Category: Cinemas

Palais de Luxe, Lime Street, 1948

Palais de Luxe, 1959

Technical Achievement, 1960

I have learnt not to push my lack of knowledge in certain subjects. Railways and ships spring immediately to mind – there are hundreds of experts out there who will tell you how many rivets were used in every ship and train. Cinemas has its own aficionados whose knowledge puts mine to shame. I published Harold Ackroyd’s Picture Palaces of Liverpool a few years back (recently reprinted) and received a number of letters pointing out small errors of fact that Harold had made, particularly about opening dates. So if I do get the occasional fact wrong, please accept my apologies and post your corrections – I won’t be insulted.
The Palais de Luxe was a place of entertainment from the 1840s when it started out as the Teutonic Hall. Many of the most famous acts of the nineteenth century trod its boards, including Henry Inving, General Tom Thumb and Dan Leno. Curiosity acts included the Siamese Twins and Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia Giantess. Less curious but equally politically incorrect were the minstrel troupes that were immensely popular including the American Slave Serenaders, advertised as ‘the only combination of genuine darkies in the world.’ The Teutonic Hall had changed its name to St James’s Hall in 1868 only to burn down in 1875. Rebuilt, it eventually was renamed the Tivoli Music Hall before switching to films in 1908. Its final renaming as the Palais de Luxe saw it survive wartime bombing (the top photograph shows how close it came to total destruction), a further fire in 1951 and rebuilding for a final time before it eventually closed in 1959 to make way for the current uninspiring shop development.
In the second photograph, an interesting sculpture can be seen on its facade. This was the largest aluminium statue in the country, designed by WL Stephenson, principal of the College of Art. Titled ‘Technical Achievement’, it was rescued from the scrapyard by the architects of the Palais de Luxe and re-sited at Riversdale Technical College at Aigburth. In 1972, Technical Achievement was taken down because it accumulated bird droppings and was regarded as a health hazard and put into storage but what happened to it since? Does anyone know? It may not be a masterpiece but it is an interesting example of 1950s art and could make a strong visual statement in the right place (outside FACT?).

The Rialto 1974

Lodge Lane 1976

Lodge Lane 1976

I was asked last week why I had not posted anything about the 30th anniversary of the Toxteth Riots. A fair point which I hope today’s blog will rectify. I thought I might have a photograph of the Racquets Club, which was unceremoniously burned down along with The Rialto, but so far nothing has turned up. I knew one of the Club’s committee members and he expressed his delight at the outcome. Members, all from the professional classes, had been reluctant to visit the Club for some time prior to the riots and a financial hole had been created. The generous compensation wiped out the financial problems and gave them fine new premises in Chapel Street (in the Hargreaves Building). The Establishment won out as always, as no doubt did Swainbank who lost his furniture repository in the Rialto. In the case of Lodge Lane, the looting of the shops dealt a devastating blow to the street, from which it still has not recovered.

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.

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.

The poster outside The Jacey cinema is advertising Black Orpheus, a 1959 film about the Rio Carnival, but this is 1970 and the end of an era for Brown’s department store. Clayton Square was once Liverpool’s finest city centre square but it had gradually become rough at the edges and in need of serious investment. Had it got it, back in the 1970s, we would be admiring an interesting mix of late-Georgian/Victorian buildings which would have softened the brutal impact of St John’s Market. What we got was a repeat of the same mistake. Rip out the character and erect a shopping mall which, after little more than 20 years, is already showing its age. As is always the case, commercial interests run rough-shod over the sensibilities of the public – the very people they are trying to entice into their crumbling malls. In truth the public has voted – which is why these ‘shopping experiences’ are emptying out. Sadly, the damage is already done and no amount of hand-wringing can restore the period character to the area.

I suppose you have to be a certain age but back in the 1950s and early 60s, the Saturday film show aimed at children was a fantastic institution. The films usually had a Hollywood B movie feel to them, with a preponderance of ‘cowboys and indians’. For adults, the 1950s were, at the start, difficult years as the country adjusted to post-War life but talk to most of those (now 50+) who were kids at the time and a different picture emerges – of freedom to roam, play in the streets and be your own age.
The Gaumont, in Camden Street off London Road, was one of four to bear that name in Liverpool (the other three were at Dingle, Anfield and Allerton). Originally named the Trocadero, it was renamed the Gaumont in 1950 and was the first cinema in Liverpool to install CinemaScope with stereophonic sound (in 1954). Its close proximity to the Odeon on London Road was its undoing. The final straw came when the Odeon converted to a multi-screen (four screens by 1973). The Gaumont limped on until its final performance in May 1974. It had a brief life as a snooker hall but was demolished in 1996. It may have gone but for a generation of kids it was a magical place for a few hours every Saturday morning.

Here is another previously unpublished colour photograph of a prosperous looking London Road, in the days when it was an important shopping centre serving a densily populated neighbourhood. The year is 1960 judging by the film on show at the Odeon – Swiss Family Robinson – which was released that year.
What catches the eye are the well-maintained shops and the unmistakeable facade of the Legs of Man pub (with two workers precariously balanced on ladders – no Health and Safety in those days). I last called into the Legs back on June 26th 1996. The day was an unfortunate clash of two unmissable events – England v Germany at Euro 96 and Bob Dylan playing at the Empire in his first return to Liverpool since 1966. No contest – I watched Dylan play a scintillating set (with Al Kooper on organ) to a two thirds full auditorium. Fancy giving up your seat to watch the inevitable penalty shoot-out!
The Legs went soon after – as have most of the other buildings. London Road is a shadow of its former glory, with only TH Hughes offering any real connection with the past.