WORK has begun to restore an iconic 1930s building back to its former art-deco glory.
North-East property developer Devlin Hunter bought the former Riley’s snooker club on Bondgate, Darlington, in November and intends to refurbish and reopen neglected parts of the building which first opened as the Majestic cinema in 1932.
Mr Hunter stressed that he is “not bringing the Majestic back” but instead wants to convert the venue into a multi-purpose leisure facility capable of hosting functions such as wedding receptions, live bands and private parties.
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The project is already attracting interest from history groups who want to organise tours round the building – some parts of which have remained untouched since the 1930s – and Mr Hunter admitted that his plans have grown as he discovers long-forgotten pieces of its history.
He said: “I wouldn’t say that I have been drawn in, but as you uncover some of the original features during the restoration you uncover more beautiful features and then you make a decision on whether you want to extend the refurbishment, and that is what we have done.”
He added: “Part of it is about a person from the town who is trying to restore part of Darlington’s heritage.
“The good thing is with the amount of people interested now I think everybody will get on board with it.”
Darlingtonians and history enthusiasts will be particularly pleased that Mr Hunter intends to remove the vertical metal cladding from the front of the building which currently obscures its original art deco facade and stained glass windows.
“I think that people are going to be most relieved when that comes down, it is an eyesore, it is horrible,” Mr Hunter said.
The building, of which the front section is still open as a snooker bar, operated as the Majestic until the early 1940s before being taken over by Odeon and renamed accordingly in 1945.
Many original fixtures and fittings remain from those halcyon days including fire hose reels still attached to the walls along with asbestos fire blankets in their original metal casing.
Browning paperwork from The Rank Organisation – once Britain’s largest film company – can be seen scattered across dusty tables and behind a huge wall-mounted cabinet sits a machine known as mercury-arc rectifier which converted alternating current (AC) into direct current (DC).
By the late 1970s the Odeon was losing money and in 1981 it closed and remained empty for five years until it was converted into a snooker club.
Darlington resident Lee Addison was among a group who campaigned last year for Darlington Borough Council to save the unlisted building from possible demolition or conversion into flats after it was put up for auction.
He is pleased that Mr Hunter intends to restore many of its original features and said: “Even if he can only achieve some of what he is trying to do it will still be a very good thing.
“There is nothing of this style or nature in this town and it has the potential to offer a number of different things.
“I think that Darlington still has an awful lot to offer and this can only add to it.”
Mr Addison is charting the restoration process online via the facebook pages The Majestic, the future, and Darlington as it Looked 1880 – 1980 – the latter of which has more than 7,000 members.
He said that the pages have attracted so much interest that the group plans to work with Mr Hunter to organise tours around the building.
Mr Hunter hopes to have the restoration finished in 12-weeks and is undecided over whether he will continue operating the snooker club within the building once the work is complete.