OUR columnist Emma Clayton’s piece in January lamenting the loss of York’s old ABC cinema has already prompted one reader, Peter Stanhope, to get in touch with his memories of visiting the cinema as a boy.
Now another reader, James Bettley, has contacted us about some of York’s other cinemas.
Born in York, James is a genuine cinephile – in fact, he was once an Odeon cinema manager and spent 11 months as a trainee at the Odeon in Blossom Street before moving away to run cinemas elsewhere in the country.
He is now retired and has returned to York – and our earlier pieces prompted him to take a trip down memory lane...
“I was born in York and from an early age was fascinated by cinemas,” James writes. “I have a photographic memory, for the things that interest me, and I can vividly recall the interiors of York’s Scala, Tower, St George’s, Rialto, Odeon and Regal as well as Acomb’s Regent.”
First, the ABC. It actually opened as The Regal on September 25, 1937 – the first film to show there was That Girl In Paris, starring Jack Oakie – with a fan-shaped auditorium running parallel to the street.
The ABC in April 1986
The cinema was renamed the ABC (short for Associated British Cinemas) in 1961. It closed briefly in September 1972 so the rear stalls could be converted into a Painted Wagon pub, and reopened – with cinema seats in the former Circle area only – two months later.
The Painted Wagon didn’t last long, however, James writes. “It lasted only eight years, before being replaced by two smaller cinemas.”
York ABC therefore spent its last few years as a three-screen cinema, before closing for good in June 1986. The building was demolished three years later.
Inside The Painted Wagon
The ABC wasn’t James’ favourite York cinema, however. He had two favourites, in fact.
One was The Odeon, of course (now back in use as a cinema as The Reel) which, he says, won “hands down for its exterior, exquisite art deco auditorium and an overall design concept which was virtually perfect in every respect for a large cinema.”
Art deco style: the Odeon
His other favourite cinema in York was The Tower in New Street.
The Tower lost most of its balcony during the Second World War when an incendiary bomb fell through its roof and York’s firefighters were all trying to extinguish another blaze at the railway station, he says. It was closed for two months while repairs were carried out, and continued as a cinema for another 24 years, eventually closing on July 2, 1966 with a showing of Elvis Presley in Frankie & Johnny.
James went there as a nine-year-old boy to see the 1958 smash hit South Pacific – made with CinemaScope and stereophonic sound – and it is a memory that has lived long with him.
The Tower Cinema in New Street, December 1963
“The lights were up and seats were filling fast,” he writes. “The Tower’s rectangular proscenium arch was formed by three shallow coves of concealed lighting – the outer two lit amber and the one nearest the screen blue.
“The brown curtains had four bold steps appliqued in black satin near the bottom and stepping down towards centre stage, all vividly lit by red footlights.
“The houselights slowly faded, the amber coves around the proscenium gradually darkened and as the curtains began to part, I saw and heard something that almost lifted me out of my seat. The curtains just kept travelling, eventually revealing a breathtakingly wide screen, while I was hearing stereophonic sound for the very first time and even began to wonder if they had an orchestra hidden away somewhere.”
There’s the magic of the cinema for you...
Other lost York cinemas include:
The Regent, Acomb:
The Regent in March 1959
The Grand Picture House, Clarence Street:
The Grand in February 1958, the year it closed
New skating rink in the former Grand Picture House, in June 1958
The Rialto, Fishergate
The Rialto in 1961, shortly after it had been bought by Mecca (Dancing) Ltd
The Picture House in Coney Street:
The Picture House cinema in Coney Street in the 1930s