Going back to the Glory Days.

Old fashioned cinemas are a thing of the past.

Today it is all about the Multiplex, the IMAX and the out of town big chains, with their garish decorations and overpriced snacks. A far cry from the elegant cinemas of years gone by.

Or it is?

One such miracle of design is The Stockport Plaza, a cinema and variety theatre that was designed in 1929, opened in 1932 and lovingly restored in 2009 to its original style.

So what is the Plaza’s story?

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Neon Lights

The Plaza was the brainchild of William Thornley, an architect from Lancashire who had designed several other cinemas, but this was to be the crowning glory. He designed a stunning Art Deco Super Cinema and Variety Theatre.

The Plaza was quite unusual in its design. 10,000 tonnes of sandstone were excavated out of the ground with the intention to have the stage area actually underground. A cafe, billiard hall and even a garage were placed above the sunken auditorium providing a range of activities for any visitors.

Another highlight of the cinema was the Rare Compton Theatre Organ. Whilst these Organs were a common addition to cinemas and variety theatres, this one had sunburst glass panels which could be made to change colour. The organ was sunk into the stage area and rose up on a hydraulic lift to great dramatic effect.

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Compton Theatre Organ

The first night on 7th October 1932 introduced Stockport to a beautiful 1,845 seater venue. Laurel and Hardy were shown on the cinematic screen, whilst visitors relaxed in the luxurious chairs upholstered in blue and gold moquette.

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Blue and Gold Moquette

For over 34 years The Plaza provided theatrical entertainment, the latest films and even pantomimes. Sadly in 1966 it closed down. A victim to a world where this type of entertainment was seen to be old fashioned and out of date.

By 1967 Rank Leisure had bought the site and proceeded to rip out all the beautiful embellishments. The beautiful roof tiles were taken off, the neon signage taken down, the external veranda was removed.

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Sad and Derelict

Both the cafe and foyer were altered and the layout of the stalls and flooring was changed.

Bingo became a popular and fashionable past time and Mecca (part of Rank Leisure) opened the Bingo and Social Club in February 1967. A nightclub was opened on the floor which used to house the Cafe Restaurant.

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Eyes Down…

For 32 years the building continued to be used as a Bingo Hall before that too was a lost cause and Rank Leisure decided to close the building in 1999.

Now this could be where the story of the Plaza could have gone in two directions.  As was the tendency in the late 1990’s buildings all over the UK similar to The Plaza were being pulled down to make way for more shops and residential housing. Land was at a premium and this building took up quite a bit of space in a prime location.

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Early Doors

However the story took a different route. The general public and volunteers got behind the building and Rank Leisure eventually sold it to The Stockport Plaza Trust in March 2000. The intention of the trust was to renovate and replace the original fixtures and once again open it as a cinema and theatre venue.

The doors were finally opened to the public in December 2000 with a performance of 42nd Street. Whilst getting ready for the performance it was discovered that the Compton Organ, now over 65 years old was still in perfect working order! All it needed was the power turning on and it still sounded as amazing as ever.

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Back to it’s Best

The celebrated Organist Nigel Ogden from Radio Two played a 1930’s singalong on the opening evening thrilling all who attended.

Life at The Plaza has only got better. The public flocked to the venue and through it’s popularity and donations from the lottery fund, The Plaza was temporarily closed in February 2009 for a full restoration.

Nearly a year and £3.2 million pound later The Plaza is restored to its former glory. The Art Deco designs have been replicated, with the glass sunburst on the organ being replaced, the front circle and balcony have been lowered, to the original design of the 1930’s.

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Compton Sunburst Organ

The original designs for the seating have been recast so the chairs are exact replicas of the originals. Murals that were in the balcony and stalls have been rehung.

The restoration has been done with love and care, to return a stunning building to its original designs and glory. Whilst offering new and exciting films and theatre events.

A perfect combination of the old meeting the new!

*****THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN VINTAGE LIFE MAGAZINE JULY 2017*****

Leave a comment

  • Gareth Torrance

    Oh man, the decor and style of that cinema speaks to me so much! I love retro/vintage style things… That’s why I love Steampunk

  • Oh wow what an amazing looking place, it really just seems like taking a step back in time just looking at the photos! <3

    • I know! I would love to go and watch a show there, Sarah xx

  • Katrina Downie

    I absolutely love looking at old buildings and architecture and imagining what went on in them back in the hay days and this made me reminisce the same way

    • Can you imagine the things the building has seen? x

  • I love old buildings too and learning the history behind them always fascinates me too. I bet you had fun x x

  • Laura Dove

    Oh I love this kind of thing! Old buildings are so much more charismatic, I love when renovation keeps some of the traditional features too.

    • It is a wonderful thing to do. Too often the past is eradicated and we can never get it back

  • Mummy Times Two

    What a beautiful story, we are not too far from Stockport, I’d love to visit it one day x

  • Ayesha Farhad

    I love it when old buildings are restored to their former glory!

  • That’s so nice that the venue was rescued as too many beautiful places are being knocked down for flats x

  • What a beautiful building, it looks amazing now it’s been restored x

  • Wow it looks stunning and how amazing that the organ still works after all those years! ♥

    • I know! I bet they couldn’t believe it when they plugged it in! x

  • Rani Bruyns

    Great that they restored it, an absolute treasure

  • Leah Shafik

    I love that this was revived! Have you ever visited the wonderful venue in Leicester – the Athena? It was an old 1920s cinema and was turned in to a 1920s venue instead of being demolished. x

    • Ooooh I haven’t but I might need to look into this further! xx

  • Melanie

    The Rare Compton Theatre Organ looks amazing and such a spectacular piece 🙂 x

  • Jenna E Morley

    How amazing that The Plaza has been restored like this! It looks absolutely stunning!

  • Hungry_Healthy_Happy

    It looks incredible. Going to the cinema used to be such a huge event in the past.

  • Looks like an amazing place! it great it has been restored, I like all things vintage

  • Baby Isabella

    We prefer smaller independent cinemas and remember an old odeon in Southampton that used to be in a theatre and looked spectacular. Sadly it’s a converted pub called the Square Balloon now but in the eightees my mummy used to visit it. This venue looks fab!

    • It’s good that the pub is still using the building, I guess but sad that the fixtures and fittings will all have been changed 🙁 xx

  • FussFreeJen

    What a wonderful story, and so nice to see something totally different. I love that the style of the place has been kept and is still enjoyed today. So great that it was restored. Unfortunately the one in our town was destroyed several years ago now, and is just a patch of neglected ground with weeds growing in it. So sad.

  • They did an amazing job restoring the Plaza, it looks so good now! Money well spent, I think.

  • Donna

    I went here at Christmas to see It’s A Wonderful Life and I am going back this year again! Love it here!

    • Oh you are so lucky Donna!! I would love to go and see that xx

  • I wish I lived in these days! It always looked so fun… even bingo!

  • How incredible. Our old cinema like that closed about 12 years ago and we’ve been out one until October last year when an odeon opened in the old town hall. While it’s a multiplex it only has 8 screens and they’ve done such a good job of retaining the original features of the town hall and the luxury of a modern cinema. I won’t link dump but Google odeon Oldham and you’ll see what I mean x

    • It is good that they have retained some of the original features, and I bet it feels quite nice going into a town hall to see a film! x

  • mummyslittlemonkey

    Wow, what an amazing story; I adore art-deco buildings and think it’s so sad when they’re torn down, or left to deteriorate. What a great ending for this fantastic piece of history – especially part about the organ! x

    • I know, I couldn’t believe it when I found that out! Just amazing x

  • Natasha Mairs

    Looks so gorgeous back to it’s original look. Looked so drab and depressing as a bingo hall

    • I really did! So souless, but exciting and alive now xx