Wakefield's former ABC cinema that has stood derelict for 20 years 'should be converted into live music venue'

A former cinema in Wakefield city centre that has been reduced to a vacant eyesore for more than two decades is a 'hidden gem', a restoration society has said.

Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 1:52 pm
The ABC Cinema on Kirkgate
The ABC Cinema on Kirkgate

Last month Wakefield Council purchased the art deco building and said all options are on the table.

In 2019 an application was to demolish the bulding and convert it into a car park was withdrawn.

Now the the Cinema Theatre Association, which works to restore historic venues, has called for its preservation and suggested it should be converted into a live music venue.

Association member Rob Chesterfield said: "The CTA would be very happy to co-operate with Wakefield Council in a feasibility study to regenerate the former Regal/ABC cinema which has been a prominent landmark for over eighty years.

“Kirkgate is a key gateway to the city, as the council regularly claim, and this art deco masterpiece on a highly visible corner plot deserves to be retained and incorporated into the regeneration project that centres on this area. The CTA believe this historic building should not be lost.”

The former ABC opened in December 1935. It was built by Associated British Cinemas, one of three main cinema chains then operating, during an era known as the golden age of cinema

building. It was designed by William Glen, ABC's best known architect, who is today acknowledged as one of the foremost British cinema architects of the interwar period.

Mr Chesterfield said “Glen had a distinctive style. Although no two Glen cinemas are the same, they are easily recognizable. Corner sites can be a challenge but with the former Regal/ABC, Glen expertly exploited its strong street presence and the fact it can be seen from the town centre.

"Skilful manipulation of space was one of Glen's trademarks and can definitely be seen here.

"To demolish such an historic building which can still serve the local community would be a mistake.”

He said each previous planned involved the building being demolished and none came close to realisation due to a lack of finance and a lack of imagination.

He said: “We need to think imaginatively about how to bring high streets and town centres back to life.

“Retail is now not such a magnet for our traditional high street. The desire for leisure, entertainment and eating out is becoming increasingly important to many people – and

will continue to do so in what could be a radical, post lock-down landscape.

“The former ABC could be the jewel in the council's plan to rejuvenate this area of Wakefield, particularly as it could be transformed into an ideal live music venue, something that the

city, with its growing reputation for music and live performances, is crying out for.

“Glen buildings were incredibly well designed and the former Regal/ABC could be adapted to this use by someone with vision and passion. One only has to look at what's happening in Bradford, with the former New Victoria/Odeon cinema.

"After lying derelict for many years, that's being transformed into a state-of-the-art live music venue that will benefit not only the local community

but the city as a whole.

“It would be wonderful to utilise the auditorium and refurbish the impressive facade of the ABC as that would give us the best of both worlds.

"But we fully appreciate any plan must be economically viable. With that in mind, we accept that if the auditorium has deteriorated beyond the point of saving then it might have to be sacrificed. This, though, would not stop us from insisting that the art deco facade, a much cherished landmark, should remain and be incorporated into any new design.”

The roundabout at the end of the street has been revamped and plans are in place to knock down the former Chantry House council building – broadly thought to be an eyesore – and replace it with homes.

The cinema was considered to be beyond repair and earmarked for demolition, but opinion was mixed over whether a historical building in the city should be lost completely.