Sunday, 25 Jul 2021

Cinema dating back to 1938 will be one of 18 new Wetherspoon pubs

First of Wetherspoon’s 18 NEW pubs is revealed: Historic Essex 2,200-seater ‘super cinema’ used as a set for Jamiroquai Godzilla video and Who Framed Roger Rabbit movie is set for £5million overhaul

  • Wetherspoon buys State Cinema in Grays, Essex, which opened in 1938 but last showed a film in 1989
  • £5million project to transform Grade II*-listed building into pub with 475 seats and 50 more in courtyard
  • Filming location for 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit and 1998 Jamiroquai song Deeper Underground

It was an iconic art deco cinema that could seat up to 2,200 people in its heyday after opening 83 years ago.

But the State Cinema in the Essex town of Grays has sat unused and unloved for decades, suffering from water damage and thieves raiding pipes from the prized Compton organ which could rise out of the floor.

Now an unlikely saviour is on the way in the form of JD Wetherspoon, with the chain getting the green light on a £5million project to transform the venue into one of its 18 new pubs as bosses aim to return it to its former glory.

The cinema opened in September 1938 with ‘The Hurricane’ starring Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall and ran showings for more than 50 years, until its final movie was Great Balls of Fire with Dennis Quaid in November 1989.

Shortly before this it had been used as a filming location in the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and then saw further uses including as a nightclub in the foyer called Charleston’s which ran for seven years from 1991.

But it has been hardly used since apart from as the set for the Deeper Underground music video by Jamiroquai in 1998, which was also the Godzilla theme tune and featured the monster smashing through the cinema screen.

JD Wetherspoon has announced plans to transform the disused art deco State Cinema in Grays, Essex, into a pub

The cinema last showed a film in 1989 and has sat unused for decades having run as a nightclub between 1991 and 1998

The State Cinema which opened in 1938 had 1,400 seats in the stall and 800 in the circle – making a total of 2,200

Among the State Cinema’s prized features was a Compton 3Manual/6Ranks organ which could rise out of the floor on a lift

The cinema ran film screenings for 51 years until it closed with Great Balls of Fire starring Dennis Quaid in November 1989

The State Cinema was among the filming locations for the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit starring Bob Hoskins

The cinema in Grays was also used as the location for the Deeper Underground music video by Jamiroquai in 1998

Deeper Underground was also the Godzilla theme tune and the video featured the monster breaking through the main screen

https://youtube.com/watch?v=WIUAC03YMlA%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1

The entire building was bought in 2001 by Morrisons which planned to use its old car park and promised to continue the upkeep of the cinema, before it was then sold to a property developer for £550,000 in 2006.

But that company’s plans to turn it into a leisure hub never materialised, and it was announced in 2015 that the building had been bought by Wetherspoon, before the pub chain’s first plans were published in December 2017.

Now, a planning application for the Grade II*-listed building from Watford-based Wetherspoon has been approved by Thurrock Council, which said there had been a ‘great deal of work behind the scenes’ on the project. 

Among the works as part of the new plans include restoring the main lobby and stall foyer, which aims to celebrate its heritage – and it is hoped the venue will have an estimated 475 seats, and a further 50 in a courtyard.

The chain aims to restore the Compton organ console, which had its organ pipes from the chamber under the stage stolen by metal thieves in 2011, and this is intended to be in view in its ‘raised’ position on stage. 

It was revealed in 2015 that the venue had been bought by Wetherspoon, before the pub chain released its first plans in 2017

The new pub is intended to have 475 seats and developers aim to retain many of its existing features in the renovation

The circle foyer will be turned into toilets as part of Wetherspoon’s application to the council for the building’s change of use

The chain aims to restore the Compton organ console and this is intended to be in view in its ‘raised’ position on stage (left)

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin announced in March that it would open 15 new pubs in the UK, including the site in Grays 

The Compton 3Manual/6Ranks organ could rise out of the floor on a lift, with the chamber located under the stage

The Compton organ console had its organ pipes from the chamber under the stage stolen by metal thieves in 2011

The historic projector room at the art deco cinema which showed movies to audiences of up to 2,200 for more than 50 years

The circle foyer – which had 800 of the venue’s seats with the other 1,400 being in the stalls – will be turned into toilets as part of Wetherspoon’s application to the council for ‘change of use from cinema to public house’.

Iconic 2,200-seater art deco cinema in desperate need of renovation 

The State Cinema opened in Grays, Essex, in September 1938 with ‘The Hurricane’ starring Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall – a film notable for its hurricane special effects. 

The art deco venue, which was viewed as one of the ‘super cinemas’ of the era, was designed by notable cinema planner Francis Graham Moon Chancellor and ran film screenings for 51 years until it closed with Great Balls of Fire with Dennis Quaid in November 1989.

Among its prized features was a Compton 3Manual/6Ranks organ which could rise out of the floor on a lift, with the chamber located under the stage.

It has been used as a filming location for two notable productions – one being the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit starring Bob Hoskins and the other being the Deeper Underground music video by Jamiroquai in 1998, which was also the Godzilla theme tune and featured the monster breaking through the main screen.

After closing as cinema, it had seven years as a nightclub called Charleston’s which ran from 1991 to 1998 and once hosted a concert by David Essex.

But it has hardly been used since and  was bought in 2001 by Morrisons which planned to use its old car park. The building was then sold to a property developer for £550,000 in 2006, before it was revealed in 2015 that it had been purchased by JD Wetherspoon.

Grays, the birthplace of comedians Russell Brand and Joe Pasquale, has suffered from a lack of investment for years and has a tired-looking town centre – with areas of Thurrock among England’s 20 per cent most deprived.

But the council hopes that Wetherspoon’s plans will help kick-start an improvement of the area, which is receiving £20million of Government cash to help reconnect the high street with the River Thames. 

The application said construction work aims to be ‘minimising damage or disturbance to existing structure, finishes and original features where possible’ and the main works will be ‘carried out within the volume of the existing auditorium and to the ground and first floor foyer and bar areas’.

It added that pre-existing shop units on the ground floor street facing elevation are in a poor state of repair, with much of the interiors and roof collapsed.

These will be replaced, with ‘minor amendments’ to the front of the building – and the space created will become a feature kitchen/cellar and beer garden accessible from the pub.

There will be no demolition of any external structure, although vertical windows will be put into the west side of the building and additional smaller windows in the north side to get more daylight into the auditorium.

The application said repair and redecoration ‘will be carried out in a like for like basis’ and the main entrance will be retained in its current location.

The recognisable tower and signage is proposed to be ‘repaired and upgraded’, while a wheelchair accessible toilet will be added on the ground floor and ramps will link the upper and lower tiers of the main auditorium.

Wetherspoon said it will follow the advice of Historic England and the Cinema and Theatre Association while retaining, repairing and restoring original and existing internal and external features.

The sheer number of seats in the auditorium means it is not possible to re-use all of them, so Wetherspoon is instead looking to move some to another historic cinema where a refurbishment is being proposed. 

Mark Coxshall, Thurrock Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, strategic planning and external affairs, said: ‘This is great news for the regeneration of Grays. 

The art deco venue was designed by notable cinema planner Francis Graham Moon Chancellor and showed films for 51 years

The sheer number of seats in the auditorium means it is not possible to re-use all of them, according to the application

Vertical windows will be put into the west of the building and smaller windows in the north side to get more daylight in

The venue saw further uses including as a nightclub in the foyer called Charleston’s which ran for seven years from 1991

Wetherspoon said it will follow the advice of Historic England and the Cinema and Theatre Association while restoring the site

The application by Wetherspoon to Thurrock Council said repair and redecoration ‘will be carried out in a like for like basis’

After closing as cinema, the State had seven years as a nightclub called Charleston’s which ran from 1991 to 1998

The new Wetherspoon project aims to restore the front of the building which has been in a sorry state for decades

‘(It) coincides with the fantastic announcement that the town is also set to benefit from a £19.9million government cash injection as part of the Grays Town Fund that will help reconnect the high street with the river and create a brand new leisure destination for the whole of Thurrock to enjoy.

‘There has been a great deal of work behind the scenes to get the State back on track and I can’t wait to see its iconic doors finally reopen.’

A Wetherspoon spokesman said: ‘We are delighted with the decision of the council. We are committed to developing the site and once again making it an important part of the town’s social scene.

‘The council has a superb plan to regenerate Grays and we are delighted to be a part of that.’

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin revealed in March that he would invest £145million in 18 new pubs and upgrading existing ones, creating 2,000 new jobs – but warned it was all dependent on there being no more lockdowns. 

The plans for the ground floor include a new pub on what was the stalls area and provision for 475 seats inside

Wetherspoon also aims to construct a courtyard garden area outside the pub as part of its restoration and renovation works

There will be no demolition of any external structure, although vertical windows will be put into the west side of the building

Additional smaller windows will put into the north side of the building to get more daylight into the auditorium

Thurrock Council hopes that Wetherspoon’s plans will help kick-start an improvement of the town centre in Grays

Mr Martin had said the ambitious plans would start within weeks of its pubs reopening fully on May 17, but were also based on Prime Minister Boris Johnson not chopping and changing rules for hospitality businesses.

A total of 18 new Wetherspoon pubs will open – 15 in the UK and three in Ireland – and ‘significant extensions and upgrades’ will be made to scores of its current pubs. 

The new pubs will be in Grays, Kings Norton in Birmingham, Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, Shawlands in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Felixstowe in Suffolk, Heswall in Merseyside, Sheffield, Leeds, Bishopston in Bristol, Hamilton, Diss in Norfolk, Bourne in Lincolnshire, Crystal Palace in South London and Ely in Cambridgeshire.

The three new Irish pubs will be in Dublin, Limerick and Galway. Mr Martin said the expansion and improvements to existing pubs were dependent on the Government opening up society and never returning to lockdown. 

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