Liverpool, L15 6TE
Date opened: Saturday 4th March 1939
Date Closed: Saturday 4th August 1979
Architect:Arthur Ernest Shennan FRIBA (1887 – 1959)
Seating Capacity: 1870
The Abbey cinema Wavertree, Liverpool, designed by Alfred Earnest Shennon was the only cinema in the city to screen three strip cinerama, back in 1964. The first Cinerama presentation was This is Cinerama shown from the 17th March 1964 and ran for seven weeks. The cinema was run by the Wood family, who ran Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd. They ran a number of cinemas, including the Mayfair, Aigburth and the Empire Garston.
A new projection box was installed in the stalls area for Cinerama, housing three projectors. The Sound was magnetic, and on a separate reel. It carried seven tracks and produced excellent sound seperation. Because of cost the three reel Cinerama didn’t last long, though there were a few good features made in it, including How the West Was Won and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, starring the late Laurence Harvey.
JIM WOOD – a projectionist’s experience of presenting Cinerama. Click on the above frame to watch his interview.
After the three strip system proved not financially viable, 70mm Cinerama was shown on the the screen, which was made in strips to cut down on reflection. The Abbey first opened its doors on the 4th March 1939 with the film Joy of Living. The opening ceremony took place at 2.30 and was conducted by a Mr W.T. Lancashire. The film was supported by Mrs Wilf Hamer and her band. It was stated that she appeared by kind permission of the Grafton Rooms directorate. The Grafton was a popular place to go dancing. In advertising the opening, it was stated that the cinema was equipped with perfect architecture, perfect decoration, perfect comfort, perfect sound and vision and perfect programmes. Talk about blowing your own trumpet. They also say We have thought of everything, come and see for yourself. They also boast a car park, deaf aids throughout, coffee, ices etc brought to your seats and a magnificent hall of mirrors.
The main entrance and the tower had a well designed scheme of neon lighting. The local paper said: ‘From the centre of the main entrance hall, with a glass mosaic floor in varying shades of blue with silver stars, rises an impressive column of light, flanked by two similar half columns.’ In the foyer, one wall and the ceiling was completely mirrored. The opposite wall was richly panelled in Australian walnut.
The floor completely laid in wood mosaic, struck a musical note in design. There was a decorative motif in the bass clef Leading up from the foyer to the first floor lounge was a staircase in green terrazzo, which was ten feet wide and enclosed by an ornate balustrading in polished copper and aluminium. Suspended ceilings and plain plasterwork was carried out by Adams Brothers of Liverpool. The decorative work in the interior was supplied and fitted by H.E Wilson (1924) Ltd, who made good use of their Hewiac spray finishing process. The Glass and glazing was provided by Wilkinson and Co, from Liverpool and Birkenhead. The mirrors to ceiling and walls in the main foyer was supplied and fixed by Williams and Watson Ltd, also from LiverpooA novel feature of the foyer was the clock set in the mirrored wall. Two spots of light took the place of the hands. Two pairs of doors lead from the lounge to the balcony. The auditorium ceiling was composed entirely of large domes in irrdescent gold and individually illuminated. The walls of the auditorium were treated in wide horizontal bands of primrose, Orange, and gold speckle, separated by bands of silver. The bands lead the eye to the main grilles flanking the proscenium, an interesting feature being the illuminated columns of multi-coloured light, which act as a frame.
Seating was available for 1,126 on the ground floor and 744 in the balcony. Plumbing throughout was done by Liverpool firm Thomas Murtha and son, who also did the exterior painting and a large amount of interior painting – another local firm. The cinema closed on the 4th August 1979 with a 70mm showing of The Towering Inferno.
Click the above frame to play the documentary
David A Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk
Liverpool, L18 5HU
Date opened: Saturday 31st March 1928
Date Closed: Saturday 10th April 1971
Architect:Arthur Ernest Shennan FRIBA (1887 – 1959)
Seating Capacity: 1450
First film shown: “Sorrows of Satan” starring Adolph Menjou.
Final film shown: “A Shot in the Dark” starring Peter Sellers.
The Plaza cinema Allerton, which went on to become a Gaumont, Odeon and Classic, was owned by JF Wood, who ran Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd. At the time of opening on 31st March 1928 it was taken over by General Theatres Corporation (GTC). The Plaza was designed by Alfred Ernest Shennon and had seating for 800 in the stalls and 650 in the balcony.
A Wurlitzer organ with eight ranks was installed in August 1928, having previously been in operation at the London Palladium. The first person to play the thunderous instrument was Reginald Foort. The first film to hit the screen was ‘Sorrows of Satan’. The entrance foyer was one of the largest in the country and measured fifty eight feet by fifty four feet. There was a central fountain and there was telephone situated in one of four alcoves for use by the public. A goldfish pond was another feature. One of the projectionists cleaned the pond and lost a fish. This was spotted by the manager, who made the operator buy another.
At the time of opening it was stated the Plaza was the only all electric theatre in Liverpool. It had no emergency gas lighting. The secondary lighting was provided by 60 volt 200 amp knife accumulators, which were charged during the morning hours. The frontage was illuminated by six double floodlights and there were three Plaza signs. One horizontal on the frontage and two vertical, one on each side. Each sign employed 160 Osram daylight lamps. Each letter was 3ft 9 inches. A Bulman screen was installed and gave a twenty foot picture. Stage illumination consisted of red, white, blue and orange lamps at the front of the stage and above the screen.
There were two floodlights installed in boxes at each side of the proscenium opening. The cinema housed a tea lounge on the first floor with a fully fitted kitchen attached. There was a nursery complete with toys and and rocking horses where patrons could leave their children. The walls sported a painted freeze of animals in a jungle. In September 1929 it was equipped for sound and the RCA system was adopted. The first talkie was ‘The Valiant’ starring Paul Muni. Kalee 21 machines, which came on the market in 1947 were eventually installed. Wide screen pictures were on offer in December 1954 when the Cinemascope film ‘The Black Shield of Falworth’ was played.
By this time the cinema had become the Gaumont, having had a name change from the 11th September 1950. It changed from being a Gaumont to an Odeon on 25th November 1962, then in December 1967 the name changed again, this time to Classic. The end for this grand cinema came on the 10th April 1971 with the screening of ‘A Shot in the Dark’. The demolition hammer fell and a new Classic was built on the site. This later became a Cannon, Virgin, ABC and finally another Odeon.
David A Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk
Date opened: Monday 25th November 1912
Date Closed: Friday 7th July 1972
Architect: George L. Alexander
Seating Capacity: 561
JACEY cinemas ran a number of news theatres before switching to features, usually of the continental variety. Some of their halls were named Tatler. The first was in London, followed by Birmingham. They expanded and had news theatres in Manchester and Liverpool. Managing director was a Joseph C. Cohen.
The Liverpool building designed by George L. Alexander for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT) was built on the site of the Prince of Wales Theatre, which opened in December 1861 with The Maid with the Milking Pail. Ownership and renovation of the theatre took place several times, and in 1870 it was run by Eldred and Fairlie. Mitchell and Kenyon screened The Arrest of Goudie in 1901.
Some sources say the Prince of Wales was demolished to make way for the cinema. Others reports are not clear on this, and give the impression it was a conversion. Does anyone know for sure? The theatre, which was known as The Little House in the Square closed in 1905 and was offered for sale or rental. The PCT cinema called The Liverpool Picture House opened on November 25th 1912, situated in Clayton Square. It is not clear what it was between 1905 and 1912, can anyone enlighten us? In April 1914 PCT re-named it The Prince of Wales Cinema. They operated it until 1923. New owners Savoy cinemas, a subsidiary of ABC, then took over.
Talkies arrived at the cinema On 30th September 1929 with the film The Trial of Mary Duggan. In 1933 it was run by a subsidiary company of ABC called the Regent Circuit. Stanley Grimshaw’s Byrom Picture Houses Ltd took over in 1936. Later, Philip Hamner from Regent Enterprises, (not to be confused with the Regent Circuit) took over Byrom. It is stated in the press that the cinema was sold to Jacey by the Hanmer brothers, but I have only heard of Philip Hanmer. The theatre underwent alteration and seating capacity was reduced.
It opened on the 17th December 1946 as The Liverpool News Theatre. Seating was for 561, originally being 700. Screenings were continuous from 10am to 10.30, the programme lasting 75 minutes. The opening was conducted by the mayor WG Gregson.
The proceeds from the first performance went to the Child Welfare Clothing Fund. At the time of opening it was the largest news theatre in the country. There were now two news theatres in Liverpool, the other being the Tatler in Church Street, which opened on the 19th February 1934 and housed Ross Projectors and Kalee Vulcan arcs.
On the 20th September 1962 It became The Gala International Film Theatre. This was short lived and it went back to Jacey in September 1963, becoming The Jacey Film Theatre. They mainly screened continental films. They sold the magazine Continetal Film Review in the foyer. There was a small area where you could purchase tea and coffee. There was a juke box in this area that ran 16mm film, so you could view the singer.
The cinema, which had the BTH SUPA projection system, closed on the 7th July 1972.
The building then became a church. It was demolished in 1986.
David A Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk
Liverpool, L17 9PE
Date opened: Saturday 1st May 1937
Date Closed: Saturday 23rd June 1973
Architect: Arthur Ernest Shennan FRIBA (1887 – 1959)
Seating Capacity: 1750
The Mayfair Cinema was located in the Aigburth district to the south of Liverpool city centre. It opened on May 1st 1937 with Max Miller in “Educating Evans”, and was one of Liverpool’s finest suburban cinemas. The 1,750 seat cinema, owned by Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd., was opened by the mayor, William Denton.
John Frederick Wood ran several cinemas around the Liverpool area, which included the Mayfair Aigburth Road, the Plaza Birkenhead and the Abbey Wavertree. His company went under the name Bedford Cinemas (1928) Ltd.
The theatre was designed by A. Ernest Shennan and built by Tysons Ltd., with a spacious entrance hall that had the paybox in the middle. There were two staircases, which led to the balcony and large lounge, furnished with several couches. The auditorium had lighting in a coved ceiling, which stepped down to the screen. A Compton 3Manual/6Rank organ regularly entertained patrons in the early years and was still played occasionally up to the time the cinema closed. The projection room had Kalee 11 projectors and Western Electric sound. At the time of closing the original projection heads were still in use. The cinema was equipped with four track magnetic, the last stereo film being “Woodstock”.
In 1969, the gold coloured festoon curtain was removed to make way for an unmasked screen. The new screen, minus tabs, appeared to be suspended in mid-air and was called a floating screen. This made its debut on August 3 1969. Later that year I joined as a second projectionist, my chief was Brian Cubbon. We ran single manned box, I only worked with Brian twice a week.
The last film was “The Last Picture Show”, a fitting title, plus Steve McQueen in “Bullet”. The final reel was shown on June 23rd 1973. The Mayfair Cinema then became a Mecca Bingo Club and was later demolished in 1984 and a Kwik Save Supermarket was built on the site.
David A Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk
Liverpool, L20 2AE
Date opened: Monday 22nd December 1930
Date Closed: Saturday 30th November 1968
Architects: Gray & Evans of Liverpool
Seating Capacity: 1906
The Commodore Picture House opened on 22nd December 1930 by Alderman- F W King. It was originally owned and managed by Regent Enterprise Ltd.
The opening film, “Disraeli” starred George Arliss.
There was seating for 1,306 in the stalls and 600 in the circle. The proscenium was 54 feet wide, one of the largest in Liverpool. It had a full working stage with dressing rooms provided, so live concerts were a feature.
The ABC circuit took control on 4th April 1931. The Commodore closed on 30th November 1968. The final films shown were “How to Seduce a Playboy” and “Virgin Youth.
Liverpool, L1 1JQ
Date opened: 31st January 1916
Date Closed: 24th August 1982
Owner: Sol Levy.
Architect: J S Bramwell.
First General Manager: Vivian van Damm
First film shown: “John Glayde’s Honour” and “Chip Off the Old Block“.
Final film shown: “Firefox” starring Clint Eastwood.
The Scala Super Cinema was opened on 31st January 1916. A purpose-built cinema, that was designed by J S Bramwell. It was built by B Cromwell Ltd. The “date of notice” to build was 6 April 1915. It was “signed-off” on 2nd February 1916. The estimated cost of the building was £14,000. The two directors were Sol Levy and E Haig
The first films screened were “John Glayde’s Honour” starring Aubrey Smith, plus “A Chip Off the Old Block”. The latter film starred the 10 year old son of Maurice Costello, hence the brother of Dolores & Helene Costello who both found fame in Hollywood.
Having a luxurious interior and grand artistic design it was promoted as a “Super Cinema”.
The cinema had a Classical style facade, and the auditorium was in an Egyptian style. Seating was provided for 400 in the stalls and 220 in the circle. The seating capacity altered with seats being added and taken away during the cinema’s lifetime.
The Scala (Liverpool) Ltd was formed to operate the cinema. The two directors of the company were Sol Levy and E Haigh. Licensee and general manager of the cinema from its opening was Vivian Van Damm who later became the manager of London’s famous Windmill Theatre in Soho when it opened in June 1931 remaining there until his death in December 1960.
In 1920 a new company was formed (Futurist Liverpool Ltd). The Scala and the Lime Street Picture House, which was next door, came under the control of the Levy Circuit. The Lime Street Picture House was renamed the Futurist.
During the silent movie era music accompaniment was provided by the Scala Symphony Orchestra. In the 20s, it boasted Jules Gaillard, violin virtuoso and his orchestra.
On the 29th of November 1926 Talking Pictures began a one week run of the Lee de Forest Phono films ( a series of short films). The following year sound was made a permanent feature when the RCA Photophone sound system was installed. The first full sound feature at the Scala was “Lucky Boy” starring George Jessell shown on 8th July 1929.
The cinema was damaged by German bombs in 1941 forcing it to close for six weeks while the damage was repaired.
In the early-to mid-1950’s, the Scala Cinema screened mainly second run films, together with ‘X’ certificate films. It was leased to Twentieth Century Fox in 1955. The auditorium was altered to accommodate CinemaScope, destroying most of the original Egyptian decorative scheme, to enable a wall-to-wall screen to be installed. It re-opened on 10th April 1955 with “Carmen Jones”.
By the end of the 1950’s there was not enough Twentieth Century Fox product to keep both cinemas running, and the Scala’s lease was taken over by Gala Film Distributors, screening Continental ‘X’ certificate films, and opened with “Sins of Youth” and the nudist film “Traveling Light”.
Gala left the building in 1962, and it continued the adult film policy under independent management until taken over by ABC on 3rd July 1967. The facade was ‘modernised’ to a plain facade with windows, and new signage stating ABC Scala EMI was installed.
When ABC/EMI tripled the ABC ex-Forum Cinema across the street they closed the Scala cinema on 24th August 1982, with Clint Eastwood in “Firefox”.
Five years later it re-opened as a nightclub and was followed by a succession of similar businesses before closing for the final time in October 2015.
The building was demolished in January of 2017
Liverpool, L1 1DA
Date opened: Monday February the 19th 1934
Date Closed: Spring 1973
Seating Capacity: 600
The Tatler, Church Street Liverpool was the first news and cartoon cinema in the city. It opened on Monday February the 19th 1934 and was run by Edwin Haigh and his son John.
In 1946 a second news theatre, the Liverpool News Theatre opened in Clayton Square, run by Jacey cinemas. The Tatler had seating for 600, 200 of them in the balcony. The cinema was designed from an existing construction fronting Church Street and Williamson Street. It is said that great ingenuity had to be exercised in order to comply with all the regulations of the public authorities. The contractors were John Rimmer and son, who were congratulated for their work.
The entrance in Church Street was lined with marble and brilliantly lit by means of neon display signs and tubular lights in tiers. The result making a striking design in metal and marble. The entrance foyer was floored with rubber. The wall decorations were finished with brightly coloured panelling dusted with gold. Illumination in the hall was by means of laylights fixed in the ceiling at various levels. Opening time was 11.30am and the programme was continuous from noon until 10.30. At the time of opening it is stated that admission prices were 7d and a shilling. A photograph showing a new canopy states it was 6d and a shilling. Each show lasted ninety minutes and the programme was changed twice a week.
The first manager was a Mr Hawkins, who had previously managed the Woolton Picture House. The cinema provided tea coffee and biscuits throughout the day. There was also a telephone kiosk installed on the mezzanine floor. A report in the Liverpool Echo dated October 13th 1939 says: ‘Following the approval of the very substantial basement of the Tatler cinema, Liverpool as an air raid shelter, the manager, Mr K Hann has obtained the necessary certificate for training personnel in ARP.’ The Classic Chester was also an air raid shelter. Can anyone name other cinemas that had this role? Also in April 1939 George Formby and his wife Beryl appeared at the cinema, opening the committee room of the newly formed Merseyside branch of the Classic Cinema Club. Formby said he was a big film fan and Mickey Rooney his favourite star.
The projection room housed two Ross projectors with Kalee Vulcan arcs. The Sound system was the RCA photophone type. After the closure of the Classic Chester in 1970, the Simplex projectors from there were installed in the Tatler. The chief operator was a Mr Teesdale. On the 27th August 1941 the cinema closed due to an explosion, which caused damage to the stage end. After a refit costing £25,000 it re- opened. The new look included a new colour scheme of cream and maroon with speckles of gold. On each side of the stage there were flowers to add to the decorative effect.
On the 25th September 1968 the cinema closed and re-opened as the Classic cinema on the 4th October 1968, with a new bigger screen. The first feature was War and Peace. This was short lived, the cinema closing again in 1969 with Dr Dolittle.
Later in 1969 it opened as the Tatler cinema club, screening uncensored films. This lasted three years. Uncensored films were also shown at the Curzon Cinema Club, which had been the Essoldo on London Road. This cinema became the Tatler after the Church Street cinema stopped showing uncensored films. The former Essoldo went on to become the Eros cinema, also screening uncensored movies and presenting striptease before closing.
The Tatler was given a new lease of life when it re-opened as the Classic Cartoon Cinema, on the 23rd December 1972. Unfortunately, this only lasted three months and the building was never used as a cinema again, becoming a fashion store.
David A Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk pictures-Roger Shone’s collection
Liverpool, L6 9BY
Date opened as a cinema: 30th March 1925
Date Closed: 25th March 1939
Architect: Frank Matcham.
First film shown after conversion to a cinema: “The Thief of Baghdad” starring Douglas Fairbanks
Final film shown: “Stablemates” starring Wallace Beery.
Seating Capacity: 3400
Present Day- In use as a live venue.
A Grade II* Listed building by English Heritage.
Located in the Everton district, this enormous cinema came about when the vast Olympia Theatre was converted to cinema use. Originally the theatre had held 3750 seats. Following the re-design of the auditorium, which involved re-siting the seats and installing a permanent large screen which was 30′ from the front row of the stalls, the capacity was reduced to 3400 seats spread across the stalls, dress circle, upper circle and gallery levels. The ornate plaster-work and balconies of the original theatre had been retained. It re-opened as a silent screen on 30th March 1925. However, less than four years later the Olympia became the first cinema in the Liverpool area and only the fourth outside London to show a sound feature. “The Singing Fool” opened on 11th January 1929 and ran for for a seven week booking.
The ABC circuit gained control of this site during 1930 which it ran as a cinema until 25th March 1939. Competition from another large cinema and several smaller screens nearby forced the closure. On the outbreak of war the building was taken over by the government and used by the Royal Navy as a storage depot.
Associated British Cinemas(ABC) acquired the Olympia Theatre in 1930 and continued the film fare until it was closed on 25th March 1939 with Wallace Beery in “Stablemates” and Mickey Rooney in “”Girl School”. The nearby Royal Hippodrome Theatre had been converted into a cinema by Gaumont British in 1931, and the area just couldn’t support two huge cinemas which had a total seating capacity of 7,400 between them, plus there were other smaller cinemas in the area.
When war was declared in September 1939, the building was taken over by the government and used as a storage depot for the Royal Navy.
Mecca Dancing purchased the building in 1948, re-naming it The Locarno Ballroom. The company then changed it’s use to a bingo club in 1964.
It is designated a Grade II Listed building by English Heritage.
Liverpool, L3 5NF
Date opened: Monday 15th October 1934
Date Closed: Tuesday 30th September 2008
Architect: F T Verity & S. Beverley FRIBA
First film shown: “Cleopatra” starring Claudette Colbert.
Seating Capacity: 2670
Present Day- Demolished during November 2010
Costing £240.00, the Paramount was Liverpool’s largest cinema. Boasting 1972 seats in the stalls with a further 698 in the balcony. Built on a site of 30.000 square feet that had previously been occupied by a boxing stadium by building contractors William Tomkinson and Sons. A series of names were put forward such as Plaza, Stadium and Mayfair. Finally the owners settled on Paramount which was the name of the company that owned it.
The frontage of the building was tall and imposing with carved features, faced in silica stone. Due to an existing store the frontage was restricted to half that of the cinema building behind so extending the frontage round into Pudsey Street was to compensated for any loss of impact to the approach of this fine cinema.
The auditorium was 120′ wide and 70′ in height. The proscenium (stage) width was 80′. Supple colours of cream, terracotta, grey and blue with Japanese style designs featured on the walls in gilt. Coves provided hidden and indirect lighting.
On Monday 15th October 1934 the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor George Alfred Strong, JP, performed the opening ceremony. The first manager was Tony C Reddin, assisted by L J Harris in charge of nearly 200 members of staff.
It was taken over by Odeon in 1942 and almost immediately renamed.
The decorative features were entirely destroyed in 1968 when the stalls and balcony were separated to form two individual cinemas seating 989 in screen 1 (the extended balcony) and well over 1,000 in the huge stalls (screen 2). Odeons 3 and 4 were created by sub-dividing screen 2 in 1973 with the front portion retaining 595 seats and the new auditoria at the rear containing 167 seats each. A large bar in the former circle foyer was in 1979 converted to Odeon 5 with 148 seats.
In Autumn 1999, the building was further subdivided when additional screens were divided out of screens 1 & 2 and an additional 180 seat screen was added on what had been the former stage.