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Historic organ to be saved in Capitol Cinema conversion
A historic Aberdeen theatre is to be converted into an office development capable of accommodating 600 workers.
Members of Aberdeen City Council's Planning Development Management Committee voted 10 to three in favour of the plans for the crumbling Capitol Cinema on Union Street.
The art deco frontage of the building, which has seen performances by some of the world's biggest stars, including Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones, will be restored and form the main entrance to the office development and a building which will be 10 storeys high on the Justice Mill Lane elevation will be erected at the rear.
The plans involve the complete refurbishment of the grand entrance and canopy, with art deco entrance doors and flooring. Plaster mouldings and the Oscar's tea room area will be restored and the original fabric, including the light fittings, retained. The two large, square, art deco-style clocks which were in the auditorium will be restored and relocated in the front of the building.
The two flights of stairs leading up to the first floor will be removed and replaced with escalators and two lifts will be installed.
The Capitol Cinema, designed by renowned architects Marshall Mackenzie, opened in 1933. It was the first cinema in the UK to be designed from the outset to incorporate a full holophane lighting system in the auditorium which allowed up to 17,000 colour combinations to be projected in time to music from a Compton organ, which rose from the orchestra pit.
A condition of the planning permission is that the organ, which has been retained under a hatch in the ground floor, and all associated instruments, pipes and equipment required to bring it back to use, be removed from the building and taken to a safe storage area prior to any demolition work being carried out.
The organ is to be gifted to and restored by the Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust, a registered charity. A final home for the restored organ has not yet been decided but the intention of the Trust is that it be restored to working order.
The proscenium arch and decorative plaster coverings to the organ expression shutters will be removed in sections, labelled and put into storage.
Aberdeen Civic Society welcomed the plans for the building, which had fallen into disrepair and was suffering as a result of water and bird ingress, wet rot and general disrepair since it closed five years ago. In its comments to the planning department, the Society expressed pleasure that the frontage and foyer would be retained and welcomed the provision of high-quality office space in the city centre.
The Committee added an extra condition, specifying that the Capitol sign, in illuminated red lettering, be displayed on the front of the building.
The report considered by the committee stated: "By acting as a trailblazer, the proposal also has considerable potential to act as an important catalyst that could stimulate further investment in the redevelopment for office and other commercial uses at the west end of Union Street and further afield, thereby helping to deliver the council's ambitions for the regeneration of the city centre."
Committee convener Councillor Ramsay Milne said: "The Capitol Cinema has been a blight for some time and it has been left to rot for a number of years. This development will preserve an important building. I'm very pleased that the fašade is being retained and restored to its former glory. The building is a great part of Aberdeen's heritage and it is important that it is preserved and brought back into use.
"Large, high-quality office space is in very high demand in the city centre and this development will help to meet that demand, encouraging the regeneration of the area and other developers to come forward with plans to breathe life back into some of the magnificent buildings in the city centre, bringing great economic benefits to the city."