4-12 Chapel Street,
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Located in the Little Germany district of Bradford city centre. The Temperence Hall was built in 1837. It was screening films in 1900. Film use was intermittent until 1909 when it became a full time cinema. It was forced to close in early-1910 as it did not meet the licensing requirements of the new Cinematograph Act. Alterations were made and it reopened on 8th February 1910 showing Vivaphone Talking Pictures. By January 1911 it was operated by Hibbert’s Pictures Ltd. and they were still the operators in 1914. The Temperence Hall was still open in 1920 when it was operated by Bradford Picture Theatres Ltd. It closed as a cinema in 1922 and became a meeting hall named Jowett Hall. The hall was badly damaged by fire on 25th March 1935.
After a period of rebuilding it became the Civic Playhouse and Film Theatre and was opened with the world premiere of J. B Priestley’s “Bees on the Boat Deck” on stage on 29th January 1937 with the first film “Whom The Gods Love” being screened 8th February 1937. The two art forms have continued together ever since.
The stark 1930’s exterior, somewhat reminiscent of London’s Whitehall Theatre, was designed by architect Eric Morley and behind it lies a small Art Deco style foyer. The two tier auditorium is rather plain, the balcony has 8 rows and is flat fronted but with projecting loges at either side. The rectangular proscenium has quarter columns without caps or bases and is 7 metres wide.
Following another major fire in 1996 the building was restored, with improved facilities, and reopened in 1997 as the Priestly Centre for the Arts. It now seats 291.
In the basement is a very trendy bar with a thriving live music scene. This is fortunate as the theatre has hit a crisis. The Pictureville Cinema (qv) has usurped the art house role of the Priestley and the opening of two multiplex cinemas in the city has further eroded the audience for films. Meanwhile the Alhambra Theatre took over the former Majestic Cinema abutting its rear stage and has converted it into the Alhambra Studio taking some of the live theatre which would previously have occupied the Priestley. The opening in a few years of a new Civic Theatre in nearby Leeds may also affect it if amateur groups based between the two cities opt for the new theatre. The Priestly Centre for the Arts went into liquidation on 26th September 2011. The building has stood unused since then
Looking on the brighter side the area in which the theatre is situated, Little Germany, is a heritage site and investment is taking place. Bradford contended for the City of Culture status which was hoped to bring a massive investment to the arts, benefiting the now re-named Bradford Playhouse.
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