If you wander along Cliff Terrace in Cliftonville tomorrow night (September 27) you will see a glow of neon light coming from the huge windows of the former Club Caprice.
The Grade II listed building was the spot to grab a late night drink as far back as the 1960s. Later named Jurassic Park by some regulars – on account of its ‘more mature’ clientele -the club ran right up until March 2016 by which point it was known as New Club Caprice.
The club site then remained empty until it was bought in June this year and the keys were finally handed over just a few weeks ago.
The future is now bright – literally – for the property as new owner Kerry Ryan undertakes works to convert it into a new neon studio, school and gallery, plus a contained flat and some extra bedrooms for his five daughters.
Kerry, who comes from the Isle of Dogs in East London, creates neon installations for a host of clients and artists including Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Peter Saville and Cerith Wyn Evans.
Now the boss of Neon Specialists, which has bases in London and Miami, is creating the gallery and his studio in the original ballroom (later the nightclub, pool table and arcade areas) as well as converting other parts of the ground floor property to create living space, a terrace and an outside staircase which will lead up to the roof.
The 52-year-old has been creating neons for more than 35 years and has worked for himself since he was 18.
He started out as an apprentice when he was 15. He said: “It was with Truman in Brick Lane. I was an apprentice in screen printing but they also had a neon department.
“I taught myself and went to the London School of Print in the Elephant and Castle. I set up on my own when I was 18 and then children came along so I had to work even harder!
“I’ve always rented studio space in London but now I have bought (Club Caprice) I don’t have to do that anymore.
“I used to come to Margate when I was a kid and always remember the doughnut stand at Bem Boms. From ten years ago to now there has been a transformation in Margate, it has become a New York city from a down town hood.
“I have friends here and am meeting more people here all the time.
“The main reason I bought it is for the view and the sea. I will have a studio looking straight over that and can just go out my door and go swimming in the sea.”
The first neon sign at Turner Contemporary was also made by Kerry for artist Sir Michael Craig-Martin.
Turning Pages is the gallery’s only permanent artwork and has been in the Sunley Gallery since Turner Contemporary opened in 2011.
It is a recreation of Craig-Martin’s first ever public commission for Margate Library in 1975.
Kerry, who creates all of Tracey Emin’s neon works, said: “It is a replica of the Margate Library neon book that was there in the 60s and 70s.”
Kerry estimates the work to complete the entire renovation at the property, which forms the basement of Paragon Court, will take two years but he will be living on site and will have public open days.
As well as an array of neons, he will be installing his collection of art and has plans to allow people a hands-on chance to try out neon making for themselves.
He said: “I want to have a neon school and get the equipment in and the torches set up so people can experience glass bending. “
The neon studio and gallery may seem a modern use of the historic building but the first neon lamp was displayed to the public in Paris in 1910 with neon signs making an appearance in the 1920s. And Kerry plans to keep many of the features of the 1830s property, such as the inside brickwork, some original flooring, an old wall safe and a beautiful antique cast iron stove and oven.
People will be able to see the colourful neons as work progresses.
Kerry said: “The shutters at the front will be left for people to look inside. The neons will be left on at night so everyone will be able to see them.”