Opening credits roll on new era for historic Leeds cinema as it wins £2.4m grant

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Customers first passed through its doors in the same year that Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy and Gloria Swanson made their screen debuts.

Countless celluloid stars have come and gone since then but today, more than a century on from its 1914 opening, Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds remains one of the jewels in the city’s cultural crown.

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And the UK’s only surviving gas-lit cinema is now looking forward to an even brighter future following the announcement that it has secured a £2.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The money will be used for a project that will open up archive material including film programmes and weather reports dating back to the Grade II listed building’s earliest days.

A number of original features will be restored, including the cinema’s terrazzo foyer floors and decorative screen plasterwork.

Facilities and access will also be improved, with a new box office meaning people no longer have to queue outdoors for tickets during bad weather.

Geoff Thompson in the projection room at Hyde Park Picture House in 1985.

Geoff Thompson in the projection room at Hyde Park Picture House in 1985.

The cinema’s general manager, Wendy Cook, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “The Hyde Park Picture House has had a wonderful 102-year-long history, full to the brim with on and off-screen drama including two world wars, closure threats, celebrity guests and more than a few changes to the way audiences watch and enjoy films.

“We’re very lucky to be one of only a handful of cinemas still surviving from the early days of film and we’re thrilled that with this invaluable support from the Heritage Lottery Fund we’re able to ensure the cinema will be able to serve the community of Leeds for another 100 years.”

The first film to be shown at Hyde Park Picture House was Their Only Son, billed as a patriotic drama.

Other morale-boosting releases would become a staple part of the cinema’s programme during the First World War.

It also broadcast news bulletins to people in Leeds desperate to keep track of a war in which so many of their loved ones had enlisted.

Today the cinema screens the best in independent, art-house and classic films from around the world.

Saved by Leeds City Council from the threat of closure in 1989, the cinema is part of Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Limited, an arm’s length local authority organisation.

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