In 1896 architects Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912) and James Francis Doyle (1840-1913) were commissioned to design the new Liverpool headquarters for the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, better known as the White Star Line. The design bears many similarities to Shaw's earlier work in London, the (former) New Scotland Yard in Westminster. Ismay had previously commissioned Norman Shaw to design his country house, Dawpool House in Cheshire (now demolished).
The building was completed in 1898 and was the headquarters of the White Star Line for the next 36 years. Important work was done within the building on the design, development and operation of the Olympic-class liners and subsequent White Star liners, despite the move of the main transatlantic service to New York from Liverpool to Southampton in 1907.
Following the merger of the two rival Liverpool shipping lines in 1934 the building was put up for disposal as Cunard's headquarters were within walking distance. The building has been known for many years as Albion House, and two commemorative plaques have been affixed to the doorway on James Street, recording the buildings historic connections with the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company.
The building was first listed on 28 June 1952 and was upgraded to Grade II* listed status on 19 June 1985. In August 2013 plans were announced to convert the building, which has remained largely unused for decades, into a 350-bedroom boutique hotel and apartments. Plans would see the building called "the Signature Living Hotel - The Home of the Titanic".
The chosen site for the new building was a corner plot on the east side of The Strand. Chief-rival, the Cunard Line, were located on the west side of The Strand, at the Pier Head overlooking the River Mersey. The Cunard building is a particularly grand Portland stone-clad building, standing between the Liver Building and Port of Liverpool Building, known collectively as "The Three Graces".
30 James Street has a rectangular footprint and stands three bays wide on The Strand and five bays wide on James Street. The building comprises a steel-frame clad in stone and brick. It extends over six main storeys with a further two storeys in the attic space. The lower two storeys and basement are faced in large masonry stonework, while those above are faced in horizontal bands of pink brick and Portland stone, locally earning the building the nickname the 'streaky bacon' building.
The basement has rounded-arched windows with rusticated 'voussoirs' and key stones on The Strand frontage; a single rounded-arched doorway on James Street at the corner with The Strand; and square-headed windows on James Street in pairs, framed with rusticated stonework.
The piano nobile (main) ground floor above the basement has large wooden sash windows, which are glazed with small rectangular panes set between slender glazing bars. The windows have rusticated triple-keystones set beneath a moulded entablature. The outer most bay along James Street, away from The Strand, has a large doorway set beneath a dramatically rusticated arch, with ornate ironwork gates.
Above, the windows to the first storey are shorter with plain stonework lintels. The second floor has tall, rectangular windows each with juliet balconies, set between single pilasters, with triple-keystones and a moulded cornice. The third and fourth floors have shorter rectangular windows, although the five bays along James Street have narrow windows set in pairs.
Emerging from each corner of The Strand facade from the second floor upwards are two corner turrets, with irregular spaced mullioned windows. Each turret is topped with a lead-clad cupola domed roof, surmounted with an onion-shaped finial.
The fifth floor windows have a continuous balcony with ironwork balustrade supported by stone corbels, set beneath a large triangular gable end on The Strand frontage. Originally the gable end featured a projected mullioned window topped with a stonework lantern, with rusticated circular opening. Sadly the building suffered damage during the Second World War, and when rebuilt the gable end was reinstated in a much plainer form, with a simpler mullioned window at the apex of the gable.
The slate-clad roof of the building is tiered, with rectangular dormer windows. Again, the dormer windows were rebuilt in simpler form following the bomb damage. The roof is pierced by tall chimney stacks, which repeat the brick and stonework banding of the upper storeys of the building.