Opened in June 1937 and designed by George Coles the Rio was to be the finest cinema on the island. Standing on 130 piles for support the large and unique building had a seating capacity for 1600 patrons. The façade stood 70 feet tall with the building described as a huge wedding cake, it was owned by Gaumont British Theatres and was the 6th operating theatre in the town of Sheerness, therefore was designed to be the most comfortable and attractive of them all.
The entrance vestibule had a coffered ceiling and plain walls coloured in red, orange and primrose, the floor was terrazzo and marble pairing separated into panels by tiles and the walls were further decorated by mirrors and display frames giving a modern appearance. The inner foyer consisted of an upstairs circular tearoom and a dance floor with the lower foyer being able to hold 500 people.
The auditorium was just as spectacular with ribbed plaster walls painted in rose and turquoise and speckled gold. The proscenium was decorated with concealed lighting behind coves and delicately defined columns. The most up-to-date ventilation system was installed, the air was washed, cooled or heated when entering the cinema.
Gaumont News was shown in the Rio before being sent to the nearby Ritz to be shown there, the rewind boy had this job and nearly lost the reel one evening during the War when he dropped it and couldn’t see it due to the black out. Young usherettes were sent to the Ritz when films were showing that were deemed too controversial or inappropriate, they would be there for the week before coming back to the Rio.
After the cinema closed the building was twice used as a factory until April 1987 when demolition started, planning was accepted for sheltered housing to be constructed on site. Councillor Peter Wilks commented at the time “It is a ghastly building. It is like a wedding cake gone wrong and I cannot think why anyone should want to preserve it.” A report by Borough Planning Officer, Mr Dick Harman, said the cinema was not of sufficient architectural or historic interest to refuse consent to demolish it.
The building of Royal Court, comprising of Jacob’s House, and Ravelin House, commenced in 1993, the housing was made up of 37 1 bedroom flats and 5 family homes, two of which were designed for people with disabilities. The homes were to be sold by a private developer but due to complications they couldn’t afford to complete the works. Swale Housing took over the building works and the buildings were completed at a cost of 2 million pounds.
All pictures apart from the last one are published with permission from Colin Haggart. Please ask permission before re-using