Great Horton Road,
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Hotel and Theatre Origins
From 1914 Francis Laidler's newly built Alhambra Theatre only a few yards away across the road caused the Empire audiences to decline resulting in its closure as a variety theatre in April 1916. Laidler later reopened the Empire in August 1916 now to be known a the Empire Theatre & Opera House with a season of plays but these lasted only about fifteen months as the stage was completely destroyed by a fire in 1917.
Opens as Empire Cinema
"Sweetheart of the Doomed" - USA 1910 B/W SilentA typical film programme in April 1919 was advertised as . . .
Empire Super Cinema
In the 1920's the Empire Cinema Orchestra was directed Robert Bunney, a popular figure who later formed and conducted a dance band combo at the Trocadero Ballroom in Kirkgate.
The Empire cinema was now run by the New Bio Company (E.F Lyons & H.T Underwood but dominated by Edward F. 'Teddy' Lyons who controlled E.A Langrish & Co which along with Kershaw's of Leeds formed Kalee Ltd in 1934. Lyons was later to become MD of Gaumont-Kalee). The New Bio Company (motto: 'Top Class Films at Rock-bottom Prices') was part of Biocolour Picture Theatres Circuit with experience of running former music halls as cinemas and were to continue running films until 1926 during which they converted the cinema/hotel pillared foyer into a popular Palm Court with orchestra concerts daily by Miss Gabrielle Hope and Her All-Ladies Orchestra along with invitations to visit the Moorish Tearooms.
Interior as a Cinema
The small and cramped projection room was constructed centrally and built out almost to the front of the high gallery. Because of the height of the projection box above the screen it would have meant an obvious 'keystone' distortion effect of the picture on a vertical screen. Therefore, later screens were tilted back quite noticeably in an effort to reduce this problem. The circle level provided the most comfortable viewing position and the front stalls the worst. The proscenium opening was 30 feet wide and the (now disused) stage 40 feet deep with flytower and dressing rooms, stores and print room behind. An 'iron' safety curtain was fitted.
The silent films were accompanied by the Augmented Empire Orchestra conducted by Francis Farrar. Later in November 1920 the Empire also boasted "Orchestra under the Direction of Mr F. Wilson plays in the Café afternoons and evenings".
"Empire Symphony Orchestra conducted by Francis Farrar.
The manager at the Empire during this time was Clarence H. Hirst who later moved to the Savoy in Darley Street and Hirst was followed at the Empire by C.H Russ. Around 1930 the Western Electric Sound system was installed and Bill Savory now manager.
On 18th November 1926 the Empire Super Cinema was sold to the Gaumont British Picture Corporation for the sum of £14,997.15s.7d. By 1930 the GBPC also controlled the new and luxurious New Victoria theatre/cinema a few hundred yards down the road and the Empire's film programmes became secondary to the premier New Victoria.
More Changes of Name
"First £6000 Mirrophonic Sound System in Bradford"The new Mirrophonic Sound System had taken Western Electric in USA (in conjunction with Electrical Research Programmes and Bell Telephone Laboratories) nearly ten years to develop. The system was touted as "the last word in picture sound equipment". The refinements which made this superior to earlier sound systems were new valves and improved loudspeaker horns, "noiseless" recordings (reduced scratching and background noise) and "wide range" sound.
By 1949 it had reinvented itself yet again as the New Empire Super Cinema with 1500 seats and under the management of Horton Road Cinema Ltd.
The cinema closed for three days in March 1950 to install new equipment and the latest version of Western Electric Sound system and reopened again on Thursday 30th March 1950 with . . .
"Lust for Gold" - 1949 USA B/W 90 mins.
Serious Fire Damage
"Canyon Pass - 1951 USA B/W 84 mins.Following the performance a fire broke out which damaged the gallery and ceiling and breaking through the roof. A notice appeared the following day . . .
"The Management regret that owing to unforeseen circumstances the cinema will be closed for a few days."In fact the cinema did not reopen and that was the end of the line for the historic old Empire.
After the hotel closed down the premises were taken over by Bradford College in 1972 and known as the Alexandra Building annexe. In the early 1980's the decaying old Empire theatre/cinema was demolished making way for another college car park.
In 1993 the Alexandra building was also demolished and the whole site is currently (2004) used a public car park.
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