✎ Stockport Plaza 

5 October 2017 tbs.pm/13965

The rush to get ITV established in the mid-1950s saw many of the companies close cinemas and theatres owned by their parent corporations and convert them into studios. ABC’s Didsbury studios had been the ABC Capitol cinema. ATV and ABC’s joint facility in Birmingham, Alpha Studios, started life as the Theatre Royale. Our section about studios on this website gives details of many other conversions.

The theatres were available because the fashion for going to the cinema as a regular thing was ending due to the arrival of television. Box office receipts had started to plunge; smaller cinemas not amongst the tiny minority converted to studios found themselves closing, to become bowling alleys, bingo halls and furniture show rooms… those that were lucky. The unlucky ones sat empty and decaying, sometimes for decades, or were simply demolished, their useful life comfortably under a century.

Of the cinemas converted to other uses, the opulent art deco interiors were ripped out or boarded over in favour of a more utilitarian, easier to maintain, simpler to brand look. We lost a lot of real architectural and design gems to the whims of fashion.

One such cinema-theatre was the Plaza in Stockport, Greater Manchester. Not part of a chain, it succumbed to the changes in viewing habits in the mid-1960s. New owner Mecca chose to cover the frescos and detailed cornices with painted plywood. This had an accidental side effect: it preserved the original detailing, hidden from the elements and the decorators and the careless hands of bingo-goers. Once the fashion for bingo passed in the 1980s and the sector began to consolidated in purpose-built facilities in the middle of larger cities in the 1990s, the closure of the Stockport Mecca meant that the beautiful original features were ready to be rediscovered.

A long and expensive reconstruction of the original cinema-theatre interiors and exterior soon began… and the results are enchanting. Transdiffusion was given a private tour by Nick Taylor, a volunteer at the reborn Stockport Plaza and an authority on the history of the building and its restoration.

It’s truly magical. A beautiful building with a mixture of original preserved and restored details plus reconstructions from archive photographs of anything that was lost, painstakingly recreated using original manufacturing methods where possible. The result is a building that is both charming and stunning, a living and working venue that is also a time capsule showing what these cinemas looked like before the world carelessly moved on to other diversions.

It’s very much worth a visit – to see a show or to take a booked guided tour – just to bask in loveliness of it all. You won’t be disappointed.

The Stockport Plaza has a very informative website. The box office number is 0161 477 7779. Pictures in this post are from, and copyright of, the Stockport Plaza Trust.

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