Words By Paula Leh.
After years of redeveloping one of the UK’s oldest cinemas, Leeds’ Hyde Park Picture House is about to open again to the public this week. First opened in 1914, merely moments before the outbreak of the First World War, the art-house started off by presenting heartfelt patriotic dramas and news reports aiming to uplift spirits and raise morale amidst the population during the uprising international conflicts.
Nowadays, it screens critically acclaimed films from all over the globe and the team commits to
deliver inspiring project for Leeds’ communities.
In 2014, after just having celebrated Hyde Park Picture House’s 100th anniversary, the team devised plans to revitalise the Grade II listed building. With financial help of partners, the Leeds City Council and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the cinema’s interior and exterior charm has been rekindled on every level (quite literally). With a little delay, also due to the pandemic, the 109-year-old community cinema will reopen its gates for public audience on Friday, 30th June.
The redevelopment project featured major efforts to make the art-house more accessible for all audiences. For more than three years, this meant taking steps on a big scope to remove barriers that impeded an easy access to the cinema’s arts before. The steps in front of the main entrance of the Victorian building were replaced by a ramp in order to secure a step-free access that does not require wheelchair users to look out for a separate way of entry.
Additionally, the revived picture house now offers an accessible toilet on the ground floor that also houses infant changing facilities. A new internal platform lift also ensures wheelchair access to all the other floors so that all audiences are able to enjoy all parts of the cinema, for instance the second screen room in the basement.
In an effort to make the foyer more spacious, the initial wall separating the entrance area from the main screening room on the ground floor was moved back a few meters. Nevertheless, increasing the size of the foyer entailed reducing the size of the auditorium and removing a few rows of seats. Also, this meant that part of the original building had to be torn apart.
One of the most important factors in this part of renovation was preserving the original character and cosiness, as well as heritage features, for instance the historic mantelpiece above the counter space and the gas lamps, which required new gas pipes to be installed in order to pass modern security checks.
Other original characteristics in the entrance area that were revived in this renovation process are the hand painted and stained glass window as well as the the fire hydrant. Features like these add to the initial flair and maintain that spark of nostalgia for Hyde Park Picture House’s original audiences.
Revitalising the entrance area also included sanding and polishing the terrazzo floor which, surprisingly, resulted in the team discovering more of the original terrazzo floor that has been hidden beneath carpet and linoleum approximately since some time around the 1950s.
The renovated foyer now simply offers more space for the counter area that also serves as a kiosk and bar making a larger range of refreshments and snacks available and accommodating an accessible lower counter to the left handside right next to the entrance of the main auditorium. The mixture of modernity and Victorian architectural features now leaves the foyer with a timeless touch.
An three-story extension to the building now offers more space for spending time in the building. Before the renovations started, people in the queue generally had to stand outside (often times in the rain). Now, the ground floor also offers a small seating area for the picture house’s audience to enjoy a refreshment or snack before the film starts. Designers were hired to figure out and work out the best outer look for the extension so that it’s modernity and elegance does not take away from the old building.
The new part of the picture house also features bricks arranged to look like 35mm film to honour and highlight cinema’s history that got us to this day.