Words and photos by Dave Barry
Workers in bodysuits and respiratory masks have been carefully removing asbestos panels one at a time from the Futurist Theatre.
Fascinated onlookers have been ogling the large site from two vantage points, on Foreshore Road and Providence Place, off Blands Cliff.
The distinguished old theatre, the country’s 13th largest outside London, is disappearing fast.
Working from north to south, contractors Willmott Dixon first demolished the Mermaid pub, behind which was the theatre’s back-stage area including dressing rooms.
Inside the main building, over 1,000 tons of cement has been poured into huge moulds to create a concrete buttress to stop the land behind the Futurist slipping.
“This weight will form support to the lower slope prior to us constructing the main retaining wall”, says a company spokesperson. “We have around 300 tons remaining to pour in order to complete the pre-demolition works”.
Demolition was held up by three weeks when more asbestos was discovered. All the asbestos has now been removed from the interior but much more has to be stripped from the roof and walls.
The front wall, with the original marble façade, has been covered by a scaffold-screen. “This is upsetting residents and visitors”, according to Cllr Janet Jefferson, who fought to retain the theatre.
At one point, the demolition revealed a huge iron safety panel which hung behind the black stage curtain to stop a fire spreading; the mechanism used to raise and lower the panel, the curtain and the background scenery; and a large sheet of blue tarpaulin, placed just under the roof to catch rain leaking through.
The contractors say kittiwakes, a protected species, have been prevented from nesting on the building.
Blands Cliff and King Street have been reopened to pedestrians.
Willmott Dixon say the demolition is due to be completed by the end of August.