From: Stephen Dutfield, April 2002

The Granada closed as a cinema at the end of 1996 and was boarded up until last year when it was purchased by a multi-millionaire for conversion to a gym/health club. As a Grade II listed building, English Heritage had to OK any alterations.

The two mini-cinemas in the stalls have been removed, and several thousand tons of rubble and earth removed to insert a swimming pool in what was the rear stalls. The building has been re-roofed and a mezzanine floor inserted on the stage held on a steel sub frame so that there's no damage to the proscenium area. All the plasterwork has been restored and re-painted and gilded by a specialist company, and apparently looks spectacular.

Throughout all this the Wurlitzer has remained. Although it was in relatively good condition at the time of closure, five years of damp, unheated atmosphere hadn't done it any good. As a precaution Les Rawle had requested that ABC Cinemas (the last operators of the cinema) leave the console lift up and keep heat on in the chambers. Unfortunately at some point the power was switched off which meant that not only did the heating go off, but the sump pump which kept the water out under the console also went off. I think Ian will be able to picture the result from personal experience.... the theatre was built on the site of a pond and natural spring! Thankfully the main cable had been replaced with a modern PVC multi-core about a decade ago, but the lift chains all rusted (unfortunately as they'd only been replaced a couple of years before closure) and two of them eventually gave way. The damp affected all the pneumatics in the console and caused the ivories to lift off the keys - the keys themselves had also swollen to the point of jamming in their frames.

Although the outside door which leads to the iron staircase up to the chambers had been boarded up, intruders HAD got in, and before the A.T.O.S. Technical Team could gain safe access it was thought that pipework may have been stolen. On seeing the chambers it appears that the attempt was foiled because in the darkness, the intruders - having reached the Main (lower) chamber - knocked over the old fire bucket, which in turn unhooked the stay on the fire shutter cable. This one passed through the ceiling to the Solo. Presumably the sound of the heavy shutter dropping in a room above - combined with the clatter of the bucket - frightened these intruders. Thankfully they took nothing but themselves when they left! I'm not sure if theatres in the States or Australia had fire shutters, but they were certainly quite commonplace around the London area (maybe a requirement of the old LCC Fire Dept?) but the idea was that a cable with a lead link passed through each chamber near the ceiling. Anchored at one end, the other end held up a heavy iron fire shutter over an opening in the outside wall. From the shutter there was also a cable back to a pin in a contact block through which the common returned from the shutter action. If a fire broke out in the chambers, the lead link melted, the shutter dropped to provide a route to draw smoke out of the building, and the shutters automatically closed. A quite brilliant idea, although I've never heard of it actually having to work for real!

I don't know how long ago this happened, but of course the local pidgeon population had a ready made nesting site for a year or two. The solo chamber was found looking like it had been under a snowstorm of feathers and pidgeon droppings. Much of this had gone into pipes - including the reed boots - and absolutely all the woodwork was caked in it. Indeed there were nests in some of the larger pipes, and a couple of Tubas contained dead birds who had fallen in and been unable to get out.

To their eternal credit, English Heritage have demanded that the organ be completely restored to playing condition before the health club is allowed to open for business. Although there's no guarantee of access for concerts etc. it is thought that the owner is sympathetic in this respect. Restoration has been carried out by Len Rawle and Bernard Baldwin with assistance from other London A.T.O.S. members, including stripping the solo chamber completely and cleaning and repainting the walls and floors. All this has been done to the accompaniment of pneumatic drills and kango hammers with no heating on, so I think they deserve a medal. As I write there is still work to complete on the console, and there has been some trouble with rainwater getting into the blower room due to part of the new room having been removed to drop in the new stage area steelwork. However, the organ is playable and has had a first rough tuning. The lift has been completely overhauled and new pumps installed in the pit area.

I await a re-opening date with interest, although I wonder whether the audience will have to sit on rowing machines and multi-gyms!

Sorry to have gone on at some length, but it's quite an interesting project which is preserving one of the last un-altered Granada MkII Wurlitzers which were quite outstanding for their size.

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