Gaumont Manchester

44-50 Oxford Street,
Manchester, M1 5EJ

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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.

Contributed by Ian Grundy

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

jrhine
jrhine on February 23, 2008 at 1:25 am

The 14 rank Wurlitzer had 4 manuals.

Bway
Bway on March 14, 2010 at 11:25 am

Here’s a photo of the Gaumont Theater above the fake ceiling when the orchestra level was converted into a nightclub. Very similar fate to what happened to the RKO Madison Theater in Ridgewood, NY, and the Varsity Theater in Chicago, Illinois, both in the US.

View link

woody
woody on March 14, 2010 at 8:17 pm

club flyer for the night GAUMONT at Rotters featuring a nightime photo of the Gaumont in its prime
http://www.flickr.com/photos/woody1969/90384206/
Rotters really was the pits as far as Manchester clubs went.
daytime shot from the late 80's
http://www.flickr.com/photos/woody1969/3457287388/
nightime shot from around the same time, the Pernod sign neon worked until the early 90's
demolition shots (taken in the days before health and safety when you could wander into demolition sites)
remains for the lobby and circle lobby
http://www.flickr.com/photos/woody1969/63380105/
auditorium ceiling with big holes punched in it
http://www.flickr.com/photos/woody1969/63695446/
sidewall, lower half painted black from Rotters, upper half with original colour scheme
http://www.flickr.com/photos/woody1969/4073398788/
two more auditorium shots
http://www.flickr.com/photos/woody1969/65274526/

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 28, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Vintage photographs of the Gaumont, and its Wurlitzer organ:
http://www.ukwurlitzer.co.cc/2189.html

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