Southend Timeline

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The Ritz

One of the most popular cinemas in Southend was the Ritz a grand and imposing building located on the corner of Church Road and Grove Road sat between the Palace Hotel and the Grand Pier Hotel. 

The cinema was built at the junction of Church Road & Grove Road, opening on Thursday 14th February 1935.  The new picture house was officially opened by the mayor and Anna Neagle the leading lady of the film being shown “Neil Gwyn”

The imposing new building housed some 2225 seats as well as a Conacher 4/13 organ and full stage facilities and a large bar upstairs with sea views. 

The Ritz was operated by County Cinemas, Ltd., under the direction of C. J. Donada, is the Ritz, Southend, which opened today, Thursday, February 14. It is a fine example of modern cinema was designed by Robert Cromie, F.R.I.B.A.

The main elevation displayed varying bands of brick in selected tints this was interspaced with stone band courses. The main entrance and cafe alcove swept round to the sea frontage.

The interior decorations were designed by Mollo & Egan with all the seats of  the luxury type supplied by Pixtons, Ltd, all were fitted with Dunlopillo arm pads and presented in jade green. The walls were painted silver, green and gold walls, with sweeping lighting coves, which transversed the ceiling and continue down the aide-walls.

The auditorium was 120 ft. long from the curved walls at the back of the stalls to the curtain line, and approximately 100 ft. wide. It was approached through an imposing vestibule and main entrance hall 70 ft. long and 35 ft. wide. The total seating capacity of the Ritz was 2,300, with the stalls housing 1,600 and the balcony 700.

The whole of the column foundations were of reinforced concrete, and, due to the geological formation of the site, the main side-walls of the theatre were tied together with three reinforced concrete 'bands 10 ft. wide.

The balcony structure was of conventional design with main girder and two wing girders and eight  cantilever radial rakers, the main girder was 7 ft. 6 in. deep and 2 ft. wide and spans the full width of the auditorium,  while  the  wing girders were 32 ft. long, 26 in.   deep and 10 in. wide.

The six main cantilever rakers are compound girders averaging 25 inches, in depth and 10 inches, in width. From there rakers were hung, the steel beams supporting the walls and floors of the lower balcony foyer and cafe kitchen. To carry the auditorium roof six framed steel roof girders spanning the full width of the house were installed.

The steel structure of the building and the reinforced concrete work were designed by and erected under the superintendence of S. W. Budd, M.lnst.C.B., of London.

The Ritz proscenium was 50 ft. wide, at the time one of the largest in the country. On either side of the proscenium were the organs grilles. The console was raised into view by a lift installed by W. J. Furse, also fitted was a Grand Piano which was removed in 1946 and installed in the Odeon Theatre in Blackpool. 

The stage equipment' included a Strand Electric battens, footlights and a switch¬board,

The projection-room housed Simplex projectors, supplied by J. Frank Brockliss, Ltd., and a Western Electric Wide Range system was also installed, an emergency bank of Chloride batteries was also fitted. 

The Oscar Deutsch Odeon Theatres chain took over County Cinemas in September 1939, later in the Ritz life it was taken over by the Rank organisation. 

In the early hours of the 1st February 1953 the extremely high tides combined with a storm surge and the events that unfolded over the following hours will forever be remembered as The Great East Coast Floods towns all along the east coast from Scotland to Kent were left hit submerged under many feet of water.

The Ritz thanks to its elevated position on top of Pier Hill was spared the onslaught of the waters.  The Ritz opened up by its owners free of charge to the Southend Corporation so this it could put on a Flood Relief Charity Matinee hosted by Richard Attenborough.

 Rank carried out a modernisation of the Ritz in 1956 with seating being reduced to 1,891, the cafe was later closed and converted into a ballroom, but eventually it became disused.

 The Ritz Cinema was refurbished again in 1968 but just four years later the Rank Organisation closed the cinema 29th July 1972 the last film to be shown was Doomwatch”. Rank converted the Ritz into a Top Rank Bingo Club opening to the public on 19th July 1972, It was later operated by an independent bingo operator and re-named The Invicta Bingo Club.

However the bingo hall was short lived and the operation closed down in 1978, leaving the building empty and unused, the building quickly fell in to a state of dereliction and became haven for tramps and other vandals, the building was plagued by small fires and constant break-in’s resulting in more and more damage being caused to the building resulting in it becoming more and more dilapidated.

It was not just the Ritz building that was showing signs of decay many of the building round it were also empty and boarded up, the entire block was in line for a major shake up.

The Ritz had been sitting empty for three years but had quickly deteriorated thanks to the persistent vandalism and fires.  The plans to rejuvenate the entire block had been simmering away in the background and with the final compulsory purchase orders in place the demolition of The Ritz and the entire block begun.

Demolition of The Ritz begun on Saturday 10th January 1981 with the wrecking ball swinging its first devastating blow slowly bringing the building down in constant showers of rubble and dust. 

However by 17th February 1981 and with the demolition work well underway to bring down the old cinema progressing the wall of the rapidly disappearing building facing the Palace Hotel suddenly collapsed without warning falling onto Church Road.  Nobody was hurt in the incident, eyewitnesses said a girder became dislodged and struck the wall that collapsed whilst others side vibrations from the heavy plant machinery moving about the site caused the collapse.

Not long after the rest of the building was demolished and then the site was left devoid of anything until November 1985 when the entire area became a hive of activity as construction of The Royals Shopping Centre commenced.

The new shopping centre opened on the 23rd March 1988, the site of The Ritz is now the Royals multi storey car park.


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