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The Empire Palace Theatre was opened on 29th August 1898. The theatre was flanked on each side by the County Arcade and the Cross Arcade, both designed noted theatre architect Frank Matcham as part of the Empire Palace Theatre development. The Empire Palace Theatre was part of the then growing chain of variety theatres operated by Moss Empires' Ltd. It was designed in a Flemish style, with the auditorium decorated in a Moorish style.
Seating capacities (by 1946 reduced to) 512 in the orchestra stalls, 169 in the pit stalls, 176 in the dress circle, 236 in the upper circle, and 450 in the gallery, plus at dress circle level there was a box on each side of the 29 feet wide proscenium. The stage was 30 feet deep, and there were 11 dressing rooms.
Many top-line stars appeared at the Empire Theatre, including Harry Tate (on the opening programme), George Robey, Vesta Tilley, Charlie Chaplin. In the early years, films began to be screened as part of the variety programme.
In 1931, the Empire Theatre was converted into a full time ‘talkie’ cinema, when Charlie Chaplin in "City Lights" became the first feature film screened. Films continued until around 1933, when the rival Hippodrome Theatre closed, and the Empire Theatre returned to variety performances.
The Empire Theatre managed to survive the impact of the introduction of Television in the 1950’s, which closed many of the UK’s variety theatres. The Leeds Empire Theatre finally closed after a run of the pantomime "Babes in the Wood" starring Nat Jackley, on 23rd February 1961.
The theatre was demolished in January 1962, together with most of the Cross Arcade, and a shopping arcade Empire Arcade was built on the site, now redeveloped as a Harvey Nichols store. Today, the magnificent Matcham designed County Arcade, which opened in 1900, still exists and is now a Grade II* Listed building.
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