Now derelict and in a state of disrepair, the former Majestic Cinema in Hartlepool was once a jewel of the town, featuring two distinctive Art Deco bas-relief friezes on its facade. It may soon be gone.
Opened in 1936, the Majestic (known as the Odeon after 1945) remained a cinema until 1981, afterwards becoming various pubs and clubs until closure in the early 2000s. It was built by W & T R Milburn Architects of Sunderland, who went on to build four other cinemas around the UK.
The plans below were sent to us by Lara Moon of the ever-wonderful Teesside Archives, and show the planned frontage of the building. Originally it seems that four bas-reliefs were drafted, forming the base of longer lines drawn vertically down the building. This was reduced to two for the completed building.
The Golden Age of Cinema
Due to the popularity of Art Deco during the golden age of cinema, the design is prevalent in many of the lavish theatres built in the 20s and 30s, connoting luxury and modernity. As Leo Benedictus writes in The Guardian:
“The art deco cinemas of the 1920s and 30s are some of the most optimistic statements ever made in stone. Which is why their ruin is one of architecture’s saddest stories.
They were built at a time of hope, following the horrors of the first world war. After decades as a technical novelty, film had just matured into mass entertainment. New auditoriums were needed to meet demand; the ambitious, intoxicatingly modern deco style was at its height; money was available …
And the era’s architects did not disappoint. Unencumbered by the irritant of windows, they were able to create majestic viewing halls in virtually any shape that could be imagined and engineered. Glamour, spectacle, scale, exoticism: these things were not just permitted, they were fervently desired. And the captivated public turned up in their millions.”
The panels on the front of the Majestic echo the themes of the time (on both the plan and the finished building), depicting nude dancers in front of beaming suns and utopian cities in anticipation of a utopian future. They contain many of the key elements of art deco design, including the nested, clean lines and overlapping motifs.
Although art-deco panels appear on the planning documents for the building, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the final artworks were designed or made by the Milburn brothers company and the architects don’t seem to have used friezes in any of their other cinemas around the country. If anyone has any concrete information either way, please get in touch.
The building today (photos by North East Heritage Library)
As alluded to earlier, many of the cinemas of the early 20th Century were eventually either demolished or – like Hartlepool’s Majestic – are now neglected and empty. In May 2023 the long-anticipated news arrived when the Hartlepool Mail reported that the cinema was to be bulldozed in favour of a community park. There is no mention of the bas-relief panels; based on previous destruction of significant local landmarks, we can assume that they are at risk.
To raise awareness of this, Grace appeared on BBC Tees on May 26th 2023. We also made the C20 Society aware and they assigned a caseworker to investigate.
When asked, a spokesperson for the Hartlepool Development Corporation provided a typically vague response:
“Our plans are currently at the initial stages of development.
As laid out in the HDC masterplan’s Principles of Development, we will continue to engage and communicate openly with the Hartlepool community as work progresses.
When we make progress on the redevelopment, we will, of course, consult statutory stakeholders – including the planning authority and Historic England – to work out the best way of improving the site.”
(May 26, 2023)
For reference, the building did not become a bingo hall. From closing in 1981, it renained out of use until Joe Pools bar and Caesars palace opened in the mid 90’s
Ah ok. I was going off this article (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/6432) which says it was converted to one, but now I see your comment added on there. I’ll amend.