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Kent's old cinemas and what they are now including the Whitstable theatre now a Wetherspoon and the saga of ABC Tunbridge Wells

There are scores of former cinemas in Kent which are no longer showing movies and are instead now home to everything from bingo halls to flats.

We have picked several from across the county and have taken a look at their history.

The ABC Cinema in Castle Street, Dover. Picture: Dover Library
The ABC Cinema in Castle Street, Dover. Picture: Dover Library

The Regent Cinema, Beach Street, Deal, (formerly the Pavilion Theatre)

Behind the Art Deco frontage of The Regent, there was once a grand ironwork and glass pavilion.

It was opened on the seafront in Deal on July 28, 1928, to house regular performances by military bands.

Lord Warden of the Cinque ports, Lord Beauchamp, officially opened the theatre and it was popular with Edwardian holidaymakers.

Bookings for good live shows proved difficult, so the building was converted into a cinema.

An architect turned the interior around, the stage area was moved to allow for better screenings of films and a cafe was also included.

A new projection box and offices were built in a first floor extension and the cinema was given a new name, The Regent Cinema, and reopened in July 1933 with the film King of the Ritz starring Stanley Lupino.

However, 30 years later in July 1963, it was closed and became a bingo hall operated by the Bloom Circuit.

The bingo hall was closed in January 2009, apparently falling victim to the smoking ban.

A year later there was talk of converting it into a two-screen cinema and plans for the remainder of the building to be used as a community centre. At this point it was owned by Dover District Council.

Then in June 2010, two businessmen, James Wallace and Mark Digweed, bought the building and in 2013 announced plans to convert it into a two-screen cinema.

But in 2018, construction work had not started and frustrated cinema campaigners staged a D.I.Y protest outside the building after waiting for improvements and essential repairs to be made.

In 2019 plans were finally approved, and Mr Wallace and Mr Digweed were granted consent for the screens and a restaurant, but there were a number of conditions to the permission including that work must begin within three years.

That was in July last year and despite stating in December 2018 that the owners hoped to conduct a 12-month renovation programme and open in 2020, it has not happened.

The pair did not responded to KentOnline's requests for more information about the next steps, when asked in July last year.

Work has not yet started on the new cinema and restaurant and may have been delayed further due to lockdown.

The Oxford Cinema, Oxford Street, Whitstable

The Oxford Picture Hall was opened in December 1912 and was a purpose built cinema with a glazed canopy inside the auditorium.

But later in 1936, it was decided by its then owners it would be re-built with a new building erected around the original building.

During the rebuilding stage, the cinema operated as usual and when the new building was finished it was closed for three weeks while the internal demolition was completed.

The new Art Deco style picture house was opened in July that year and the first film shown was Jack Of All Trades, starring Jack Hulbert.

In 1962 bingo was introduced and by 1980, less than 400 seats in the circle area were being used for movie nights.

Films stopped showing there in October 1984 and the last one, Blame It On Rio, starring Michael Caine, had an audience of just four people.

The building was then used as a bingo hall and changed several times, from the Oxford Bingo Club to Kings Bingo, but closed down for good in the summer of 2010.

The building was then purchased by the JD Wetherspoon chain and converted into a pub.

It was opened in August 2011 as The Peter Cushing, named after the film star who used to live in Whitstable.

There are also some pieces of cinema equipment dotted around the place in honour of the venue’s past.

The ABC Cinema, Castle Street, Dover (formerly The Granada Theatre)

The Granada Theatre opened in January 1930 and was the first built for the company's chain of cinemas.

The opening film was The Last of Mrs Cheyney, starring Norma Shearer, it had a seating capacity of 1,717.

The foyer was built in an 18th century French style with a marble staircase and the theatre had a full working stage and a manual organ.

In June 1935 Granada sold the cinema to the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain.

However, it was not renamed ABC until 1960, when the organ was also removed.

In 1970 it was modernised into a luxury lounge cinema with 610 seats but closed for good in October 1982.

It was then converted into a nightclub called Images, which later became Snoops. The building shut again in 2007.

It was later bought by Wetherspoon for conversion into a pub, but work never started.

In July 2014, demolition begun on the site and it was completely gone by October that year.

The site is yet to be built on and still stands empty today.

The Ritz Cinema, Pudding Lane, Maidstone (formerly the Pavilion Picture Palace)

The Ritz Cinema was the grandest of the County Town's cinemas and was in the centre of Maidstone.

It was originally opened in March 1911 as The Pavilion Picture Palace and was converted from a former skating rink.

In 1920, it was made bigger with a seating capacity of 1,350 and was modernised and taken over by the Union Cinema chain in October 1935.

It reopened later that month and was then named the Ritz Cinema.

It was later taken over by the Associated British Cinema (ABC) chain in October 1937 and a team of usherettes were employed at the site and worked there during the Second World War.

The Ritz Cinema was closed in January 1954 after suffering severe damage in a fire.

It was later demolished and an office and retail development called Cornwallis House was built on the site, which is still there today.

The Classic Cinema, King Street, Ramsgate, (formerly the Odeon Cinema)

This cinema was one of the original Odeon Theatres and was opened in August 1936 and the first film shown there was Where's Sally starring Gene Gerrard.

It was built in the 1930s Art Deco style and had a facade clad in opaque glass tiles.

There was enough seating in the auditorium for 1,034 people and 534 seats in the circle.

The Odeon was taken over by the Classic Cinemas chain in December 1967 and was re-named Classic Cinema on December 10 that year.

The auditorium had duel purpose with a cinema still operating in the former circle, while the stalls became a bingo club.

Later in 1983, the bingo club was turned into a second screen and on June 30, that year the first film shown on the new screen was Flashdance starring Jennifer Beals.

But just over two years later, in October 1985, the Classic Cinema was closed down.

The last films shown there were Cocoon and Nightmare on Elm Street.

The building was pulled down in 1988 and an Iceland store was built in its place, which is still trading today.

ABC Cinema, Mount Pleasant Road, Tunbridge Wells (formerly the Ritz Cinema)

The Ritz Cinema opened in December 1934, and the first films shown there were The Defender, starring Margaret Bannerman and Sing As We Go starring Gracie Fields, in fact Bannerman appeared in person at the site during the grand opening.

A 50ft glass tower once stood over the entrance area, but was taken down in the 1950s and the cinema layout was an unusual one with the foyer offset at a 45 degree angle.

A parade of shops were also attached to the foyer and a small cafe and ballroom were also included in the building.

It has a Compton organ and Sunday concerts were held on stage during its early years.

It was taken over by the Essoldo chain in early 1954, and later in 1970 it became a two-screen cinema when the circle seating area was blocked off from the stalls.

The stalls area seated 450 and used the original screen and the circle area seated 366 people, the cinema's organ was also removed at this point.

Classic Cinemas later purchased the cinema in April 1972 and added a third screen with seating for 125 movie lovers, this was in the former cafe area.

The Cannon Group then took over the site in 1982 and it was renamed Cannon in 1985.

Later, in 1993, it became known as the MGM before briefly becoming a Virgin Cinema.

In 1996, it was bought by the Associated British Cinema (ABC) group.

The cinema had became obsolete in 2000 as Odeon which had merged with ABC had opened an out-of-town multiplex and the final films were shown at the site in October that year.

By 2008, the building was still empty, but a year later preparation began for it to be demolished and in December 2013, it was announced it would be pulled down.

In the late summer of 2014, work started on the demolition and it was bulldozed.

Then, in October the same year, plans to cover hoardings surrounding the former cinema site with pictures - at a cost of over £20,000 - were slammed and labelled a "waste of public money".

It was instead surrounded by a 150m run of hoardings and Tunbridge Wells borough cabinet members decided large-scale, hi-res images which were to be taken by a local photographer and some submitted by councillors should be pasted on the boards in a bid to promote the borough, at a cost of £24,000.

Then, in April 2016, the site was sold following the collapse of a deal earlier in the year.

The Carlyle Group, which was sold the site in 2001, spent months working on plans involving a new hotel-led leisure and retail scheme but were left disappointed after the hotel chain pulled out.

Altitude UK, a privately owned real estate company, then purchased the land.

In October the same year, a consultation was held on the future development of the site as the privately owned company seeked residents' views on what should happen next.

Then, a year later, plans were approved for the re-development which included turning part of it back into a cinema.

The £80m development would include a new cinema, run by boutique operator Everyman, with three screens, a bar and restaurant.

But in April 2019, residents of Tunbridge Wells who had already waited about 20 years to see the former ABC Cinema site brought back into use, faced yet more delay after the site was sold to a new owner.

It was announced that luxury retirement homes specialist Elysian Residences had bought the site and wanted to make changes to Altitude's scheme which meant the company would have to submit a new application for planning permission.

In September 2019, the firm got its amended plans approved, they included shops, restaurants, a cinema and 108 homes.

However, more than year later, nothing has been built on the site.

To read about six other cinemas in Kent which have been transformed into something different, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent


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