In the tradition of 1960s jokes I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that the Hyde Park Picture House is closing at the end of February. The good news is that it is being totally refurbished, and the even better news is that it will continue to show films throughout this process in various other sites around the City.

The refurb is not going to be one of those Homes Under The Hammer jobs with a stud partition wall and a coat of magnolia emulsion, it is more of a complete restoration saving and upgrading the original features, while at the same time making it fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Fear not, the iconic gas lighting will be retained so the building’s unique character will not be adversely affected.

Auditorium Photograph provided by Hyde Park Picture House

Hyde Park Picture House opened its doors for the first time in 1914 and showed uplifting patriotic films to bolster morale and increase recruitment during the First World War. In the following years it was one of the scores of local cinemas in Leeds and owes its survival to finding a niche market. After the Second World War it showed independent, continental and art house films. Being situated so close to the University this fulfilled a need and meant that while the local fleapits screening mass market offerings went by the board with the development of tv and multiplexes, the Hyde Park went marching on. Its longevity is also down to its being run by a body of volunteers who supplement the paid staff so costs are cut. I spoke to one such angel who said that he does one evening every other week which he thoroughly enjoys. The cinema goers are mainly regulars but there is a changing of the guard each year as students graduate and leave the city whilst a new intake discovers the place. 

There were several presenters at the event announcing Next Chapter, should that not have been the Next Reel, the first being Chris Blyth the CEO of The Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd who own the eponymous building along with the City Varieties and the Hyde Park Picture House. He was obviously very enthusiastic about the transformation and thanked the people who had financed it – see below for details. He also thanked sponsors Kirkstall Brewery and Northern Bloc Ice Cream who were generous in their supplying of products for the launch, something which I am happy to echo. Kirkstall Brewery have also introduced a new beer especially for the occasion with 20% of all sales going to the project. 

Mark Johnston Photograph by Lee Brown

The most informative speaker of the evening was Mark Johnston from Page\Park Architects who are masterminding the project. No offence meant to any of the others. They are no strangers to upgrading places of entertainment being the firm behind the new look Leeds Playhouse and are also experienced in renovations having done everything from bandstands to cathedrals. He explained the new layout of the cinema and how it will be totally accessible as well as having a new screening room in the basement. It will also become even more of a community hub than it already is with extended public areas. As the building is Grade II listed there is a maze of legislation to negotiate and he showed a plan of the picture house as it is now which needed to be submitted to planning. It shows every wire, electric socket, pipe, drain, tap, washbasin etc, all of which need approval to be replaced. Planning permission has been granted for an extension to the side facilitating the new spaces while the rear of the ticket kiosk will be moved back a bit for ease of access. The firm has scoured old photographs and plans as well as anecdotal history such as drawings and postcards to help them get it just right. The cast iron lamppost outside will be renovated as will the sign, but the faience blocks are damaged and in need of restoration as well. The outside will be landscaped, again to facilitate access. The mosaic flooring in the entrance will be retained and more has been discovered beneath the carpet which can hopefully be restored and revealed. A specialist firm has taken small scrapings from the paintwork for analysis and we were shown some psychedelic looking slides which detailed the many coats applied to the walls and woodwork over the years. They hope to be able to replicate the original and compliment it with bronze cladding.

New Interior Photograph by Page\Park

Ollie Jenkins, the Marketing and Communications Manager at Hyde Park Picture House went through the plans to maintain operation whilst the cinema itself is closed, and he revealed the details of On The Road, as the season will be known. They are as follows:-

Ollie Jenkins Photograph by Lee Brown

New Indies – New independent releases will be shown at Leeds University Union every Sunday and Monday. They are open to everyone so it might be a good time to check out the union anyway.

Hyde and Seek – Family friendly films at Heart in Headingley and other heritage buildings

Creatures of the Night – Cult films will be shown at The Brunswick every other month. Cult films and craft beer, what’s not to like.

Documentaries and Artists’ Moving Images – These will be shown at premises at 42 New Briggate, next to the Grand Theatre. 

Music on Film – Brudenell Social Club, where else.

Memory Matinees – These dementia-friendly films will be shown at Heart in Headingley.

There then followed the local artist Adam Allsuch Boardman who is undertaking the mammoth task of drawing every cinema which has ever operated in Leeds. He has a list of 85 but it is thought that there might have been over 100 at one stage. He is compiling an interactive map as well as printed versions and an historic walk guide. I can’t wait for that as I visited lots of them in my youth and they all had their different quirks. My grandad worked at the Easy Road Picture House during, and just after, the Second World War doubling as an Air Raid Warden during attacks. Mainly he welcomed cinema goers and showed them to their seats. He was so conscientious that when he gave my mother away at her marriage to my father, he walked her down the aisle of the church backwards with a torch in his hand!

Photograph provided by Hyde Park Picture House

I am so pleased that such a well loved piece of Leeds’ history is not only being saved but also restored and having its future secured. It is only appropriate as, not only have volunteers kept the place in operation over recent years, but those same angels were the ones who instigated the first Leeds International Film Festival in 1987 which is now the largest such event outside London. It must also never be forgotten that Leeds is the birthplace of film with the first moving image being of the horse-drawn traffic over Leeds Bridge in 1888 as shot by Louis Le Prince.

With all of the speakers so passionate about the project, and why wouldn’t they be, I am sure that it will be brilliant when it is done. I would ask, however, that one of the things they do change is the ridiculously designed gents toilets downstairs. My contribution.

Thanks must be given to the people and organisations who have made the restoration and refurbishment possible:-

National Lottery Heritage Fund who have given a grant of £2.3 million

Leeds City Council

Garfield Weston, who secured match funding

Film Hub North

The Gwynneth Forrester Trust

Co-op Local Community Fund

Leeds Inspired

The Friends of Hyde Park Picture House

Feature Image provided by Page\Park

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