, a childhood haunt of Beatle John Lennon, and was immortalised in a 1967 Beatles song and Strawberry Field. The home with its famous red painted Victorian gates became a shrine for visiting fans of the fab four from Liverpool. Ever since the song was released Beatles fans have come to visit the famous gates with some writing graffiti and spray-paint mementos on the outside gate pillars which have to be cleaned periodically.
There was a driveway leading up to the house which today is completely overgrown but still standing are two imposing magnificent iron gates mounted to stone pillars topped with beautiful ornate stone pier caps. It is believed the signatures of Lennon's sons Sean and Julian were at one time added to the hundreds of others among the graffiti scrawled on the perimeter granite gateposts.
The home comprised a large mansion with gothic features in extensive wooded gardens which once used to extend right down to Menlove Avenue providing a wonderful secret world in which to play.
The late singer-songwriter spent much of his youth playing in Strawberry Field's grounds, close to the Menlove Avenue home of his Aunt Mimi with whom he lived as a child.
The line in the song, "nothing to get hung about" was inspired by her warning not to play in the grounds, which in the 1940s and 1950s were sprawling and overgrown. According to Beatles buffs, the young John would reply: "They can't hang you for it."
John Lennon had promised his son Sean they would go to Strawberry Field together someday but of course that was sadly denied. But in 1984 Yoko Ono fulfilled the promise of the visit with Sean and met with Major David Botting at the home who recalled the early memories of Aunt Mimi with John…..It was in the late forties and early 50’s Aunt Mimi and John used to come up to the Strawberry Field Garden party held every year which was a very exciting time for them. Mimi used to say as soon as John heard the sound of the Salvation Army Band he would be jumping up and down on his bed saying "Come on, Mimi, it's time! It's time ! We've got to go up !……
After that, Yoko paid for the building of a new play area at the facility.
Memorial in Central Park, New York
Thousands of miles away from Strawberry Field in Liverpool a year after John died Yoko collaborated with New York Council and helped to finance a permanent memorial. On 9th October 1985 on which would have been John’s 45th birthday Yoko inaugurated the memorial called ‘Strawberry Fields’ and declared it: Open. It is located on a 2.5 acre site in Central Park near to the Dakota Apartments where John And Yoko lived. It was designed by landscape architect Bruce Kelly and features a reproduction of a Pompei mosaic donated by the Italian city of Naples which has the famous inscription ‘Imagine’ at the centre.
There is also a bronze plaque that lists the 121 countries endorsing Strawberry Fields as a Garden of Peace.
“But looking back here in Liverpool who would have known all those years ago that a little boys playground in Beaconsfield Road which has many similarities to so many other large houses and gardens throughout Liverpool providing little havens for youngsters at that time to enjoy and explore and adopt as secret gardens and build dens and climb trees would provide such inspiration and worldwide fame.” Liverpool Echo
The centre was first opened in 1936 by General Evangeline Booth as a home for children from the slums. The rambling Victorian mansion John Lennon would have known as a child was replaced by a new building in the early 1970s. However, the original gates remain because they have become a tourist attraction, even though they no longer form the entrance to the site.
Liverpool Capital of Culture chairman Sir Bob Scott said last night: "I think everything to do with the Beatles needs to be treasured and thought about very carefully. "Several people need to put their heads together, including us here at Capital of Culture, about what the sensible response to the announcement should be.
"It is not a time for instant sentimental decisions, but equally the future of the site is not simply a matter for the market place."
The Salvation Army could be sitting on a development goldmine - but getting planning permission would be another story.
THE Salvation Army could be heading for a multi-million pound payday if they choose to sell off the Strawberry Field site for development, according to one property expert.
Steven Beilin, owner of Liverpool-based estate agent BE Property Services, said: "The site would be worth a fortune.
"It's a greenfield site, so somebody could just buy it and turn it into flats or apartments, or extend what is already there."
He cited the example of a nearby modern development of 10 luxury detached houses, in Beaconsfield Road, close to the site of the children's home, where each house is worth around 1 million pounds (US $1,600,000.00).
We can't afford to lose this important piece of Beatles history>
Musician Mike Byrne knew John Lennon from the days when he played at The Cavern on the same bill as The Beatles with his own band, the Roadrunners.
Fifteen years ago, Mike founded the Beatles Story exhibition and shop at Liverpool's Albert Dock, and still regularly performs with his latest band, Jukebox Eddie's. He said: "I'm shocked and really saddened that something that is part of Beatles history is going to close. I would just hope that it's not going to disappear completely. "I've had dealings with the children's home as part of Merseycats, a charity formed by the original Merseybeat groups, and I was really impressed with it.
"We have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for childrens' charities on Merseyside through the groups that are still playing, including Strawberry Field. "It is part of The Beatles' heritage - every hour of every day there is either a coach, a car, or individual tourists walking up and down to see the place John Lennon wrote about, and having their picture taken. "It is such an important part not only of Beatle history, but also of Liverpool's heritage. With Capital of Culture coming up, we can't lose something like Strawberry Field.
"Whatever happens, the Strawberry Field image should stay on the same site, and the original gates have to be preserved for future generations. "It would be great if it could be kept for the community, for example as a Beatle-themed heritage centre, or for educational or performing arts use.
"The main thing is that it remains open to everyone. Strawberry Field is so important that it should be kept there on that site."