44-50 Oxford Street,
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The Gaumont Manchester was conceived, designed and built by the Granada Theatres circuit, but just prior to opening it was sold to Gaumont British Theatres chain and opened (with the Gaumont name) on 21 October 1935 with Robert Donat in “The Thirty-Nine Steps”. It occupied the site (and used small parts of the structure) of the Frank Matcham designed Manchester Hippodrome Theatre, which closed on 2nd March 1935, giving a very busy schedule for the contractors to demolish one and build another in little over six months.
The new cinema was designed by William T. Benslyn and James Morrison with interior design by the famed Theodore Komisarjevsky. This was a lavish example of his work with a stunning double height entrance foyer lined with mirrors and a grand staircase leading to the circle. In the basement was a buffet restaurant and 60 foot long licensed bar.
The auditorium had a spectacular coffered ceiling with rich deep plaster, there were three arches on each side wall with gold grillework, the circle front was curved and fluted, the stage, which was 23 foot deep, had a rectangular proscenium arch framed by pilasters and was 50 foot wide. There were 1,300 seats in the stalls and 1,000 in the circle, all with good sightlines. There was a 4Manual/14Rank Wurlitzer organ with grand piano installed, opened by Stanley Tudor for the opening and he remained in Manchester until 1953. This was considered one of the best instruments in the UK, and was later moved to the Granada Studios, cared for by the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust.
The exterior on Oxford Road was in the Italian Renaissance style and clad in faiance tiles. The entrance portion was dominated by one of the largest neon displays in the city, the Gaumont name alone was four foot high, and below this there was a triple bordered panel which could take up to 12 rows of 18 inch letters in red neon announcing the attractions.
This was a highly successful theatre from the start and this continued through into the 1960’s when the Gaumont was used as the roadshow house, screening long seasons of the top films like “South Pacific” (2 years and 2 months from April 1958, just a week after the London premiere), “The Sound of Music” (two years and six months from April 1965).
However, in 1973, the Odeon (former Paramount Theatre) nearly opposite the Gaumont, closed for twinning, reopening on the 25 January 1974 and less than one week later, on the 28 January, the Gaumont closed. It lay boarded up until Rotters Nightclub opened in the ground and basement levels with the circle area disused and with a false ceiling at front of balcony level. This too closed and in 1990, arguably the finest cinema in Manchester was completely demolished. The site sat empty for several years until an ugly multi-storey car park was built.
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