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Architects: Robert Cromie
Styles: Art Deco
Previous Names: Ritz Cinema, Ritz Theatre
Located at the corner of Claughton Road and Oliver Street. The Ritz Cinema was built for and operated by the S.M. Super Cinemas Ltd. chain, headed by Southan Morris. It opened on 4th October 1937 with Jean Harlow & Robert Taylor in “The Man in Possession”, plus a stage show. The Compton 4Manual/11Ranks organ which had an illuminated console located on a lift in the centre of the orchestra pit, was opened by organist Reginald Foort and resident organist Rowland Tims. Film star Gracie Fields was there to officially declare the cinema open.
The exterior was in white Portland stone, and there was a 70 feet tall glass and steel frame tower above the corner entrance. There were almost 2,500 seats located in stalls and circle levels. The side-walls had modernist murals, and there were troughs across the the ceiling which contained concealed lighting. The proscenium was 56 feet wide, and there was a fully equipped stage, which was 75 feet wide. There was also a café restaurant.
On 21st December 1940, after the presentation of Linda Darnell in “Stardust” & Florence Rice in “The Girl In Room 313” had ended, organist Harold Hunt was keeping the audience entertained as there was an air-raid outside. The Ritz Cinema was severely damaged by a German bomb which came through the roof, exploding just in front of the circle. It killed 10 and there were over 100 casualties. A second bomb had shattered the rear wall of the building. The front of the building and foyer areas were untouched.
The building lay in a semi-derelict state for several years, until after the end of World War II, when in July 1946, local Birkenhead architects M.W. & W.M. Shennan were employed to draw plans for the renovation of the cinema. A second-hand Christie 2Manual 8 ranks organ originally installed in the La Scala Cinema, Glasgow, and later moved to the Regent Cinema, Stotfold, Bedfordshire, was purchased to replace the badly damaged Compton organ. It had been reconditioned by the Wurlitzer Company.
The Ritz Theatre was re-opened on 13th January 1947 with Fred Astaire in "Blue Skies", plus a stage show featuring Billy Cotton and His Band, and organist Robinson Cleaver playing the Christie organ.
The Ritz Theatre was taken over by the Essoldo Cinemas chain on 26th August 1954, and was re-named Essoldo. It was closed on 5th January 1969 with Boris Karloff in "The Body Snatcher" and Glenn Langan in "The Amazing Colossal Man".
It was converted into an Essoldo Bingo Club, then a Ladbrokes Bingo Club, later operated as a Top Rank Bingo Club, and closing as a Mecca Bingo Club in early-November 1997. It was demolished in September/October 2000, and the land is now used as a car park.
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