In August 1931 it was announced that a new "superkinema" was to be built in Darlington, located near to the corner of Bondgate and Archer Street in the city centre. Today, the St Augustines Way section of the city's post-war ring road pierces through what was Archer Street. The cinema was designed by local architect Joshua Clayton in the Art Deco style. As well as working as an architect, Joshua Clayton was an prominent figure locally, serving on the town council. The cinema was completed in 1932, officially opening on Boxing Day. It was built at a cost of £30,000 (nearly £2 million in today's money) and provided seating for nearly 1,600 cinemagoers. The cinema was fitted with a manual Compton organ "with full effects".
The cinema comprises its auditorium and a three-storey frontage facing on to Bondgate. The Bondgate facade originally had a deep, projecting canopy with three sets of double doors providing access to the foyer (as illustrated above). Either side on the ground floor were individual shop units, each with a single piece curved glass window. Above the canopy are three recessed rectangular windows with ornate stained glass. Above is a decorative entablature with a reeded frieze and stepped cornice. Set above the entablature are three rectangular windows, again with decorative stained glass. The central section of the facade is topped with a parapet with ornamental tile work. Either side of the central section are single bay wings, each with a large, double-height stained glass window. Either side of these windows are shallow niches with small rectangular windows at the base. The top of each niche, and above each double-height window are ornamental tiled panels. Behind the street frontage, the auditorium can be seen at an angle to the street frontage. The auditorium facade has an elevated five-bay central section topped with a tiled parapet, originally mounted with two flagpoles.
The cinema was owned by a group of local directors, but within two years of opening blocks of shares in the cinema were offered for sale. Later, in December 1935 it was announced that a subsidiary of the Union Cinema Company, the National Provincial Cinemas Limited, intended to purchased the cinema for £62,500 (approximately £4 million in today's money). At the same time it was announced that a new cinema was to be built in Hartlepool in a scheme involving two directors of the Majestic Cinema. Less than three months later the deal with National Provincial Cinemas fell through. Seemingly the Majestic's director's plans for a cinema in Hartlepool conflicted with similar plans by National Provincial Cinemas.
Seven years later, in May 1943, the directors of the Majestic agreed plans to sell the cinema again, this time to the Odecon cinema chain founded by Oscar Deutsch. The agreed price of the cinema was £92,500 (£3.8 million in today's money), representing a lower value (adjusted for inflation) than that agreed with National Provincial Cinemas in 1935.
The cinema transferred to the Odeon company at the end of June 1943 and was subsequently rebranded as the Odeon Darlington, and her exterior adorned with Odeon's distinctive signage. In the 1960s the Odeon chain attempted to modernise the cinema, hacking off its canopy, changing the street frontage and obscuring the main facade behind vertical metal cladding. To hide the original Art Deco tiled facade, including its beautiful coloured stained-glass windows, the facade was caked in black paint.
The Odeon chain also took over the Empire cinema on Quebec Street in Darlington, less than half a mile away from the Majestic. Together the two cinemas had over 2,000 seats; 970 in the Odeon Quebec Street and 1,402 in the former Majestic cinema. The smaller Odeon Quebec Street closed in November 1960, with the Majestic remaining open until 24 October 1981. It remained empty for a period, later becoming a Riley's snooker club before that too closed. The building then fell into disrepair.
In November 2013 local property developer Devlin Hunter purchased the former Majestic cinema. Rather than converting it back to a cinema the building was refurbished to serve a dual purpose, with a children's play zone on the ground floor and a theatre on the first floor. Despite changes of ownership and neglect many original features survived, so an extensive restoration was undertaken.
When the cladding was stripped off the black paint made it seem as if the building had suffered fire damage. However, the tiles were sympathetically repainted, presumably the black paint was too difficult to remove, and the ornamental tiled panels picked out in gold and black colours. The stained glass has been restored and original surviving interior features retained and incorporated into the building's new use. The restoration is a triumph and a credit to the Majestic's owners, saving a wonderful Art Deco building that like so many other dis-used cinemas could have so easily been demolished and lost forever.
Posted by Richard Coltman on Sunday, March 11, 2018