Liverpool, L1 1JQ
Date opened: 16th September 1912.
Date Closed: 17th July 1982.
Owners: Lime Street Picture House Co Ltd/Edwin Hayes.
Architect: C.C. Chadwick & William Watson, of Leeds.
Capacity: Balcony- 374, Stalls-662. Total=1036 seats.
Final films shown: “History of the World-Part 1” and “Blazing Saddles”.
Demolished: Commenced 3rd of August 2016
Leeds architects C. C. Chadwick & William Watson were commissioned to design this new city centre cinema. The building was erected by W. Wade Sykes in March 1912 and completed approximately seven months later. The site was leasehold from Liverpool Corporation for a peppercorn rent and then came under the management of the Lime Street Picture House Co Ltd which had been formed under the directorship of Edwin Haigh in 1911 with an authorized capital budget of £20.000.
Although not the first custom built cinema in the Liverpool area, it was the first in the city centre. Initially named the Lime Street Picture House and described at the Grand Opening on 16th September 1912 as being “the finest in the kingdom” that employed a full orchestra to accompany silent films, and a prestigious first floor café”. A lift had been installed for café and balcony customers.
A centrally stepped entrance was flanked either side by shops that were integral to the building. Over the entrance steps was a glazed metal framed canopy that had the cinema’s name spread across the entire front. The splendid Georgian styled facade was approximately 60′ in width, with columns, arches, and numerous other ornate features that included the words “Picture House” permanently carved into the stonework placed up on high.
Through the magnificent glazed doors that can be seen on the photograph above, customers were met with an entrance foyer lined with Sicilian marble and a striking floor laid with black and white tiles. The decor was mainly of Saxe blue. There were several pillars mounted on square pedestals situated near to the turning staircases. The first floor lounge was also the location of the café.
The interior strongly resembled a live theatre with an abundance of architectural features, richly decorated with plaster-work in the French Renaissance style. Even two boxes that were placed either side of the stage were purely cosmetic, with a riotous pediment either side of the proscenium. The balcony protruded over the stalls for a considerable distance towards the screen. The auditorium walls on both levels were paneled dado in a dark oak wood and punctuated by full length fluted pilasters. The upper level panels above the dado were of light colour and embellished with gold borders. The stalls seating was set out in just two blocks with a centre and side aisles, and accommodated 662 people. The balcony had a sweeping curve that extended to the side walls and the front exits, terminating at the ornate splay walls that focused the eye towards the screen. The seating was stepped and provided accommodation for a further 374 customers. Admission prices were 6d. & 1/-, and children were admitted at half price up to 5 p.m.
The projection room was referred to as the lantern room.
In November of 1912 another cinema opened in nearby Clayton Square and was first named as the Liverpool Picture House. This prompted the management of the Lime Street Picture House to alter the name of their cinema to the City Picture House.
In October 1920 a new company was formed, Futurist (Liverpool) Ltd. From this time the newly named Futurist and adjacent Scala cinema were both controlled by Levy Cinema Circuit who also had similar named cinemas in Birmingham. Benefiting from the cinema showmanship experience of the directors, brothers~ Sol & Alfred Levy, John Arthur Williams and Edwin Haigh the future was bright! The circuit’s first choice of name was Scala, but as they had already opened the Scala next door to the City Picture House in 1916, the Futurist was their second choice.
A novelty sound presentation was given at both the Futurist & Scala on 29th November 1926 for a six day run. This demonstration of synchronized sound was given by Lee De Forest. His Phonofilm system, which recorded synchronized sound directly onto film, was used to record vaudeville acts, musical numbers, and opera singers. The quality of Phonofilm was poor at first, improved somewhat in later years, but was never able to match the fidelity of sound -on-disc systems such as Vitaphone, or later sound -on-film systems such as RCA Photophone or Fox Movietone.
Sol levy died two months before the first sound feature, MGM’s first musical ~”Broadway Melody” starring Anita Page was shown at the Futurist on 2nd September 1929 for a six week run. The era of silent films petered out in 1929 at the Futurist as the new Western Electric Talking equipment was installed.
Click on the above frame to sample the first talkie feature shown at the Futurist
Under the management structure of the Levy circuit business remained brisk until new competition came along from the nearby ABC Forum during 1931 and the massive Paramount cinema on London Road in 1934. The competition began to starve the first-run release to the Futurist resulting in them showing off the circuit releases or prime features after the new cinemas had finished with them.
In May of 1941 both the Futurist and Scala suffered bomb damage. The Futurist was first to re-open on 16th June 1941 with “The Ghost Train” which starred Liverpudlian..Arthur Askey.
In May of 1954, the Levy circuit leased the building to 20th Century Fox. The film company was in dispute with Rank and by acquiring the site they had a platform for their new films in this major city, thus returning first-run films onto the Futurist’s screen.
After the final film “Outlaw” starring Jane Russell was shown on 15th May 1954, extensive alterations took place to install a huge Miracle Mirror CinemaScope screen, behind which and along the walls of the auditorium were mounted numerous speakers to facilitate stereophonic sound. To improve sight-lines the circle seats were raised on the stepping by 7″. In just five days the Futurist was open again for continuous business on 20th May 1954 with the movie- “King Of The Khyber Rifles” starring Tyrone Power. This was the start of a six year run when Fox were able to present their films, many in CinemaScope at this well attended venue.
A more dramatic change happened when Fox relinquished their lease and Alfred Levy decided to sell. ABC became the new owners after paying £135.000 to purchase the cinema operation and then invested a further £50.000 on modernisation and re-equipping.
A new proscenium was installed that engulfed and hid the architectural features that flanked the splay walls and the original stage. Advertised as Liverpool’s latest luxury TODD-AO theatre, ABC re-opened the Futurist on 10th July 1960 with the Rogers & Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma”.
With both 35mm & 70mm/TODD-AO films now being booked in and with magnetic stereo sound, the Futurist was quickly acknowledged as a “Road Show Theatre”, offering extended runs with bookable separate performances.
However, with a shortage of “Road Show”product, the Futurist found that by the mid 1970s it was back to showing ABC circuit release and then re-runs of successful films shown elsewhere.
The 70 year cinema history of the cinema ended when ABC closed the building on 17th July 1982 with a double bill programme of Mel Brook’s “History of the World-Part 1” and “Blazing Saddles” watched by only 100 customers on the final evening.
Sadly the building lay derelict for many years. Brave campaigns were launched to save the cinema. Plans were put forward to demolish the Futurist in 2014 stirring even more people to try and save the now badly deteriorated building, or even the facade. By 2016 the entire site was deemed to be structurally unsafe. In May of the same year the cinema was cordoned off from Lime Street.
Eventually, appeal actions were made through the courts to save the Futurist. These were denied on 2nd August 2016. In the early hours of 3rd of August the demolition commenced.