Our October event was a visit to the seaside town of Weymouth. (Why, oh why, did we have the wet and windy day sandwiched between two lovely ones?)
The first stop was a visit to the Grade II listed Riviera Hotel, designed in the modernist Spanish style by L.Stewart Smith in 1936. This is a striking building in a prominent position that can be seen from right across Weymouth Bay. In 1958 it was bought by Pontins and remained as a holiday camp hotel until 2000. It has been extended at various times with varying degrees of success (an ugly rear block) but is now in new ownership and had a refit in 2011/12. We were very grateful to the staff for their hospitality and for giving us a tour of the building.
We then moved on to the main beach promenade and visited the Pavilion, formerly the Ritz, which is a 988 seat theatre and ballroom with a capacity of 600. The building replaced an earlier one destroyed by fire in 1954 and reopened in 1958. It was designed by Samuel Beverley and cost £154,000 to build. In recent years it has been at risk of demolition as part of a redevelopment scheme but it has now been set up as a community interest company and appears to be having a new lease of life.
We also viewed all that is left of the Art Deco Pier Bandstand. Originally built in 1938 to designs by V.J.Wenning following a competition, it had a 2,400-seat bandstand extending out seaward from a two storey building on the promenade. In the 1980s the seaward side was in need of major repair and it was decided it was cheaper to demolish it. The promenade building continues, following refurbishment, as an amusement arcade (much enjoyed by some of our members over lunch!) with a restaurant on the first floor.
Our final call was to Portland House, now managed by the National Trust; it is let most of the year and only open to the public for a couple of days. Built in 1935 , it is an excellent and very complete example of the Hollywood Spanish style in Britain. It is described here by former C20 caseworker Emmanuelle Morgan, and in an article in Dorset Life.
What a wonderful house and location with two terraces with views of the sea! It is approached through a garden and the front door opens on to steps leading downward. The main bedrooms are above the wonderful entertaining spaces below. Now furnished with 1930’s style furniture, sourced by the National Trust in 2010 when it came into their ownership, it is a glorious example of the ‘party age’.
Very many thanks to Mike Henderson for arranging the event, to the staff at the Riviera for making us so welcome and to the National Trust volunteers at Portland House.
Chair, Southern Group