Click on photos to enlarge.
This is another of those instances where your dedicated sleuth and reporter went the extra mile or two to find what I am willing to wager you would never have found on your own. To look it up on the internet it looks incredibly easy: The Anna Pavlova blue plaque commemorating the home in which the great Russian-born dancer lived for many years in London. You can find plenty of photos of the house. That should make it even easier, no?
You can find an address of 6 Ivy House. You can find references to the former Jewish Cultural Center. There is also an address of 94-96 North End Road. The photos of the imposing house are so distinct it would never occur to you that you could possibly walk right by without noticing it.
But that’s just what I did 3 or 4 times before enlisting the aid of a friendly neighbor who was out hosing down his driveway right next to where I knew I wanted to be – although that wasn’t doing me any good.
“Good morning, sir,” said I. “Hate to bother you at your work!”
“Oh, any time!” he replied.
“I think you must know where I want to go,” said I. “I’m looking for one of your neighbors. Maybe you can tell me.”
“Maybe so, maybe not,” he said with a smile.
“I know she’s right here,” I said, “but I have walked back and forth and up and down your street to no avail. Surely you know where Anna Pavlova lived!”
“Oh! Anna PavlOva,” he said with pleasure and veneration, employing the non-Russian pronunciation of the great ballerina’s name. “Yes, I do think she lived somewhere nearby.”
“It’s a great, big beautiful home,” said I. “Very stately. I shouldn’t be able to miss it, but I surely do every time I walk up and back on this street.”
“I’ll bet that’s because it’s behind a big wall now,” my gardening friend told me. “It was bought by a school and they erected a tall fence in front of it. I believe it’s the next house just up from here.”
I thanked the man for his friendly advice and I headed back up North End Road for the third time at least. And sure enough. There was the fence, behind which arose several nondescript gables (see photo immediately below). Was this it? I walked up to the gate and peered around the corner and – yessiree – there was the house. Not really in all its glory because you really can’t get an angle to look at it from the street. But I finally did realize I had reached my destination. Next up: the plaque. Peering through the gate like a thief on prowl I searched up and down the walls of the house – no plaque was to be seen.
As I contemplated my next move I saw a woman ring a bell and enter the gates seconds later. I resolved to do the same. A kind-voiced young woman came on the line and asked if she could help. I assured her she could. I needed to get inside to find the Anna Pavlova blue plaque. Could she let me in?
“Oh, no. Not now,” she said, almost worried. “Come back in a half an hour. The children are being let out now and we can’t have any strangers crossing paths with them before they’re all gone.”
“A half an hour?” I asked back. “I’m losing daylight and I have several other places to be today,” I pleaded. “I’ve come from Russia. I’m a journalist,” I added, sort of telling the truth. “I’ve come specifically to photograph the plaque. But I don’t see it anywhere.”
“Oh, it’s here,” the kind young lady said. “But it’s behind the fence. You can’t see it.”
“Oh,” I said, getting more and more disappointed.
“Come back in 15 minutes,” she said through the intercom. I’ll try to let you in then.”
I promised her I would and I walked across the street to try to find an angle to photograph the home (see the last photo in the following block for that result). I took a shot or two and, bored, went back to stand by the gate. Although 15 minutes hadn’t passed, I unexpectedly heard the young woman’s voice through the intercom again.
I ran to the door. “Yes?” I said.
“Push on the door,” she told me. “It will open.”
I did and it did. Shortly thereafter, a woman dressed in black came out the front door and headed in my direction. It was the lady from the speaker phone. We exchanged pleasantries then got down to business. The plaque, I was told, was now closed off in a side area behind locked gates. I asked if I could have access – I’d come all the way from Russia. I repeated this information in a whine that employed my best wounded-bird voice. “Oh, I’ll have to ask. I couldn’t make that decision myself,” she said. She went in to ask permission to let me into the hallowed ground and I began photographing the building straight on. If you look at the second photo above you will see the young lady coming back out and trying to run out of the photo before I snapped the shot. God bless her, she had secured permission for me to go inside the holy-of-holies side yard to shoot the plaque. See the second and third photos below for that.
After I snapped those shots we went back out and chatted for a few minutes. I was assured that the school had plans to move the plaque out from its current prison onto a place on the building that would be more visible from the street. There was no fence before the school purchased the property in 2015 – it had been put up as protection for the children, history be damned.
Apparently quite a few items belonging to Pavlova are still present in the house. My friendly acquaintance told me there is often talk about turning one of the rooms into a small Pavlova museum in order to collect all the items in one place. I solemnly confirmed that this would be a wonderful idea – particularly if people could have access to it… In fact, there was something of an exhibition here 12 years ago. A small piece in The Independent tells us about that, suggesting that the home became a Jewish Cultural Center because “Pavlova’s unknown father is thought to have been Jewish.”
Pavlova bought this house in Hampstead Heath – originally built in the 18th century – in 1912. It remained her home until her death in 1931. In fact, this is where she died. I don’t know when the structure was given over to the Jewish Cultural Center, but the majority of references to the building on the internet are to the Jewish center. According to one source, it was purchased by the school – now known as St. Anthony’s School for Girls – for 6.25 million pounds in 2015. To the best of my ability to ascertain, it was called Ivy House 6 when Pavlova lived here. At some point the modern address became 94-96 North End Road, most probably during the tenure of the Jewish Cultural Center. The West Hampstead School of Dance was located in Pavlova’s former home until the property was bought by St. Anthony’s.
Several photographs and even some video of Pavlova in the house and its gardens has been put together in a YouTube short. Another video repeats some of the same footage but includes a very brief, but quite wonderful, sound recording, reportedly the only extant recording that we have of Pavlova’s voice.