Sinister Saltdean

by robertmcnicol

So I took a stroll today*, it being a nice day and everything, from where I live in nice, normal, safe Kemptown. I went East. I tell you, it’s strange out East. West is usually fine. Go West, in the high manner of the Pet Shop Boys, and you will inevitably hit Brighton – a perfectly proper seaside resort with wholesome entertainments and fine, upstanding citizens. But no; I went East.

Until I came to Saltdean. You’ll know Saltdean for two things. Bungalows and the Lido. And you’re not wrong:

There they are. The bungalows, and the Lido. One of them (I’m not telling which) has the words “Saltdean Lido” on it in big letters, so that you know that that’s definitely one of those two things. (Oh, alright, it’s this one:)

You say Lido and I say Lido… But hang on, what’s that totalitarian monstrosity – as The Automatic profoundly enquire – coming over the hill? And well may you ask. More of that to come.

For the meantime, let us consider the finer points of the Saltdean vernacular. There’s a faintly Mediterranean feel to much of it, so we get weird pepperpot corner bays and bastardised Diocletian windows:

And the Spanish bent is also mixed in with a tiny dash of Deco:

That house is on a hill. It’s definitely not a wonky photo; I’m a walking tripod. On second thoughts that might not be something to boast about. Anywho… Check out that door! And the base of the bay window on the left – clearly we were once talking curved glass here! Well, it excites me.

OK, so this is a touch more obvious in its Deco credentials:

Curved glass, funky door-surround, metal-framed windows, scaffolding…All very ’30s. Then there are some other examples of that fine ’30s tradition – mock Tudor:

But wait! What’s that peeking over this tasteful house’s tile-hung gable?

Hmmm. We’ll return to that. For now, a comic interlude. I’m not sure exactly what anyone was thinking when this was erected, but good golly is it hilarious:

Turrets! Turrets! Brilliant. More detached executive homes should have turrets. This cracks me up. Oh, and here’s another bungalow with a worrying bit of building poking over the top of it. Am I doing well at keeping up the tension?

Good. Time to undermine all that hard work. Back in 1938 some wag thought that Saltdean would be the ideal place for a luxury hotel. Then Bette Davis came to stay, and everyone bought that wag a drink. The architect (as for the Lido,see above for details) was one Richard Jones. (No, not Mr Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Ha Ha! He admires Jaco Pastorious for his “technicality”!  Well of course you do Richard. Everyone does. Very good. Some of us also like Jaco for his astonishing creativity.) Sorry. Buildings. Yes. So – Bette Davis, hotel, blah.

The hotel had some success but was commandeered by the Auxiliary Fire Service during the War and then sold to Butlins in the Fifties. It then returned to being a hotel in the Nineties, but I suspect was looking rather drab by then. It was bought five years ago for – ominously – redevelopment.

The front of the hotel (which, curiously, faces inland) is a wonderful Art Deco swoosh with a firm, taut emphasis on the horizontal – boldly punctuated by a three-story bay window above the lobby. (I must profess slight disappointment about the drainpipes. Could they not have white ones, at least?)

And also:

Anyway, that’s nice, isn’t it? And there’s a nice level of detail:

The porthole windows are obvious; less so – but in my opinion more important – the retention or replacement of the metal frames for all the windows. Too often we see poorly designed imitations of old-style frames in uPVC. *Glum face*. Not here though – the metal frames will take a bit of upkeep but because they’re slim frames they don’t interrupt the swoop of the facade. Very good. And they’ve kept or rebuilt a nice stepped fountain in the grounds:

So that’s the front. The back of the hotel once dominated the hilltop behind Saltdean, but had originally four acres of grounds rolling down the hill behind the hotel to the centre of the town; obviously such ground proved irresistible to the developers. They’ve constructed four large, jutting spokes that radiate out from the central curve of the hotel, with a cascade of lawns and terraces tumbling down the hill.

These four new blocks are interestingly mixed. If I were feeling snippy, I’d say that they’d taken some of their design inspiration from the classic Butlins resorts:

Or for a closer look:

But let’s be generous; it (at least appears to be) structurally honest, it’s not cheaply done, and it looks like the louvred shades can be slid one way or another depending on the whim of the resident. So that’s a nice touch. And, let’s face it – Saltdean is a bit Butlins. So – whilst we never condone the faux-historicism of referencing the buildings of a by-gone local industry in your fancy new residential development – it’s not entirely inappropriate to bring some of the sunshine and whimsy to a lazy seaside resort with a lido.

And then on the facing side, we get this:

Which, if you absolutely have to do the jutting-window-box-with-full-length-pseudo-french-window-thing, is a well-executed example of the variety. I say variety, but this dreary design combo is nearing ubiquity. *Glum face again*.

And then you put the two together, stroll down the uninhabited lawns, look back and get this:

Which isn’t too bad really. I like the space between and around these buildings: wide and self-important vistas at one end, slightly poky back-of-hotel stuff at the other.

Then behind, and underneath, these mammoth blocks there’s more habitation – rather dusty black brick boxes, down metal stairwells and along narrow high-walled paths that, in a less breezy place than Saltdean, would invite all sorts of unsavoury sorts.

This, for me, has some rather hip referencing; the scale, colour and materials are very reminiscent of Adjaye’s Dirty House, which looks a bit like this:

And finally, you cross the road and come to the “affordable” housing (so the rest is…?) which is naturally shunted onto the poorest site without the vaguely interesting design features, well-planned terraces or decent views of the rest of the development. *Glum face no. 3* Which is presumably why these people only need really narrow windows:

So, there it is. Overall, then, a decent save of a lovely Deco building and some not-terrible recent architecture which just about justifies its dominance over a lovely, sleepy little town. Now, where does one get an ice cream around here?

*By “today” I actually mean two months ago. It’s a bit drizzly today. And I’m not in Saltdean. In fact, I’m in Hove. Which is where I live now. Which is very nice. Actually.