St Luke’s CARES hosts community cinema exhibition

St Luke’s CARES hosted a Community Cinema Exhibition at their Dewsbury Road charity shop last month.

The building the shop now occupies was built as the Pavilion cinema. Although most traces of the building’s former life have been lost over the years, you can still see the coving around the top of the screen and the decorative ceiling in the upstairs mezzanine area.

Staff have been interested in the building’s history and many older customers comment that they have memories of seeing films when it was a cinema. The exhibition explored not only the history of The Pavilion, but other local cinemas including The Malvern and The Rex.

With a heritage grant from Leeds Community Foundation and Leeds Civic Trust, and some technical help from Slung Low, St Luke’s CARES have been putting on film shows for the last year. The most popular screenings have been children’s films, but they’ve also took part in the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival. With many Arabic speaking customers it was a chance to see an Arabic film.

Shop Manager Sally Thums said:

“Our customers and volunteers want to see kids films, for free, with snacks, in a relaxed environment. People get up the whole way through, people come and go, but that’s what being a community cinema is, that’s what makes it different from a cinema where you go and sit and watch, we know our market.”

They got interested in the history of the building following a visit from the Great Grandson of ‘Tommy’ Thompson, an early cinema entrepreneur who owned 50 cinemas in the North East and Yorkshire. The Pavilion was the first purpose built cinema in the chain.

Thompson also owned Hunslet Picture Hall on Norfolk Street opposite Crown Point Print Works which is now part of Leeds City College; and the Armley Picture Hall.

The Pavilion was built in 1914, but sold to Gaumont in 1928, possibly because of the cost of converting to show ‘talkies’ – movies with sound. Movies had been silent up this point. It was renamed the Royal in 1950 and closed as a cinema in 1958 or 1959.

Kitty from Leeds Museum gave a presentation showing some of the playbills of cinemas around Leeds including the Malvern. This was before most people had television and cinemas showed many different films each week, usually a ‘Feature’, a ‘B movie’ and a ‘Newsreel’. Customers often came at a time that suited them, joining the bill part way through. They ten stayed until they reached the same point in the next showing.