Jim Parker: Could the Pavilion and Dame Agatha help save the jewel in Torquay's crown?

The Pavilion in Torquay

The Pavilion in Torquay - Credit: Submitted

It is good to see Dame Agatha Christie at last being remembered in a manner befitting the most famous author in the world.

I have always maintained we have never properly made enough of the Queen of Whodunnit and her links with Torbay - not enough in the sense of honouring the great lady or, to  be frank, capitalising on those links from a business perspective.

We have a Dame Agatha bust somewhere on the harbour side in Torquay and we have a Christie festival which to be fair is growing and becoming more of a success. I just have to mention this, we also have a cricket club rather close to my heart where she once scored games sat under the old big tree - by the way, whoever allowed the house just up the road in Barton Road, where she was born, to be knocked down and replaced with a 'Dame Agatha was born here'  blue plaque(thanks for that at least) deserves to be shot.

We are getting our Christie hat on with a a special, £100,000 art sculpture competition in her honour. Five artists and their proposed pieces of work have been shortlisted with the eventual winner's sculpture taking pride of place on a rejuvenated harbour as part of the government's Town Deal funding.

But what of the other old lady on the waterfront. The forlorn Pavilion?

Money has been set aside from the same Town Deal pot to help refurbish the building - leased from Torbay Council by MDL marina company - and bring it back into use. With what is not yet clear but it looks like some kind of residential apartments development will be allowed on the adjoining marina car park to help finance it.

The council/TDS and MDL have to find out exactly what repair works are needed. That is why Torbay's planners are next week being asked to grant Listed Building Consent so the Pavilion can be stripped back to reveal just how  bad things are.

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A report to the committee gives a glint of the Grade Two listed Pavilion's history and glory years. Part of its site is on land reclaimed from the sea, and it was built on a concrete raft on which a steel framework was erected. In 1911 the Pavilion, by Garratt, was a modification of the 1897 designs of Edward Richards. The structure is formed of a steel frame.

The report says: "The barrel-shaped roof, four corner domes, all copper-covered, the latter on cast-iron columns, and some exceptionally fine Art Nouveau ironwork and coloured glass all make this a significant seaside building of the period.

"Its central copper-covered dome is topped with a life-size figure of Britannia and two smaller domes on each side bear figures of Mercury. Finely sculpted Art Nouveau-style cast iron edges the steps to the promenade deck and the octagonal bandstands or summer houses.

"The Pavilion opened in 1912 and apart from the foyer and auditorium, it had lounges and a cafe, all of which were panelled with oak."

The report says it was proposed to demolish the building in 1973, but was listed in the same year. It closed in 1976, when it was leased to Rank Organisation and the interior was destroyed in the most part through adaptations for various types of amusements, first as a skating rink and in the 1980s as a shopping arcade.

Since then, several applications have been determined, from small scale repairs to large scale developments of the site and adjoining car park.

The report then goes on to talk about the damage to the once-mighty building. There is water damage, cracks, open joints and 'significant corrosion'. Inside there is damage to fibrous plasterwork, removal of fabric and significant corrosion. The Pavilion is a mess.

Once building consent is given, scaffolding and a huge tent-like structure will be wrapped around the building to protect it from the elements while the investigation works are carried out.

The report says a first phase of exploratory work has already taken place. The application for listed building consent is to proceed with the second phase of the survey before a repair strategy is designed.

Council deputy leader Darren Cowell said: "The consent is required to identify the scale of restoration that is required. The Pavilion is one of the jewels in Torquay's crown. Its future is yet to be confirmed. You cannot market the building until you know what works are required.

"There has been some soft marketing and a few expressions of interest. Some say it would make great tea rooms but you would have to sell an awful lot of clotted cream to keep the doors open."

There is a general consensus that a future overall Pavilion scheme would take on a mixed-use look with refurbishment, residential and cafe/restaurants. There is even talk of a heritage/cultural element linking to, wait for, Agatha Christie.

Whatever the plans, the clock is running. The report to planners warns: "If left unresolved and untreated it risks loss of the asset."