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History

"A building without parallel in the kingdom......"

The Dome is a unique example of an Edwardian Leisure Centre.  These old centres were known as Kursaals, and they offered many forms of entertainment under one roof. The name Kursaal is of German origin; it was a building used by visitors at a health resort or watering place and became associated with fashionable leisure centres in a seaside or spa town.
Worthing's Dome was the brainchild of Carl Adolf Seebold, who was originally from Switzerland.  Seebold arrived in Worthing in 1904 from Southend-on-Sea,  where he was the actor-manager of The Pier Pavilion.  Seebold had no problems in securing a similar position at the New Theatre Royal in Bath Place, as he had considerable theatrical experience from touring round Europe with his own concert party.

After a two year spell at the New Theatre Royal, Seebold decided to build his very own Kursaal in Worthing. The Worthing Gazette remarked that  "Worthing may well be congratulated upon the possession of a townsman sufficiently enterprising to provide so pressing a want in such a satisfactory way".  Theodophilus Allen was commissioned  to design the building because of his impressive work for the New Theatre Royal Worthing.
In 1909, Seebold leased Bedford House and a parcel of land, Bedford Lawns, which stretched down to the seafront where the South East Bohemians concert party had performed for several seasons. Seebold could see the potential of having pleasure gardens attached to his Kursaal. However, in the autumn of 1909 the New Theatre Royal closed for extensive refurbishment.  Seebold put his plan for the new Kursaal on hold. He appointed the local builder Alfred Crouch to work on the New Theatre Royal. He managed to complete the works in record time and the theatre reopened on December 29th - which allowed Seebold to continue with his plans for the Kursaal.


Worthing Sea Front
On June 27th 1910 the Kursaal Pleasure Gardens opened for the summer season offering "high class al fresco entertainments" provided by the 'Comedy Comets' on the former Bedford Lawns.  "Owing to its sheltered position it makes a pleasant retreat when the wind is all boisterous from the front."  Seebold had provided a "somewhat rustic stage...festoons of lights...with the seashore and bathing machines as background." The Kursaal Lawns boasted three performances daily at 11.30 am, 3 pm, and 8 pm, and prices started at 6d rising to 1 shilling. The season finished in September, and on 26th October 1910 the
Worthing Gazette featured a centre page article on: "our latest local enterprise, the Kursaal--Further particulars of the scheme."

The next week, another article announced that " The large hall which is to be ready for opening by Christmas will be first proceeded, followed by that part of the structure which will face the parade".
Theodophilus Allen had designed a long rectangular hall with side galleries, a Canadian rock maple floor, and a double aspect stage which would allow performances to both indoor and outdoor audiences. The Large Hall finally opened on Easter Sunday 1911 with a military concert performed by The Dublin Fusiliers.

On Easter Monday, roller skating was introduced with conspicuous success; "an orchestra with a strength of six was engaged to play at each session and an experienced instructor and instructress (known as the Rolleties) were in attendance". The Kursaal had both a Ladies and Gentlemen's rollerskating team which regularly played against other. The Pier Team from the Pavilion also played at the Kursaal's rink, which  quickly became an integral part of a  Kursaal leisure complex.  By 1910 there were 526 British roller rinks.  The Large Hall, which housed the rink, was renamed the Coronation Hall and a sumptuous banquet was held there to celebrate the accession of George V to the throne.

Although primarily a roller skating rink, the Kursaal had its own male and female Hockey Teams.  It was also used for social functions and variety shows - many of them by Carl Seebold's Comedy Comets, later renamed "The Worthing Whimsies" for which Seebold had his own orchestra. Many musicians played at the Kursaal, including the world renowned Adeline Genee. The Worthing Gazette reported that on one day over the Easter weekend in 1912 more than 200 people had to be turned away.  The Kursaal even hosted an early type of " Ideal Home Exhibition" , a unique experience  and unlike any other entertainment on offer in Worthing.

Whilst energetic roller skating and stage performances were enjoyed downstairs at the Worthing Kursaal, a more sedentary form of entertainment - but just as exciting - was soon to be on offer upstairs in the Electric Theatre.  Worthing people were about to start a long love affair with "the moving pictures".

Worthing was the first town in West Sussex where  audiences paid to see films.  The town's first film venue was a converted chapel called the Winter Hall which began showing films in 1906. That venue  had a seating capacity of 600.  Its layout was similar to the future Coronation Hall, with  balconies on three sides. Two other venues (the 1908 St James's Hall and the Cinema Elite) were also showing films when the Electric Theatre opened at the Kursaal in 1911. For the price of  3d a great many films could be enjoyed,  from romances and westerns to documentaries extolling the wonders of modern technology, the electrification of the railway from Victoria to Crystal Palace and the wonders of the world,  such as the Niagara Falls.

The conspicuous success of the Coronation Hall  spurred Seebold on to complete his Kursaal and  bring the magic of moving pictures to his own customers. He constructed a new enclosed projection box to comply with the Cinematograph Act of 1909. He was unfortunately delayed by a National Rail Strike, and in August 1911 The Worthing Gazette announced that "the building was now complete with the exception of the tower." He applied for a special cinematograph licence and a licence to sell alcohol - although the granting of this was delayed for a fortnight.

The Electric Theatre finally opened on 7th October 1911, with Seebold accompanying the films on piano. The Coronation Hall was linked to the Electric Theatre and seafront Tea Rooms by steps from the side galleries into corridors which ran down the length of the building. The introduction of the projected moving image in such prestigious surroundings was a major event and within weeks the popularity of the Electric Theatre was so great that an additional projector and extra seating were installed. A press cutting from a local newspaper reviewed  the Electric Theatre Improvements, which included new radiators throughout the building, two new "absolutely up to date" cinemagraphs and lastly that "for the sum of ninepence one may secure a comfortable upholstered (tip-up) arm-chair".


The Kursaal in 1912
The arrival of the First World War brought some significant changes to the Kursaal.  Its owner decided that a change of name for him and the Kursaal itself was required.  Because of  anti-German feeling in the town, the Kursaal was renamed the Dome; and Seebold dropped his own middle name - Adolf.  The Dome  remained open throughout the war period with the Electric Theatre becoming more and more popular; so much so that in 1921 the Dome was radically remodelled. Seebold transformed the ground floor into a: "LUXURIOUS PICTURE HOUSE"  The  spartan Coronation Hall was transformed with a  domed ceiling, oak panelling, and a sloping floor with tip up seats. Boxes were build on either side of the projection box and the  steps  to the tea rooms were closed off. The southern end of the hall became a spacious foyer area embellished with oak panelling, ornamental cornices and a grand staircase leading into the auditorium. Two curvilinear anterooms were built on either side of the foyer, one as a cloakroom, the other as a refreshment room. Upstairs, the Electric Theatre was renamed the Kings Ballroom and a sprung floor was installed for dances.

The first film shown at the newly refurbished Dome was 'Pollyanna', starring Mary Pickford.  It was accompanied by a six-piece orchestra, and  received rave reviews from the audience of 950.

The 1920's were the Dome Cinema's heyday. It was popular with summer visitors to Worthing. Its only rival was the Picturedrome (Now the Connaught Theatre), so Seebold launched a head-to-head advertising battle to keep ahead.  In 1924, he put more pressure on his competitor by opening his magnificent new cinema, the Rivoli. This was a stone's throw away from the Picturedrome, and had an amazing 1,680 seating capacity, a state of the art organ and a sliding roof for balmy summer evenings. By 1926, Seebold had further expanded his empire to include the Picturedrome. He seemed invincible.

The golden years continued until two new cinemas were built ; the palatial Plaza in 1933, and the streamlined Odeon in 1934.The interwar period heralded an upsurge in the leisure industry when  the emerging lower-middle class embraced cinema going with fervour. The Dome closed briefly in 1940 during  the fear of invasion, and a curfew of  10pm was imposed on all venues until the end of the war. After the War, Worthing had five cinemas;  the Dome suffered badly from such opulent competition. Despite its prominent seafront location, it was forced to show second-run films at cheaper prices.  The cinema remained unchanged throughout the forties and fifties.  Seebold formed a new company called The Rivoli and Dome Ltd in 1949, and he died in 1951.

By now, the Dome was struggling to survive, and desperate times led to desperate measures.  In 1954, Cinemascope sound and a new wide screen were fitted.  In 1960, the Rivoli burned down, and the Dome enjoyed a minor renaissance. This was the era of 'roadshows', with the Dome playing such blockbusters as 'South Pacific', 'West Side Story' and 'El Cid' . The closure of the Plaza in 1968 also helped the Dome (and by the time the Odeon was demolished in 1987, the Dome was the only purpose built cinema left in the town).

In 1969, Worthing Borough Council purchased the freehold of the Dome specifically to redevelop the area.  The ensuing thirty years proved to be the most turbulent and  precarious in the whole of the Dome's history. Bearing in mind the Council's intentions,  they were loath to grant long leases which actively discouraged the tenants from spending large sums of money on maintenance and modernisation.  Perversely, the council's actions proved to be both a  blessing and a curse as although the building retained most of its original features it also suffered drastically from accumulated neglect.

The Council sliced up the building into three separate areas. They leased out the ground floor to Stephen Wischausen who became the identifiable face of the Dome Cinema until his bankruptcy in 1992;  the left hand shop and first floor to Roberto and Attilio Miele who ran a successful bingo hall and café for nearly thirty years, and the right hand shop to Dominic Fardelli whose lease expired in August 1998.


The new office in the former left hand dressing room    The right hand former dressing  room and workshop    

In the late eighties, the dome came under threat from a proposed redevelopment scheme by the Burton Property Group who intended to demolish the building,  replace it with a shopping mall and, as a token gesture, a small cinema.  Although this plan had the full backing of the council, a local resident, Robin King, had already formed a pressure group and presented them with a petition of 35,000 signatures which did indeed 'Save the Dome'. The Department of National Heritage was alerted to the historical merit and pedigree of the Dome and awarded the building Grade II listing and the first Dome Trust was set up to try and find a solution for the future of the building.  The Department of National Heritage described the building as: "a remarkable survival of an early Kursaal and one of the best cinemas to survive in England...the grading reflects both its architectural and historical interest".

Worthing Borough Council were on the horns of an ethical and financial dilemma as they too searched for a viable solution to their particular 'Dome problem'. Since the bankruptcy of Stephen Wischausen they had appointed various temporary managers until they decided to lease the cinema  to Robin's Cinemas an independent operator.

In 1993 the Dome Cinema was forced to closed because of unsafe wiring until the Council reluctantly agreed to bear the cost of £26,550.  In 1995 the Dome tower was pronounced unsafe. The council once again dipped into the civic purse only to find that the original quotation for building works trebled to nearly £300,000.
 
Robins were loath to invest any  money in the Dome as it became more apparent that the Council intended to sell the freehold to the highest bidder.  The Dome Preservation Trust had put forward a proposal to refurbish the Dome, however the Council did not feel sufficiently confident in their plans which depended on funding from the Millennium Commission.  The Chapman Group, on the other hand, approached the council with a £1m bid and plans to convert the Dome into a nightclub. However as this highly unsuitable plan jeopardised  the historical and architectural integrity of the Dome, The Department of National Heritage took a firm stand and increased the listing to Grade II*, therefore prohibiting any alterations to the interior. Robins continued to renew their six month leases but by 1998 the Council had resolved  to rid themselves of the liability and expense of the Dome.

The tendering process proved to be a complete failure as it became apparent that no organization was prepared to offer an unqualified tender on a building that was both subject to rigorous listed planning permission and in need of considerable capital investment. The Council was forced to change the terms of the sale and invited offers, subject to qualifications, to be submitted by 31st December 1999.
The Worthing Dome & Regeneration Trust Ltd put forward its offer to the Council, which depended on a successful Heritage Lottery Fund Grant application for the refurbishment costs of £2.5m.
Closure of the Dome

In January 1999, the Council carried out some structural investigations and discovered that one of the key roof trusses was badly corroded. It decided not to renew the lease to Robin’s Cinemas and to close the Dome on 5th April pending further reports on both the structure and on the general condition of the interior.
The Trust hosted a poignant closing event and the following day the Dome was boarded up. The Council installed a state-of-the-art security system in case of vandalism. A report from the Fire Brigade highlighted a raft of structural and remedial work that needed to be completed before a fire certificate could be issued. An electrical report identified works in the region of £26k and the total cost of regaining a cinema licence stood at £46k.
In May, the Council passed a resolution that the Dome should be sold for £10 to the Trust, conditional on its receiving a Stage 1 pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and an additional grant in the region of £200k from English Heritage.  The Trust met its requirements and the Council finally relinquished its contentious ownership of the Dome on 9th November 1999. The trust reopened the foyer and cinema auditorium to the general public on 17th December 1999 and the Dome has operated as a first release cinema ever since.  


The Trust has refurbished the tearooms to be used as a function room
for weddings, parties and conferences, this project was completed by Spring 2003. (below)


The front function room post refurbishment

     
On November 20th 2002 the Trust opened a second screen, the Electric Theatre, within the former Bingo hall and on the site of the original 1911 Electric Theatre. The Projection equipment was funded by a grant from Southern & South East Arts.


The new Electric Theatre


T
he rear Function Room is situated adjacent to the new Electric Theatre. The terrace affords a magnificent view of
Worthing pier and seafront. 
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