Unofficial campaign to save hall gets started
ANOTHER passionate supporter of one of Swansea's finest old buildings has joined the unofficial campaign to save it.
The future of the Albert Hall, standing proudly in the centre of town since 1864, is shrouded in mystery.
Hertfordshire-based property company Caverwood Ltd, which owns the listed building, has not gone public on what plans, if any, it has for it.
Reading rooms, a music hall and a cinema in its distinguished time, the Albert Hall closed as the Mecca Bingo Club four years ago. Since then, it has lain empty and from the outside offers a sad picture of decline. But there are people who care for this piece of Swansea heritage. Campaigner Paulette Pelosi is one and a few weeks ago implored others to follow her lead and make an effort to ensure its survival.
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"Let's do something on this, at least attempt a rescue," she said. "Swansea has an awful habit of letting the few important historic buildings fall to dust."
Her plea struck a chord with Ian Howells, who counts the preservation of buildings among his hobbies. He was back home in Penclawdd from his work base in Madrid at the time, and recalled the occasion when he was given access to the Albert Hall.
He was in the right place at the right time. The result was he was able to photograph the inside two days after it closed.
"From the age of 11 or 12, I was there every Saturday afternoon to see a film," he said. "Sometimes I didn't want to see the film, but I was just fascinated by this incredible old building, the sheer size of it. The architecture is pure Victorian. It was an old Victorian music hall, 50 years before art decor."
The 47-year-old, who also campaigned for the restoration of the Slip Bridge on the city seafront, is a regular contributor to international open website Cinema Treasures.
And he got lucky on a trip home to see his mother in March 2007. He had time to spare on a trip to town after getting a bus to the Albert Hall, so he popped inside.
"I had a camera with me and went in," he said. "I had to play bingo, but I had my camera with me and took some photographs discreetly. Then I saw a sign saying no photographs.
"I spoke to the manager afterwards and asked if there was any chance of coming back when the bingo hall was closed and taking some pictures. I said I was interested in the preservation of old buildings.
"She said it was actually closing on the Saturday — this was the Wednesday or Thursday — and said to come back on the Monday when they were clearing up anything to do with the bingo. That is exactly what I did. I was there for half an hour."
It was manna from heaven for Ian. He made good use of the time, capturing a piece of Swansea history.
"I had the place to myself," he said. "I had no idea it was going to close then. I was shocked and saddened."
He still is, after learning of the inactivity which is not doing the building any favours.
"Where else is there in Swansea like that?" said Ian. "There isn't. Cardiff has not got an old building like that."
His work with British Airways has taken him all over the world to places which have lost similar buildings, while he does not regard the remaining ones he has seen as highly as the Albert Hall.
"It could be a huge concert hall," he said.
"It seats around 2,500. If treated properly it would be better than the Brangwyn Hall. If restored properly it would be a higher class venue than most cities around the world have. It would be great for the centre of Swansea."