St. James's Street,
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The Empire Theatre of Varieties was opened on 29th October 1894. It was designed by architect G.B. Rawcliffe, and could seat 1,500 in orchestra stalls, dress circle and gallery levels. In December 1902 famed American escapologist Harry Houdini appeared on the stage.
In 1909, it was taken over by James Pringle and films were then part of the programme. The auditorium was reconstructed in 1911, to the plans of noted theatre architect Bertie Crewe and seating increased to 1,808. Re-opening on 11th September 1911, it then remained the leading theatre in Burnley until 1930.
New owners took over and it was converted into Burnley’s ‘Superior Talkie Theatre’, possibly to the plans of Liverpool based architectural firm Lewis & Co. Re-opening on 19th May 1930 with “Happy Days” as the New Empire Cinema. Some use was made of the stage over the years, but it was mainly now used as a cinema.
The Empire Theatre was closed in June 1955, but reopened under the independent Buxton Cinemas chain in December 1955. Sold to the Star Cinemas chain in December 1958, it was closed as a cinema in July 1970. It became a bingo club when the bingo operation was transfered from the nearby Palace-Hippodrome Theatre.
The last use of the stage at the Empire Theatre was on 29th October 1966, after a weeks run of the Burnley Light Opera Company production of “The Merry Widow”. In the 1990’s it became a Gala Bingo Club, and remained so until they moved to a purpose built bingo club in another part of town in 1995.
The Empire Theatre was designated a Grade II Listed building by English Heritage in 1996. In 2011, the building still stands unused. On 23rd October 2018 the stalls area was damaged in an arson attack.
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