19/07/2008

An explosive suggestion about the State

Posted in Heritage, The State Cinema, Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation at 10:46 pm by henrysgauntlet

State Cinema Grays
State Cinema Grays

The Thurrock Gazette leads this week on the news that Independent Councillor Barry Palmer, from East Tilbury, has said the State Cinema should be blown up.

In fact it was rather more a throw-away remark made when the Planning Committee was discussing an application to site temporary vocational college buildings at the junction of Argent Street and High Street.   Concern was expressed about whether there would be sufficient parking spaces at the suggested site, and Cllr Palmer apparently said “I know where it should be built.   In place of that monstrosity in George Street.   They should blow it up and put the college there”.

This little outburst served to highlight an announcement last week from English Heritage that Thurrock has the dubious distinction of being the location of two of the most at risk listed buildings in the country:  the State cinema and Coalhouse Fort.   In fact, there has recently been another campaign calling for the restoration of the State, and a petition has attracted 5,000 signatures.

One has to concede that, from the outside, the State doesn’t look much, a plain red brick block of a building with a tower, and the uncared for look coming from a lack of re-painting, boarded up windows, and a certain amount of vandalism.

Auditorium of State Cinema Grays

Auditorium of State Cinema Grays

But inside is a different story  –  at least we hope it is, as it too has been left untended for so long.   The huge building is an art deco masterpiece, one of the few remaining cinemas of the period.   Those of us who went there as teenagers in the post war days well remember the excitement of climbing the curving staircase, to the quiet and red carpet of the foyer to the dress circle.   And once inside, the vast auditorium, with panelling, mouldings and lights so typical of the period.   Although, it has to be said that even in those days the loos left much to be desired.

Compton cinema organ at The State Grays

Compton cinema organ at The State Grays

But the crowning glory was the great Compton cinema organ, rising out of the floor, ablaze with colouredlights.   It is a tremendously important piece of cinema history, and of the history of the first half of the twentieth century.   So important, and so rare, that it has frequently been used in film and television work even in these days.

It would be a sin to let the State moulder away.   Until just after the second world war, Grays boasted four cinemas, the Empire in the High Street, the Regal in New Road, the Ritz in Quarry Hill and the queen of them all, the State in George Street.   Two have completely disappeared.   The State must not go the same way.

English Heritage quickly rejected Cllr Palmer’s idea, saying the State is “a major listed building, among the most important of its kind in the country, and should be at the centre of the regeneration of Grays.   It is in a state of disrepair but is still far from in such a position that it cannot be saved.”

Meanwhile, the Council’s Planning Committee raised no objection to the application for Argent Street, and referred it to the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, “who make all major planning decisions in the borough”.

How sick I am of hearing that.   Nobody ever asked me if I wanted a Development Corporation to take over Thurrock, and I have never had the chance to vote for its members as it is an unelected government quango.   Just for the record, I don’t want them here.   I want the elected Thurrock Council, of whatever political colour, to make the decisions for this area.

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