As the most aggressive competitor to the mighty Imperial Tobacco Company in the early 20th. century, Carreras acquired a well earned reputation for innovative marketing and product development. The Black Cat brand which lent itself so readily to visually striking advertising imagery was the company’s major asset and, supported by coupon issues and lavish gift catalogues, established itself as a challenger to Imperial’s key brands. In 1921 Carreras introduced a new market leader, Craven A, the first machine-made filter cigarette, forcing the competition to follow suit. When the need for new and larger premises arose, it comes as no surprise that Carreras developed a design that would have maximum visual impact on the city streets. Like the Michelin Building in South Kensington it was conceived as a gigantic piece of advertising and located in a dominant position on Hampstead Road, on the corner of Mornington Crescent. Taking full advantage of the public obsession with all things Egyptian, the façade was designed as a highly theatrical Art Deco exercise flavoured with black cat, palm and lotus leaf decorative elements. The central colonnade consisted of papyriform columns underneath an overhanging cornice. When the Arcadia Works was completed in 1928 it offered a decorative skin beneath which lay an entirely functional building formed from pre-stressed concrete, fully equipped with air-conditioning. The opening celebrations included plein-air performances of extracts from Verdi’s Aida and chariot races along Hampstead Road.
Modernism in diluted form found favour with British architects and developers as they noted the potential it offered for budget reduction and cost savings. The Arcadia Works was perfectly calculated to offend Modernist sensibilities and the façade was stripped off in 1962 when the building was refitted as office accommodation and renamed Greater London House. The Sixties business client in a Cecil Gee suit would have nothing but scorn for the Art Deco elements, preferring the anonymity of a glass curtain wall. Fashions changed again and new owners in 1996 saw the commercial advantage in restoring the façade to its former glory and on the evidence of these photographs it remains in resplendent condition. Craven A cigarettes are no longer available in UK but can still, according to Wikipedia, be smoked in Canada, Jamaica, Vietnam and North Korea! A selection of advertising is included as a reminder of the times when a cork-tipped smoke conferred distinction.