Sitting innocuously in the midst of Parson Cross, Sheffield’s largest housing estate, the former Ritz Cinema, an Art Deco masterpiece, stood unknown, neglected and without a purpose until it was demolished at the end of January 2013.
It was built in 1937 on the site of Toad Hole Farm to serve a brand-new community. The Parson Cross council estate covered the green fields with well-appointed houses for fortunate working-class families who had previously struggled with inadequate housing in the Victorian inner city.
The Ritz was designed by the well-reputed Sheffield architectural practice Hadfield & Cawkwell, with a restrained brick exterior and a sensational art deco auditorium which looked for all the world like the inside of a typewriter.
In its early days the Ritz was almost the only entertainment facility, apart from pubs and working-men’s clubs, on the estate. There is a wartime photograph of the doorman, Mr Bilton, standing alongside a “House Full” sign at five to eight in the evening.
Between 1962 and 1966 the Ritz gradually went over to bingo, and was for many years run as an independent operation by Mr David Chapman. He once told me that his business rested on being the only place in Parson Cross that ladies could go for entertainment without their husbands.
When I ran a Sheffield Cinema Society visit to the Ritz Bingo Club in 1988 the operating box (or projection room, to those of us who don’t belong to the industry) was intact. Apparently the deeds of the building included a covenant requiring it to remain capable of reverting to cinema use.
Bingo finally ended at the Ritz sometime soon after 2001, after which it stood empty and became vandalised.
The last record of its condition that I can find is an urban explorer’s report from 2009 at http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?t=46046. The projectors were still in place, but trashed. “Speed” declared in his or her report an intention to return and put them right.
The Ritz deserved a much better fate. It was a victim, not only of economic forces, but of the ungenerous and uninformed process of listing twentieth-century buildings in Sheffield.
Sometimes it seems as if listing is a process of creating rarities rather than protecting the historic-buildings stock for future evaluation and resuscitation.
It was eventually demolished in January 2013.
To see something of the sorry catalogue of missed opportunities among the buildings of Sheffield, see Huntsman’s Gardens, Picture palace bites the dust, Rue Britannia, Praised with faint damns, and – still a cause to fight – No use for St Cecilia’s.