AN APPEAL by the developer of the Locarno for old photographs of events which took place in the historic venue has brought back fond memories for pensioners in Swindon.
Steve Rosier, of Bach Homes Locarno Ltd, is working with Swindon Council to draw up a design brief that will guide what uses and architectural styles are acceptable when the planning committee considers applications.
As part of the brief, he wants to include old photographs showing how the building was used, such as of bands and revellers, however he was initially struggling to find any taken inside, so he launched an appeal through the Adver.
The venue, built in the 1800s for civic and agricultural trade purposes, became a roller skating rink from 1910, and was then leased in 1919 as a cinema called The Rink. After the Second World War, it was refurbished with a Canadian maple floor and became the Locarno Dance Hall. Later it was used for wrestling, pop concerts and as a bingo hall.
Bob Lewis, of Stratton , contacted the Adver with two photographs of teenagers taken during a dance, including one of himself with friends in about 1953/4, one of a band playing on stage, and more than 50 professional promotional posters for gigs that were displayed outside of the venue, which he was given in the day by dance hall manager, Peter Reddaway.
Mr Lewis, 75, a retired Rover worker, said: “My earliest memories of it was when it was called The Rink cinema, and I can remember going there to see films. I was very young. “I moved into Old Town when I was seven and I can only assume we were allowed some money to occasionally see a film, but I have got a feeling the front rows would have been benches rather than seats.
“Over those early years, into my 20s, it was very popular as a dance hall. We would have had hundreds in there. “All the bands used to come here on a Saturday and the next week they would go to Reading or Bristol or wherever. I was interested in that sort of music – the big band, swing band music and small jazz groups as well.”
Commenting on the planned redevelopment, the grandfather-of seven, said: “I would like to see it virtually renovated as it was and used for something very useful for the community rather than made it into a private thing.”
Wendy Smith, 75, who is a teenager in one of Mr Lewis’ old photos, remembers the Locarno band nights fondly.
“It was a massive scene to us,” said the retired secretary, who is a great-grandmother of three. “It was the place to be on a Saturday night. People preferred the Locarno or the Majestic but I loved the Locarno. There was more atmosphere up there I think.”
Anyone with photographs can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them to David Wiles at Newspaper House, 100 Victoria Road, Swindon SN1 3BE . Please include a contact telephone number.