The show that never ends

Growing up in Manchester, I passed these art-deco cinemas and ballrooms almost every day. I’ve collected them together in this photo essay because they all made me feel that their stories hadn’t quite reached their end yet.

The Pyramid / Odeon, 1934
Washway Road, Sale

The Pyramid has changed hands – and names – countless times since it was opened in February 1934. It was designed by architects Drury and Gomersall, who were known for their art-deco cinemas in Manchester, including the Verona / Odeon in Stockport.

In the early 1940s, the cinema was taken over by Odeon Theatres and renamed, simply, Odeon. It was called the Tatton Cinema for a brief time in the 1980s before being bought by Trafford Council for £200,000.

By 1990, it had been converted into an American-themed nightclub called JFKs. You can still see a damaged poster for a JFKs night in the window.

In the early 2000s, the auditorium was franchised to LA Fitness which has now closed. The front doors and windows have been boarded up and the once glamorous façade has visibly deteriorated. The back of the building is a Sports Direct fitness centre.

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I tried to peer through the window but it was too dark to see anything. There was something unsettling about staring through the cracks in the door.

Longford Super Cinema / Essoldo, 1936
Chester Road, Stretford

The Longford Super Cinema, also known as The Longford Essoldo and The Top Rank Club, was designed by Henry Elder and opened in October 1936.

It once had a large art-deco style forecourt which was demolished in the 1970s during the widening of Chester Road.

It was known colloquially as ‘The Cash Register’ due to its shape, designed to symbolise the business aspect of ‘show business’.

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The cinema hosted the Hallé Orchestra after the Free Trade Hall was severely damaged during the Manchester Blitz in 1940.

In 1950, the cinema was bought by the Essoldo group and renamed – it functioned as a cinema for another 15 years. The building was then taken over by Ladbrokes who transformed it into a bingo hall. In 1986, it became a Top Rank Social Club before closing permanently in 1995.

Since then, the cinema has stood empty on Chester Road, although it has undergone repairs and repainting. There have been many different plans for its future – including as a students’ union for University Academy 92 – but none have come to fruition.

I stood on the reservation in the middle of Chester Road to take some of these photos, waiting for the cars to pass. Drivers looked at me with my camera, then to the cinema and smiled. I was especially glad to capture the rainbow above the Longford’s crest.

Sale Lido / Locarno Ballroom, 1935
Washway Road, Sale

The Locarno is one of the few art-deco buildings in Greater Manchester which is still visibly being used for something. As I was photographing it, one of Mecca Bingo’s staff came out to chat to me.

She told me that the ballroom’s floor parts to reveal a swimming pool, much like the dance hall in It’s A Wonderful Life. She told me its mostly full of litter now and there isn’t that much to see.

The façade looks quite tired, but I’m glad it’s still being used in some form.

The final screenings and dances have long since finished, but these bold art-deco buildings remain intriguing landmarks in South Manchester’s towns.

The buildings have been the focus for some fascinating local history. Modern Mooch is particularly good, as is this video published in May.