Weymouth Pavilion, 2014
|Former names||The Ritz|
Weymouth DT4 8ED
|Operator||Weymouth Pavilion CIC|
600 (Ocean Room)
|Opened||21 December 1908|
|Reopened||15 July 1960
13 July 2013
The Weymouth Pavilion, formerly the Ritz, is a theatre in Weymouth, Dorset. The complex contains a 988 seat theatre, 600 (maximum) capacity ballroom known as the Ocean Room, the Piano Bar restaurant, Ritz Cafe and other function and meeting rooms.
Originally constructed in 1908, it was destroyed in a building fire in 1954 and the current theatre was built in its place in 1958. The theatre was owned and operated by Weymouth & Portland Borough Council until 2013 and is now operated by a not-for-profit Community Interest Company. The theatre is located on Weymouth Pier, a peninsula of land reclaimed from the sea between Weymouth Harbour and Weymouth Beach. The newly built Weymouth Sea Life Tower is also located in this area.
The Pavilion (1908 - 1949)
By the beginning of the 20th century, Weymouth was becoming increasingly popular as a seaside resort. The large demand for entertainment was put forward to Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Borough Councillors. Many people believed that if Weymouth was to flourish as a first-class resort, a venue was urgently required and so by 1906, the decision was made to built the Weymouth Pavilion. The site chosen was at the southern end of the Esplanade, and this caused some objections to be made, including that it was a location too far from the railway station and that the area was particularly exposed to bad weather. Despite this, the plans went ahead and the area was reclaimed from the foreshore. In 1907, an architectural competition was launched to find a design, and in October that year, the winning design from an anonymous hand was chosen. It included an auditorium with stalls and gallery seating, an Oriental café and outside verandahs. The building's frame was of steel with the main fabric of wood. The construction began in early 1908 and was completed that year at a total cost of £14,150, including land reclamation.
The Pavilion had its grand opening on 21 December 1908, and included the presence of the Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury. A special train from London bought down metropolitan journalists. Two nights later the venue hosted its first performance, a Christmas pantomime, Mother Goose. The Pavilion's mainstay during the early years was the Pavilion Orchestra under Mr John Howgill, who would put on concerts in the theatre and performed in the Tea rooms. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 brought major changes to the Pavilion as the town council came to the decision that they should not be running the venue and therefore leased it to Ernest Wheeler - a member of a prominent business family in Weymouth. Wheeler carried on leasing the building for the next 25 years. During the 1920s and 1930s, the venue hosted a mixture of events including musical comedies and matinee performances of operatic arias. During the 1930s, Wheeler decided to review his operations at the Pavilion, due to the increasing competition from the Alexandra Gardens Theatre, which had opened in 1925, as well as the changing of public taste. As a result, Wheeler got the Town Council to agree to the adaptation of the Pavilion auditorium to enable him to screen films. This was accepted and the Pavilion became a popular cinema in the town. Around this time, although sometimes reputed to be during the 1950s, some additional land reclamation allowed the area to be extended, and the venue's length was extended.
The Pavilion closed during the Second World War as it was requisitioned by the military for war purposes, largely for the newly formed No. 4 Commando, who formed in Weymouth on 21 July 1940, when the first intake of 500 volunteers arrived. Lieutenant Colonel C.P.D Legard and the Regimental Sergeant Major W. Morris held their first parade on 22 July 1940, at Weymouth Pavilion. In 1940 it was used to house 800 Moroccans from the French army and was then later used as a medical centre during the evacuation of the Channel Islands. During the war, military authorities put forward the idea of demolishing the building under defence regulations, however this plan never came to fruition. The venue was damaged in an air raid in April 1942 and was then taken over by the Admiralty. After the end of the war, the building remained in use of the Admiralty, and was used as a sorting office for naval post. The Town Council did not get the building back until 1947, who then spent two years attempting to get compensation for building damage during its use in the war.
The Ritz and Destruction (1949 - 1954)
In 1947, the council had leased the venue to the Buxton Theatre Circuit who in 1949 spent £4000 installing a new cinema projection room. Finally, the Pavilion re-opened to the public in May 1950 under a new name, The Ritz Theatre, and the first film shown to the public was The Forsyte Saga. In September 1951, The Ritz saw a new management company, Melcombe Productions, who took over and put on live theatre, particularly during the summer season, as well as a pantomime at Christmas.
Due to inadequate immediate post-war repairs to the venue, the current management decided to renew the roof as well as redecorating the wooden exterior. Work began in January 1954, and a variety programme re-opened the building in March before the repairs had been finished. On the afternoon of 13 April 1954, the building caught fire during refurbishment and ended up destroying much of the building, with the only remaining parts being the foyer and Palm Court. The theatre took little more than an hour to burn despite the efforts of ten fire pumps from the Dorset county, and a large gathering of the public of Weymouth turned out to watch the situation. The total costs of damages were estimated to be £80,000. It was later discovered that the fire was caused by the misuse of a blow-lamp, which had removed the many layers of paint on the wooden exterior. The members of the Fire Brigade felt that enough of the building was saved for it to be reconstructed, however the local council put forward a claim on the fire insurance policy and the site was cleared.
Weymouth Pavilion (1958 - present)
In September 1958, construction of a new theatre and ballroom began after being delayed by a great deal of litigation and argument. The new venue's architect was Samuel Beverley. On 12 March 1959 the council decided to announce details of a competition to name the new venue. Overall, over 650 entries were received and lengthy discussion was held to decide between the Weymouth Pavilion and The Normandy, until it was finally decided on Weymouth Pavilion, causing the venue to revert to using the original name of the former venue. The total estimated cost of the new theatre was £154,000, which was increased by £25,450 after changes were demanded by the Royal Fine Arts Commission. The council was able to use approximately £75,000 insurance on the old building to reduce the overall cost. The ballroom was the first part of the venue to be opened, which was built on the same site as the old Palm Court. On opening night the ballroom was fully packed. The Mayor and Mayoress, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Wallis declared the ballroom open, and were the first couple on the maple dance floor, which itself cost £7,000. Over 1,000 people filled the floor that night, who later watched a display by dance professionals Harry Smith-Hampshire and Doreen Casey. The official opening was delayed for a month until the theatre was complete and formally opened on 15 July 1960, with the show 'Let's Make a Night of It' starring Benny Hill. The new Pavilion was described as "Weymouth's most ambitious municipal enterprise" and retained the resort's reputation as a leading seaside resort.
It was announced in 2006 that the Pavilion complex and surroundings would be entirely redeveloped as part of a £135 million redevelopment scheme from 2007 to 2011, in time for the 2012 Olympic Games. The idea had been put in the pipeline since 2004. The 4-hectare (10-acre) site was planned to include a new theatre, a World Heritage Site visitor centre, a new ferry terminal, a 140 bed 4-star hotel, an undercover car park, a shopping arcade, offices, luxury and low cost apartments, houses, public squares, promenades, and a marina. The plans originally went on show in the town centre, attracting more than 300 people within the first three hours of the exhibition opening. The exhibition had referenced a Bournemouth University study which predicted Weymouth could benefit by £11 million a year as a result of the development and would bring 400 jobs to the area.
The redevelopment scheme was aborted in 2009 after general economic situation made it unviable due to the "depressed nature of the economy and the housing market". The plan had stalled when developer Howard Holdings went into liquidation, causing the funders Europa Capital to pull out despite already spending £5 million on the plan. In a BBC article speaking of the abortion of the scheme, councillor Mike Goodman was quoted "It is frustrating for the people of Weymouth and Portland. The recession has come at the wrong time for us. We were hoping to present a new complex at this incredible site." Despite the cancelling of the scheme, the council decided to keep the Pavilion open.
In early 2012, financial and property adviser Jeffrey Heintz, of London-based designers White Knight, had put forward a redevelopment plan, stating that his team could transform the beleaguered theatre into a "flourishing one" under a trust and save taxpayers thousands of pounds. A series of proposals were made to the council by Heintz for a £160-million scheme for the site, with the possibility of work to be started in 2013. This scheme would include the building of flats, a hotel, restaurants and marina at the Pavilion site. Councillor Peter Chapman was quoted in a Dorset Echo article relating to the scheme, stating "The council has made no decision on the precise future of the Pavilion peninsula site, although the direction of travel is inevitably towards some form of redevelopment." The onset of the 2012 Olympic Games prevented any redevelopment scheme from going ahead.
The Ritz Cafe
A new cafe opened in the Pavilion foyer in 2010, named "The Ritz" after the previous theatre. In November 2012, the Ritz cafe was inspected and given one of the lowest food standards ratings in the borough council area – a one out of five rating, meaning that "major improvement is necessary". However, earlier in the year during April the cafe received the highest possible rating of five. Kate Hindson, director of communities at the council, was quoted in a Dorset Echo article, stating "When inspected in November both the Green Room bar and function room kitchen had failings in stock control, cleanliness and maintenance. Urgent works were undertaken to address the issues. Environmental health officers re-inspected the premises a couple of days later and agreed all work was completed to a satisfactory standard. A further inspection will be carried out this month and we are confident that the improvement in standards will warrant a much higher rating." Since reopening under its current management the Pavilion's catering facilities have been awarded a five out of five food hygiene rating.
Closure and community handover
In 2012 it was reported that the Borough Council was considering options for cost-saving on the Pavilion site, including partial closure; new redevelopment plans were also proposed. In late 2012, the council announced a threat of closure and possible demolition after stating the venue would cost too much to run in the coming years. One idea was to demolish the site and turn it into a car park at a cost of £500,000. As a result, local campaigners launched a petition. On 5 February 2013, the council held a meeting to discuss the Pavilion's future with five possible options to be chosen from:
- 1. The Pavilion is closed and demolished prior to the longer-term redevelopment of the Peninsula site.
- 2. The council closes the venue and a process starts to lease the building with criteria supporting community use.
- 3. The council closes the venue and starts a process to lease the building to secure 'best market value'.
- 4. The council closes the Pavilion and markets it for freehold sale.
- 5. The council continues running the Pavilion and the budget is found from elsewhere to meet operational needs, repairs and maintenance.
It was recommended that the Pavilion should be handed over to the community as opposed to demolition. After the official decision by the full council on 21 February 2013, the council called for bids to manage the venue for community use. Following a formal tender process the Pavilion was closed on 13 May 2013.
On 19 June 2013 it was announced that local businessman Phil Say had been successful in his bid to takeover the theatre as a nonprofit business operated by a newly formed Community Interest Company. The new lease was signed on 5 July 2013 and Weymouth Pavilion reopened to the public on 13 July 2013. The theatre is now operated by a mixture of full and part-time staff supported by volunteers from the local community.
In January 2015 it was revealed that the Pavilion's figures had more than doubled under its new management, having in excess of 300,000 visitors and selling over 60,000 tickets in 2014. In January 2015 it was announced that Weymouth Pavilion's 2014/15 Christmas pantomime Aladdin had been the most successful in the theatre's history, topping box office records set by the previous year's pantomime Cinderella.
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