“When I was young, my formative cinema experiences were in Headingley at the Cottage Road and Lounge Cinemas because I visited my gran who lived there. And then I fell totally in love with the Hyde Park Picture House,” confesses Wendy Cook, now the cinema’s general manager.
“I studied briefly in Scotland, then ‘met a man’ and returned home to study Fine Art here at Leeds University. I was passionate about the cinema and started selling sweets here in 2002. At first I was very shy, but I met amazing customers and staff and soon found my voice. I love the place and have done every job here possible.”
As a result of her knowledge, experience and undoubted commitment she was promoted to Duty Manager followed by a meteoric rise to General Manager. She now manages a team of five full time staff, a number of part-timers, and over forty volunteers.
The delightful, small Edwardian Picture House is packed full of original features and is a Grade II listed building. Made predominantly of red brick topped by a Dutch gable, it is decorated with ball finials and four ionic white Burmantoft Marmo columns.
Its many original features include an ornate balcony, decorated mouldings, a stained glass window, and an external box office set in a patterned terrazzo foyer floor. It is the only cinema illuminated by gas lighting left in the U.K.
The cinema opened on 2 November 1914 at the start of the First World War and was hugely popular. It specialised in patriotic films and newsreels that brought in the crowds. Then for many years, like many cinemas, it had its ups and downs and was threatened with closure several times.
So what has saved it? Despite dire predictions about the death of cinema resulting from the development of television followed by competition from the growing number of multiplexes, there has been a significant resurgence of interest in independent and art house cinemas. In 1984 the Friends of Hyde Park Picture House was formed and lobbied hard to keep it open. Support came in 1989 from Leeds City Council with the creation of a new independent company, The Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd, which was set up specifically to preserve the Picture House along with the Grand Theatre and Leeds City Varieties.
“We are now showing more films to more people, about 330 films annually to over 60,000 visitors. We have a very mixed programme including the latest releases, art house, and specialist programmes to meet all tastes. Our audience ranges from film experts (Mark Kermode is a big fan of the cinema), to students, families with children, and people with special interests and needs. We work in close partnership with our local community who give us amazing support.”
With funding from the National Lottery and support from Leeds City Council, a new £3.4 million redevelopment is under way. “We need to preserve the building and also deliver our programmes in a more financially sustainable way. The physical infrastructure and technology needs upgrading including improved projection facilities, better heating and lighting, and expanded catering facilities with a new cafe/bar.”
“The Picture House will be bigger, more comfortable, and a safe and accessible environment. We are increasing capacity by adding a second screen downstairs which will take 55 more people. We are removing steps, putting in more handrails, building accessible toilets, and there will be a lift upstairs. We want to create multi-functional, flexible spaces where we can have events and host film festivals.” For more info, go to http://thepicturehouseproject.com/
Building work will start in 2019 and take about a year. However the team won’t stop work during the refurbishment and is putting together a programme of off-site screenings and events across the city.
“The Hyde Park Picture House is a heritage building of national importance. It delivers a unique cinema experience and is a highly valued cultural and social hub here in Hyde Park. We want to ensure this continues for the next hundred years and beyond.”
General Manager, Hyde Park Picture House
73 Brudenell Road, Leeds LS6 1JD
0113 275 2045
Photographs: Tony Joy, Page/Park Architects