Steel cladding is an admirable and relatively inexpensive way of modernising the façade of a building. It conceals the original usually without obliterating it. I’d far rather see a historic frontage, such as the Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, clad than stripped of its aesthetic value.
The Bijou Cinema, Derby, lost its elaborate faience façade when it became a furniture showroom in the early 1960s. The interior, at balcony level at least, survived to become a particularly beautiful curry house, which would have been even more eye-catching if the original cinema frontage had remained intact.
There’s hardly anything left of the auditorium of the former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield, which after it closed in 1958 also became a furniture showroom, and latterly a self-storage unit, yet the rich façade in brick and brown faience survives largely intact behind steel cladding that was installed as late as the 1980s.
Indeed, part of the façade became visible when a gale brought down the corner of the cladding on January 11th 2017.
Though at present barely recognisable , the Don has a particular place in the history of the city’s cinemas.
Sales people working at the furniture showroom were perturbed by manifestations that they couldn’t explain – whirring noises, voices and a figure in an overall wearing cycle clips.
The late Bernard Dore, who had managed the Don Cinema in the 1950s, pointed out that the chief operator, Mr Potter, invariably cycled to West Bar from his home in Ecclesall rather than take the tram, and stored his bike in the projection room.
Furthermore, he habitually wore plus-fours and a tweed jacket covered by an overall.
He had a habit of creeping up behind his junior colleagues and whispering their names to make them jump.
Dan, the manager of Armadillo Storage, showed me what’s left of the cinema structure – an intact staircase and the space that was once the projection room. He and his colleagues say they haven’t experienced manifestations.
I hope that when the steel cladding has eventually to come down, the façade behind it will be retained.
After all, the Don Picture House is, as far as I know, Sheffield’s only documented haunted cinema.