January, 2011 Archives

When this photograph of the Odeon, London Road, was taken, the cinema was just 20 years old. The cinema was built on the site of a boxing stadium which had closed in 1931 and opened as the Paramount in 1934. Its opening was not without incident as the Scala, Futurist and Palais de Luxe all objected to it on the grounds that the Paramount company produced, distributed and exhibited films – making competition virtually impossible. The objections were overruled and a state of the art cinema erected. Interestingly, the frontage was restricted to about half the building’s width because of the presence of the neighbouring store. The architect made up for the lack of width by building tall, with a distinctive stonework central feature which was illuminated by neon lights.
The cinema was designed for a single screen with stalls and a circle and a seating capacity of 2670 (1972 in the stalls and 698 in the circle). A resident organist gave shows every day and was in almost continual use until the cinema was split into twin screens in 1968. In 1942, Paramount sold the cinema to the Odeon Deutsch group and it was renamed the Odeon. In 1954, the year of the photograph, it became the first Merseyside cinema to be equipped for CinemaScope films, later replaced by the larger ToddAO system (the screen was 51 x 24.5 foot). Following a record run of The Sound of Music, the cinema converted to twin screens. All the architectural features in the foyer and auditorium were lost in the conversion, which introduced Panavision and full stereo sound. One particular point of interest was the performances of The Beatles at the cinema in the early 1960s (before conversion). In 1973, an additional screen was added, followed in quick succession by a fourth and fifth screen (in 1979), followed by further subdivisions which finally gave the cinema 10 screens by 1999. This was to mark the end of development and the opening of Odeon’s new cinema in Liverpool One was to prove the end of the road for a cinema that had provided great entertainment for over 60 years.

Lord Street suffered badly during the war, losing many fine buildings, particularly on the left side of the street in today’s photograph.
The right-hand side fared better and the most prominent building, the Lord Street Arcade (the brown and white striped building) is one of the better buildings that has survived. A rather strange building for its time (1901) and built in the Gothic style that was already falling out of favour, it was originally built as a galleried arcade, as is shown in the second photograph, which was taken just before it opened. The arcade was not a great success, probably because the individual shop units were too small. In the late 1980s, I rented a small office on the second-floor gallery, but I never liked the place. The original glass roof had been replaced by a suspended ceiling and the whole place felt claustrophobic. Soon after I moved out, the building was taken over by a sports chain who remodelled the upper floors.
Probably the most interesting fact about the building is that Walter Aubrey Thomas was the architect (not to be confused with Walter Thomas, architect of the Philharmonic Hotel). WA Thomas’s more successful buildings included the State Assurance (1905) on Dale Street, Tower Buildings (1906) and, his masterpiece, the Royal Liver Building (1911). Three very individual buildings – all stylistically quite different. All substantially better buildings than the British Home Store building, which can be seen in construction further up the street – a building totally out of sympathy with its neighbours with its brutalist front that epitomises the worst of the post-War architecture afflicted on the city.

Today is a landmark for me. It is exactly one year since I started this blog and 133 posts later, I am still going strong with over 6000 logging on monthly (and growing). I can only say thank you for your support, emails and posts. I have been asked to supply numerous images of streets, pubs, schools etc. and I will try to find as many as I can. It is not always possible, of course, but I will do my best. My own collection has its limitations but, in the next year, I hope to draw in images from other collections which will add to the picture of Liverpool’s history that I am trying to create.
Today’s two photographs start my second year in the same way as the first image I posted. They are both by that talented American photographer, Frank Dugan, who was here for such a short time at the beginning of the 1950s. Both capture a lost world – the once-familiar image of a proud housewife rather precariously cleaning her windows – and the innocence of two young boys on their trikes, one sporting a trophy of war with no awareness of how close we came to being subjugated by the wearers of such helmets. Where are they today? Can anyone fill in the missing years?

I am guessing that the year is 1965. The John Moores Centre (top left) appears to have been finished, with a nearby crane working on Phase 2. The pub on the corner of Fontenoy Street and Great Crosshall Street (the road running up from Byrom Street the left), is the Australian Vaults with Holy Cross Church prominent just beyond.
The tenements, euphemistically named Fontenoy Gardens, without a blade of grass in sight, are split by the tunnels for Waterloo Goods station, across the road from Waterloo Dock. Further along the docks, the ‘Three Sisters’, the chimneys of Clarence Dock power station are another landmark. With the exception of the JM Centre, all these features have now disappeared in the reshaping of the city over the last thirty years – although the refuse lorry is little different from its modern counterpart (at least some things were designed to last).

Here is another photograph of Lime Street, presumably taken by the same photographer but from a vantage point closer to St George’s Hall.
The year is 1931 judging by the two films showing at the Scala and Palais de Luxe. Tom Sawyer, starring the child actor Jackie Coogan, was released in 1930 and Potiphar’s Wife, Laurence Olivier’s third film, in 1931. The Futurist (next to the Scala) appears to be offering Viennese Nights – a musical and the first film to be shot entirely in Technicolor – was another 1930 film which enjoyed a long box office life, although little critical success.
The photograph shows a calm street scene but this was exactly 80 years ago and the Great Depression was at its height, following the disastrous Wall Street Crash of 1929. The country was in economic turmoil and it is interesting to read a piece I lifted from Wikipedia:
Under pressure from its Liberal allies as well as the Conservative opposition, the Labour government appointed a committee to review the state of public finances. The May Report of July 1931 urged public sector wage cuts and large cuts in public spending (notably in benefit payments to the unemployed) to avoid incurring a budget deficit. This proposal proved deeply unpopular within the Labour Party and among its main supporters, the trade unions, which along with several government ministers refused to support any such measures. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, insisted that the Report’s recommendations be adopted to avoid incurring a budget deficit. In a memorandum in January 1930, one junior government minister, Oswald Mosley, proposed that the government should take control of banking and exports, as well as increase pensions to boost purchasing power. When his ideas were turned down, he resigned. He soon left Labour to form the New Party, and later the British Union of Fascists.
Fascinating how we fail to learn the lessons of history. Unemployment in 1931 reached 25% and the decade that followed 1931 led down a very dark tunnel – what will happen here in the next ten years?

A busy view of Ranelagh Place and Lime Street in 1931. The building, partly shown, on the direct left is the original Lewis’s department store which was bombed in May 1941. Nearby Blackler’s store and the facing block on the corner of Lime Street (the building with the strange observation tower in the top photograph) were no less fortunate. The Palais de Luxe (whose awning can be seen just beyond the second tram) was also badly damaged but reopened only a month later. After a further fire in 1951, it was modernised again – only to close for the final time in 1959 to make way for the modern development which is still with us (I have reposted the photograph of Peter Robinson’s store in the 1960s as a comparison and reminder).
Looking at the 1930s photograph, it makes sense of the ostentatious and somewhat unnecessary tower on The Vines public house. It looks as if the architect was trying to balance the streetscape. Against the 1960s modern development, it looks more eccentric than it would have in its original setting.
In the top photograph, the corner block housed John Tyler (shoes and boots), The Fifty Shilling Taylors, Meeson’s (confectioners) and Finlay & Co. (tobacconists). Looking at my 1932 Gore’s Directory, it is surprising how many creative industries (as we now call them) were concentrated in Lime Street. Apart from the four cinemas (the Forum, Scala, Palais de Luxe and Futurist) along with The Empire Theatre, there were all manner of small businesses including photographers (Dorondo Mills and Carbonora), Jazon and Montgomery (theatrical agents), the Variety Artists Federation (agent Ma Egerton), the Cinema Publicity Supply Company (poster writers), Liverpool Press Club (and sundry press photographers), Radio Pictures Ltd (film renters), Walturdaw Cinema Supply Company and North Western Film Booking Agency.
It is sad to contemplate Lime Street today. This lively mix of businesses has been replaced by a very dead thoroughfare. True the buildings on the right hand side have all survived but they look uncared for and are an ugly mix of empty shops and cinemas and fast food outlets. A facelift is long overdue to restore some of its grandeur. As for the facing 1960s block, the less said the better. The marvellous new panorama of Lime Street which has been gained from removing the blocks fronting Lime Street Station is sadly framed by an eyesore which will probably remain for years given current public sector funding. A great shame that it missed out on the spending spree of the last decade.

Another press photograph from the 1930s to illustrate Liverpool’s slum housing. The photograph was taken from the hind leg and unnamed street looking in the direction of Queen Anne Street (Gomer Street is the next street shown). The children in the foreground could be taken from any number of similar streets – with quite a few wellington boots being worn as a cheap alternative to shoes. The Georgian style terrace is typical of much of inner-city Liverpool at that time – austere houses rapidly built to cope with the mid-nineteenth century explosion in population. The best part of a hundred years old, their lack of maintenance is evident. Internally, they must have been dreadful places – cold, damp and rotten. Sad that so many generations were blighted by such an appalling environment.

Hood Street, 1986

Swagmen, Church Street, 1986

Liverpool’s changing face can be seen in the contrasting images of my last post of Queen Square and the top image of the appropriately ugly-named Hood Street Gyratory. The wasteland-cum-carpark which replaced the Stork Hotel and Queen Square is a bleak reminder of the folly of grandiose Council schemes that come to nought. Perhaps the grim walkway is an even more potent reminder of what could have happened if the plan to rehouse all the Council departments in one huge building had actually succeeded. Fortunately, it never happened but not before another chunk of Liverpool had been levelled to the ground.
I spent some 6 years converting The Grapes pub, on the left of the photograph, to house a photography gallery, sound studio, film and photography workshops amongst other functions. Next door was a homeless drop-in centre which in turn was neighbour to News from Nowhere bookshop and, on the end of the block, EH Jones (electricians). All were demolished in the late 1990s to make way for the new Queen Square development.
It is frightening how fast time moves on. The second photograph, of swagmen in Church Street, was taken at the same time – probably the nadir of Liverpool’s post-war fortunes. This was the time when Bill Bryson, who was inordinately fond of the city and its people, declared that he was greeted by a festival of litter as he arrived at Lime Street. I remember the early 1980s as the only time I seriously considered leaving for other pastures. With the constant factory closures, the Militant politics, the Granby Riots, it really did feel as if all hope had evaporated. Then along came the restored Albert Dock, the International Garden Festival and the Tall Ships Race and the lights turned on again. It hasn’t been plain sailing since then but the photographs of Hood Street and Church Street back in those forlorn years are an apt reminder of how far we have come in the last 25 years.