A highlight for me of the Abbeydale Picture House Revival weekend was watching the first film ever shown there, The Call of the Road, with Vincente Stienlet, the grandson of the architect of the building, Pascal J Stienlet. As Mr Stienlet pointed out afterwards, his grandparents almost certainly watched the same film, in the same space, on the opening night in December 1920.
There is, to our mutual regret, no material about the Abbeydale in the archive of the Pascal J Stienlet & Son practice. However, Mr Stienlet showed me some fascinating images and plans of what was probably Pascal Stienlet’s largest cinema commission, the Majestic Cinema, City Square, Leeds.
The old Majestic is a much loved Leeds landmark. Designed by Pascal Stienlet in partnership with Joseph C Maxwell, and opened in June 1922, its dignified Beaux Arts façade, of Burmantofts ‘Marmo’ terracotta, is a delicate cream which for years was darkened by Leeds’ polluted atmosphere.
In the 2,600-seat auditorium, giant fluted Ionic columns and a Grecian frieze based on the Parthenon supported a coffered dome 84 feet in diameter. On either side of the proscenium were the pipes of the three-manual Vincent organ. In the basement below was a restaurant 110 feet × 110 feet with a sprung floor for dancing.
The Majestic became part of the Gaumont chain in 1929, and remained a premier film venue well into the 1960s – its run of The Sound of Music extended from April 1965 to September 1967 – but it went over to bingo in 1969. It’s unusual among city-centre cinemas because it was never subdivided. It was listed Grade II in 1993.
In 1997 the entire building became two night-clubs, the Majestyk in the auditorium and Jumpin’ Jacks in the ballroom below.
It was closed in 2006; an application for a casino licence was refused and the site became vacant.
In 2011 the Leeds developer Rushbond financed a clever refurbishment for retail use.
When the redeveloped building was almost ready for opening it caught fire on the evening of September 30th 2014. The fire brigade declared a major incident, closed off much of the city centre for over twelve hours, and by their skill and good judgement, though they lost the roof, saved the exterior walls.
Within a matter of days a 32-year-old man was arrested in connection with his suspicious behaviour at the scene. He was cleared of all charges in March 2015: http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/leeds-majestic-blaze-man-cleared-of-arson-charges-1-7183724.
It remains to be seen what happens next. Yorkshire Post images [http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/main-topics/local-stories/what-sparked-majestic-inferno-1-6872539] suggest that at least some of the interior remained intact.
The story of the Majestic is neatly encapsulated in a Yorkshire Evening Post article – http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/proud-history-of-a-leeds-landmark-1-6871416 – and there is an illustration of the interior in original condition at http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/2718.