The Park Palace Theatre in Toxteth was built for James Kiernan, a Liverpool theatre proprietor and designed by J H Havelock-Sutton, a Liverpool architect.
The auditorium is a simple rectangle, with the balcony (now removed) around three sides. There were two boxes (also now gone), decorated with tall oval bevelled mirrors and lit with brass gas brackets. Corinthian pilasters with acanthus-leaf bases flank the proscenium and support a broken pediment. The proscenium is thirty feet wide. Backstage there were four dressing rooms but no fly-tower.
Some accounts mention a gallery, and the Royal Arms mounted above the proscenium following a visit by King Edward VII in 1903, but there is no present-day evidence of either.
The original audience capacity was 1,100 (600 in the pit and stalls, 500 in the balcony) and it opened on December 4th 1893 as a variety theatre.
Though it retained its music-hall licence, the building was used as a cinema from 1905. For a time the Sheffield cinema impresario Jasper Redfern ran it, and the Weisker Brothers took it over and renamed it the Kinematodrome in 1910.
In 1911, Peter Dunn acquired it and ran it as cine-variety for nearly twenty years. During the 1920s there was a seven-piece orchestra. The variety acts and the orchestra ceased abruptly with the introduction of sound movies on January 8th 1930. By then the capacity had reduced to 961.
After Peter Dunn’s death in 1934, the proprietor was Miss Sheila Dunn, presumably his daughter.
The final film show – Russ Tamblyn in The Young Guns and John Payne in Hold Back the Night – took place on March 11th 1959.
After its demise as a cinema the Park Palace was successively used as a factory, a chemist’s shop and a store for motor-vehicle spares. For a period from 1984 it became the Mill Street Chapel.
Subsequently the building was largely left to deteriorate.
It was briefly revived as a performance space in 2008, and was once used as a location for the Channel 4 soap-opera Hollyoaks, but from 2010 onwards it was advertised to let.
It remained unused until 2017, when Keith Hackett and his daughter, Bridget Griffin, set up Park Palace Ponies, to provide a riding school aimed at local children under ten, bringing them the benefits of spending time with horses and the perception that horse-riding isn’t only for the affluent. Hundreds of children from south-central Liverpool (defined as postcodes L8, L17 and L18) have since taken part in riding lessons at the Palace: http://www.parkpalaceponies.com.
The community benefits of this scheme are palpable, and not confined to the children and their families. The horses graze at the local allotments, where their manure is much appreciated.
Park Palace Ponies is included in the itinerary of the ‘Unexpected Liverpool’ tour, June 1st-5th 2020. For further details of the tour, please click here.