Though Wakefield can be justifiably proud of the preservation and continued flourishing of the Theatre Royal, its best surviving cinema building has come to a sticky end.
The Regal Cinema at the junction of Kirkgate and Sun Lane was opened on December 9th 1935 by the Associated British Picture Corporation.
It was designed by ABC’s house architect, William R Glen, in the instantly recognisable modern style that most people know as Art Deco. To the left of the corner entrance, the walls swept in a graceful curve following the alignment of Sun Lane.
The interior had the characteristics of thirties design – bold curves, concealed lighting and a 43-foot wide proscenium framing what in those days was a standard Academy-ratio screen.
In fact, though it only seated 1,594 at the outset – mid-range in comparison with other contemporary urban cinemas – the stage was 26 feet deep, providing space for major drama or dance productions.
Its later history was similar to many other town cinemas – rebranded as ABC in 1962, tripled by inserting two small screens in the stalls under the balcony in 1976, sold to the Cannon group in 1986. It closed in 1997, shortly after a major Cineworld multiplex opened in the town.
A covenant requiring the building to remain in cinema use inhibited any possibility of adaptive re-use.
The building rotted while proposals to convert it into flats in 2007 or to demolish it to make way for a new apartment building in 2013 came to nothing.
Urban explorers in 2007 found that the basement was flooded and the front stalls were under eighteen inches of water: Report – – Wakefield ABC – Regal cinema 13/12/07 | Theatres and Cinemas | 28DaysLater.co.uk.
Eventually Wakefield Borough Council bought it in 2020, in desperation that a fine building which had become an eyesore would before long become a hazard.
A rearguard action by an energetic Friends group, supported by the Cinema Theatre Association, tried unsuccessfully to convince the Council there was any future for the building or its façade, but a “non-obtrusive structural survey” concluded that demolition would be safer before it began to fall down.
In June 2021 the Council resolved to flatten it to create a temporary “green space” until a replacement structure, designed to “celebrate” Glen’s 1930s design, could be built.