I originally walked round the outside of this place in about 2005, with no obvious way in, and it pretty much fell of my radar until it made a brief stint on the tour bus last summer. Ojay very kindly checked access, and with a positive report back we drove up one Saturday night for a good all-nighter. After making the journey, parking in an inordinately expensive car park we found, to my bitter disappointment that the previous disabled access now sported a heavy gauge chain and lock. Half a pint of best in the near by Wetherspoons and it was back in the car for the long slog home!!The Paramount Theatre on Oxford Street, Manchester, opened on 6 October 1930, showing "The Love Parade", and featuring a variety show on stage. The theatre was built for the Paramount Film Company of America, and was designed by Frank Verity and S. Beverley (now known as Verity & Beverley), who had also built the Plaza Theatre in London. It was one of 50 proposed Paramount Theatres; others included Paramount Leeds, Paramount Newcastle upon Tyne, Paramount Glasgow, Paramount Liverpool, Paramount Birmingham and Paramount, Tottenham Court Road, London. It was capable of seating 2,920 people on two levels (the Stalls and the Balcony), and the building also contained a fully equipped stage, a fly tower, dressing rooms, an orchestra pit, an organ and a cafe. The cinema was designed to operate in the cine-variety era; it was mostly used to show films (such as those featuring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald) but it also put on live stage shows (including those by Francis A Mangan, which were accompanied by a full orchestra). It was purchased in November 1939 by Oscar Deutsch as part of the Odeon Theatres Ltd, and was renamed as the Odeon in 1940. It became a Rank cinema in 1941. Its piano lounge subsequently hosted Bruce Forsyth among others.
The building featured a stone-faced facade with four bays, and a full-width canopy, both facing Oxford Street. The cinema has three levels, one of which is a mezzanine. The foyers and auditorium were decorated in a Baroque style; the building also had a large rounded proscenium and an illustration of the sky on the ceiling.
The theater was divided in 1973 to become a twin screen cinema, at which time the organ was removed. It gained a third screen in 1979, and four more screens were added in 1992 using the basement and stage areas; it opened as a seven-screen cinema on 8 May 1992. The cinema had a private car park with a small number of parking spaces to the rear. In 1992 it hosted the premiere of A Few Good Men.
The theatre originally had a Wurlitzer Publix One theatre organ with 4 manuals and 20 ranks of pipes, specified by Jesse Crawford. It was planned to install one of these in each of the 50 Paramount theatres, however this was the only one to be installed, and the only one of that model to leave the United States. When the theatre was divided, the organ was acquired by the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust, loaned to the City of Manchester and relocated to the Free Trade Hall (a process taking four years); and was first used there in September 1977. When the Free Trade Hall closed, it was subsequently moved to the Stockport Town Hall's Great Hall.
The cinema closed in September 2004 after 74 years in use, due to competition from the AMC Great Northern. After its closure, it was occasionally used as a church.
To be honest I had pretty much written it off after that. Demo team were on site and I was a little thin on spare time. To my surprise I got a text recently saying it was a goer... so once again I made the pilgrimage up the M6 to give it another bash.
I've seen a lot of cinemas over the years... some amazing, some rotting husks of buildings and a lot in-between. I didn't want to miss this one, one of the few remaining "super cinemas" of the 1930's when the "picture palace" was in it's zenith. In all honesty some of my most memorable nights of exploring have involved walking on sodden plaster and pi-carious catwalks trying to get myself in-between the original plaster work and the 60's partitioning installed when the vast majority of the country's cinemas were cut up to become multi-screen. Usually the bigger the cinema the more cubbies one finds to rake in, so I had quite high expectations, even after more recent reports that the seats were all out and the foyer was stripped back to brick.
To be honest the old gal didn't let me down. Like any good inner city cinema the building was literally a maze of rooms, corridors and staircases. These big cinemas were a complicated lay out to begin with, but add into the mix the splitting of the auditorium and the building becomes a labyrinth. There are parts of the building that just make you think "how, and WHY did you design that like that"! The attic, as with most big cinemas was vast and worth a mooch for old fag packets. TBF there wasn't much up there like that, however the craftsmanship t'other side of of the plaster-work is just as amazing if you take the time to look. Intricate ironwork, and every lath perfectly cut and spaced, all to be admired from the lofty vantage point of the network of catwalks. Of course the usual light blub packets ranging from 1930's - 1990's were in plentiful supply :)
I've seen a lot of hidden ceilings, notable examples being Bradford Odeon and Preston Odeon. I have to say this one knocks both of those into a cocked hat. A tiny rickety wooden cat walk runs straight through the middle of the auditorium and right up to the proscenium. It was an amazing, if not an overwhelming sight... just one of those amazing spaces we sometimes find ourselves in where you just stop for a second and think "wow".
After that a few more boxes were ticked. Projection room was average but had a good battery room and a few nice signs. Below ground was excellent, containing much of the building's original plant, all sporting it's original paintwork and in amazing condition.
I could have pressed on to look for the reputed orchestra pit and fly tower, but the drive home and the fact it was a school night meant we decided to call it a night.
I figured this place was really worth documenting, so I made an effort with my pictures. The below result is just about as good as my battered D90 and I can do...u
Big thanks to Ojay for making this happen for me :)
Original carpet behind the stage
The main event... quite simply a stunning sight
The alcoves once housed the pipes for the organ
A shot showing how crudely these once lavish buildings were divided up to create the three screens. That breeze block wall literally ran from floor to attic!
I was trying to work out what was in the middle of the crest... on the drive home I sussed it out, it's the Paramount logo
Bit of retro film paraphernalia in the battery room
This is the sum total of "epic" found in the circle void... quite disappointing if I'm honest!
The only surviving plaster-work in the main screen, recently uncovered