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Spotlight on Grand Ocean development, Saltdean, Sussex

PUBLISHED: 16:56 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:57 20 February 2013

Spotlight on Grand Ocean development, Saltdean, Sussex

Spotlight on Grand Ocean development, Saltdean, Sussex

The iconic Grand Ocean Hotel in Saltdean has a fascinating history. In the 1930s it played host to film stars and royalty, was a base for firefighters in World War II and was a sensation for Butlin's in the Sixties.

The iconic Grand Ocean Hotel in Saltdean has a fascinating history. In the 1930s it played host to film stars and royalty, was a base for firefighters in World War II and was a sensation for Butlins in the Sixties. It was even in an episode of Poirot. Now it has a new life as luxury apartments, Linda Harrison takes a look...

After a series of owners the Grand Ocean Hotel, once an Art Deco masterpiece, fell into disrepair and became a sorry sight for local residents. It sat overlooking Saltdean, forlorn on its perch in Longridge Avenue, its windows smashed by vandals and the paint on the colourful wall murals portraying grander days hidden by dust.


But three years ago this costal gem embarked on the next part of its journey a 43 million development project to turn it into luxury one and two bed seaside apartments. Features like the magnificent ballroom may be long gone, but new owners Explore Living have been working with conservation officers to restore the original character of the Grade II-listed structure.

Everything weve done has been in sympathy and keeping with the original building, says John Inglis, Explore Living sales and marketing director, adding that when they bought the building it looked anything but grand. The entrance gardens were very derelict and overgrown. They have been restored exactly as they were they were originally designed to look like the bow of the Queen Mary. Weve replaced all the metal windows with the same look, only now theyre double glazed. And inside weve restored the foyer in keeping with how it was. Weve even got the original sweeping circular staircase and working lift.

When it first opened its double golden doors in 1938, the hotel was the height of glitz and sophistication and epitomised Thirties seaside Art Deco architecture. Known simply as the Ocean Hotel, it was designed by Richard Jones the architect behind Saltdean Lido.

According to local historian Douglas dEnno, author of The Saltdean Story, no expense was spared at the four acre site. The 426 bedrooms boasted central heating and hot and cold water. And then there were the stunning sea views.

A publicity brochure from the time told of the hotels restaurant with lofty ceilings, its roof gardens and ballroom with resident dance orchestra the sprung floor was said to accommodate a company of 300 dancers in comfort. A weeks inclusive stay in a single room cost three and a half guineas.

The opening ceremony included a dinner attended by about 400 guests, including the Queens brother, the Earl of Glamis.

The rich and famous came to lounge around the hotels fine outdoor pool or sip cocktails at its fashionable American-style bar.

Mr dEnno says the rumour that ballerina Margo Fonteyn stayed there is possibly true but, although he is still looking into it, he doubts the story that film star Bette Davis once stayed there. This first, glamorous phase was to be short lived. The following year war broke out. The hotel was commandeered by the Auxiliary Fire Service and opened as a training college in October 1941. It was considered vital to the war effort.

It was only in 1953 that the building reopened as a hotel after being bought by Billy Butlin. The price was 250,000 and Butlin apparently called it the best investment I ever made.

Workers spent six months restoring the near derelict building.

An advert from the Sixties promoting the new Butlins described it as a Continental-style seaside resort hotel with glass-enclosed sun-decks a sunbathers paradise!. It also promoted television theatres and constant hot water.

Famous Redcoats included Jimmy Tarbuck and Dave Allen. So many newlyweds flocked there that it became known as the honeymoon hotel.

It remained with Butlins until 1972 when the company was taken over by Rank Organisation and in 1998 it was bought by the Grand Leisure Hotel Group and acquired the Grand in its name.

But its fortunes turned and there was talk that it could be used to house asylum seekers. In December 2004 it closed its doors as a hotel forever.

n Do you have memories of the Grand Ocean Hotel? Send them to simon.irwin@archant.co.uk


After a series of owners the Grand Ocean Hotel, once an Art Deco masterpiece, fell into disrepair and became a sorry sight for local residents. It sat overlooking Saltdean, forlorn on its perch in Longridge Avenue, its windows smashed by vandals and the paint on the colourful wall murals portraying grander days hidden by dust.

But three years ago this costal gem embarked on the next part of its journey a 43 million development project to turn it into luxury one and two bed seaside apartments. Features like the magnificent ballroom may be long gone, but new owners Explore Living have been working with conservation officers to restore the original character of the Grade II-listed structure.

Everything weve done has been in sympathy and keeping with the original building, says John Inglis, Explore Living sales and marketing director, adding that when they bought the building it looked anything but grand. The entrance gardens were very derelict and overgrown. They have been restored exactly as they were they were originally designed to look like the bow of the Queen Mary. Weve replaced all the metal windows with the same look, only now theyre double glazed. And inside weve restored the foyer in keeping with how it was. Weve even got the original sweeping circular staircase and working lift.

When it first opened its double golden doors in 1938, the hotel was the height of glitz and sophistication and epitomised Thirties seaside Art Deco architecture. Known simply as the Ocean Hotel, it was designed by Richard Jones the architect behind Saltdean Lido.

According to local historian Douglas dEnno, author of The Saltdean Story, no expense was spared at the four acre site. The 426 bedrooms boasted central heating and hot and cold water. And then there were the stunning sea views.

A publicity brochure from the time told of the hotels restaurant with lofty ceilings, its roof gardens and ballroom with resident dance orchestra the sprung floor was said to accommodate a company of 300 dancers in comfort. A weeks inclusive stay in a single room cost three and a half guineas.

The opening ceremony included a dinner attended by about 400 guests, including the Queens brother, the Earl of Glamis.

The rich and famous came to lounge around the hotels fine outdoor pool or sip cocktails at its fashionable American-style bar.

Mr dEnno says the rumour that ballerina Margo Fonteyn stayed there is possibly true but, although he is still looking into it, he doubts the story that film star Bette Davis once stayed there. This first, glamorous phase was to be short lived. The following year war broke out. The hotel was commandeered by the Auxiliary Fire Service and opened as a training college in October 1941. It was considered vital to the war effort.It was only in 1953 that the building reopened as a hotel after being bought by Billy Butlin. The price was 250,000 and Butlin apparently called it the best investment I ever made.

Workers spent six months restoring the near derelict building.

An advert from the Sixties promoting the new Butlins described it as a Continental-style seaside resort hotel with glass-enclosed sun-decks a sunbathers paradise!. It also promoted television theatres and constant hot water.

Famous Redcoats included Jimmy Tarbuck and Dave Allen. So many newlyweds flocked there that it became known as the honeymoon hotel.

It remained with Butlins until 1972 when the company was taken over by Rank Organisation and in 1998 it was bought by the Grand Leisure Hotel Group and acquired the Grand in its name.

But its fortunes turned and there was talk that it could be used to house asylum seekers. In December 2004 it closed its doors as a hotel forever.

Do you have memories of the Grand Ocean Hotel?
Send them to simon.irwin@archant.co.uk or comment below.



A New Lease of Life


When it was bought in 2005 by Explore Living, which is part of the Laing ORourke construction firm behind the Terminal 5 development at Heathrow, the old hotel was in a severely neglected state.

Work began in 2007 and John Inglis says there was great attention to detail in the restoration, especially in the foyer. He tells me that when the old carpet was taken up the original vinyl was found on the floor underneath, complete with colourful fish motifs. These swirling designs have now been incorporated into the new flooring. The blue and green tiled fountain has been painstakingly restored and the giant donut mouldings in the ceiling have been retained and refitted. Meanwhile, the wide spiral staircase which dominates the reception area is back to its former glory.

The main hotel building houses 45 units, including a handful of penthouses. But other parts of the development are almost unrecognisable. The swimming pool and chalets at the rear have been demolished to make way for four new blocks of flats which branch back through landscaped communal gardens. A fifth building, slightly separated from the main complex, provides affordable housing. And a doctors surgery for local residents has opened where the hotel dining room used to be.

Work is still ongoing on the interiors of some flats but is expected to be completed by the start of 2011.

About half of the 279 flats have been sold, with prices starting at 179,995 for a studio apartment and rising to 499,995 for a two bed apartment with original balcony and direct sea views.

According to Mr Inglis, buyers have been a mix of semi-retired couples keen to settle by the sea and local first time buyers taking advantage of various schemes, including shared ownership.

Were very pleased with the progress weve had, he tells me. Especially given the difficult property market at the moment.

There are plenty of signs of the hotels Art Deco heritage, such as the restored round windows shaped to resemble cabin portholes peeking out to sea. And there will be a hired concierge who will sit behind a replica of the original reception desk.

But the homes at the Grand Ocean, as it is now known, are undoubtedly 21st century living areas. Stepping into one of the show units, they feel bright, contemporary and airy. Original bedrooms have been knocked through to form spacious open plan living areas and there is plenty of natural light with floor to ceiling windows. Electric underfloor heating comes as standard, as do ergonomic fitted kitchens which have integrated appliances. And the decor is John Lewis.

Each flat, except in the converted hotel, gets its own solar panel on the roof, with the system covering up to 70 per cent of energy demand used for water heating.

There are also ipod docks and integrated sound systems, en-suite bathrooms and enclosed wiring for flat screen TVs. And dont forget the secure underground parking, on-site gym and car club scheme.

As we make our way out into the Sussex sunshine, I wonder what the chic guests who swanned around the hotel seven decades years earlier would have made of this latest incarnation.

And I cant help but think that they would have agreed that the Grand has certainly been put back into the Grand Ocean.


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