Chester’s only suburban picture house was the Park, situated on St Mark’s Road and Coronation Street, also referred to locally as Cinema Hill.
The cinema was owned by Sydney Harold Booth and Wilfrid Francis Grieson and opened on 21st May 1923. The hall designed by a Mr J. H Davies, didn’t have a balcony and was advertised to open on the 14th May but wasn’t ready on time. The opening ceremony was performed by the local vicar, the rev J. Philips and W. H. Roberts, a former chairman of the East Saltney Council.
The opening attraction was Moriarty starring John Barrymore, not the film advertised for the original opening, which was going to be The Agony of the Eagles.In advertising it said: Don’t fail to visit the model cinema, which will show the pick of all super films. Proceeds from the first afternoon showing at the 489-seat cinema went to the Royal Infirmary. In September 1923, the owners formed the Park Cinema Saltney Ltd.
On 4th May 1931, the first sound film was screened, called The King of Jazz starring John Boles, using the British Talking Picture (BTP) sound equipment. In the silent days, a piano and violin accompanied the images. The proscenium width was 26ft. The auditorium was 100ft long and 40ft wide. There were six suspended domed lights, which illuminated the auditorium. These were coloured maroon. The foyer was in two tone blue. The screen curtains (tabs) were velvet, coloured maroon. They were originally operated by a series of cords, later motorised. One of the usherettes would open and close these until one night the cord snapped and wrapped itself around the person. Afterwards, the doorman Joe Bolton operated them.
The front stalls had plain wooden tip up seats, the rest were upholstered in maroon crushed velvet and others in patterned green plush. There were double seats at the back for young love birds. The carpet was maroon going into a fawn colour. Before the programme staff would hurry out and put signs on reserved seats. Apparently during WW2, the cinema was used as an Air Raid precautions post (ARP). An army site was situated on the bank by the side of the cinema. Servicemen could freely use the cinema, but the management would count them and send the bill to the forces.
Outside on the wall were two quad posters, the top one had the stars names and the bottom one had the film title.
The manager at the cinema for many years was a Mr Albert Close, who had previously been the chief projectionist. He had joined the cinema in 1933. Kelly’s directory states that from the mid 1930s Deeside Enterprise Cinemas Ltd ran the cinema. Arthur Davies, and Tom Williams ran the company. In 1938, Mr Close became the manager, taking over from a Mr Waring.
Jack Lightfoot joined the cinema in 1940 and worked for two weeks without pay to prove his reliability. After two weeks there was a vacancy and John joined the team on a wage of fifteen shillings a week.
The chief operator at that time was a Mr Bob Dixon. Shortly after Jack’s arrival he went into the forces and Jack became the chief. Equipment at the Park consisted of two Kalee eight projectors and British Talking Picture sound. In the silent days Kintex projection equipment was employed. Jack copied the amplifier wire for wire giving them a spare.
Other staff included doorman Joe Bolton, a Miss Douglas, who went on to have Douglas Place in Saltney named after her, Clive Holdstock, who went on to work at the Classic as chief projectionist. Miss Griffiths, an usherette, who had a long stick, which she would bring down on empty seats if there were children misbehaving is fondly remembered
The cinema, which usually had a change of programme twice a week closed on the second of May 1959 with the black and white cinemascope film The Camp on Blood Island. Jack went on to work for Classic and Mr Close went to the Chester museum, showing films. Jack said the Park was sold because a director wanted to leave. Jack and Mr Close wanted to rent the cinema but the offer was refused. The building still stands today as offices.
David A Ellis & Roger Shonechestercinemas.co.uk