90th birthday for historic Art Deco theatre
- Credit: Wisbech Tweet
A historic gem of Wisbech - the Art Deco Empire Theatre – will celebrate its 90th birthday later this year.
The 1,100-capacity theatre per se has long gone and the applause of audiences replaced with cries of ‘bingo’.
But whilst the use has changed, the Grade II* Listed building retains most if not all of its characteristic and rich history.
The Blackfriars Road was owned by entrepreneur Norman Jacobs and until 1970/71 was a cinema.
In fact, it is a forum devoted to cinema history, Cinema Treasures, that reminds us of its long and chequered history.
It was designed by Messrs F.B. Ward & C.E.A. Woolnough for Harry Bancroft who also owned the Hippodrome (demolished c. 1982) in the town.
Cinema Treasures recalls that stage shows continued at the theatre until as recently as 2004.
- 1 Back garden log cabin needs permission says council
- 2 Preschool 'special in people's hearts' to close after more than 30 years
- 3 Change of plan for A142 Mepal bridge works as July closures announced
- 4 This Grade II listed Georgian home in Ely could be yours for £575,000
- 5 Daughter pays tribute to model engineer who 'tried his hand at anything'
- 6 BMX star, 11, hopes world debut can lead to Olympics dream
- 7 ‘It’s sadly coming to a natural end’ - restaurant to close its doors by August
- 8 21st century agreement on future of 17th century pub
- 9 ‘Inspirational’ teacher, Esmeralda, honoured in national teaching awards
- 10 Table made from 5,000-year-old oak tree to be unveiled at Ely Cathedral in honour of The Queen
“The building is now used solely for bingo with tables and chairs replacing the stalls seating,” it says.
“However, the Empire is in such good condition that, if it were ever needed, it could return to live or film use within just a few days.”
The history of the Empire is in part the history, too, of Wisbech born and based Norman G Jacobs.
In 1942 he formed the Jacobs Theatre Leisure group and either bought or leased theatres and Corn Exchanges across many parts of East Anglia.
By late 1966, Norman had decided to move away from live bands and by 1967, and introduced bingo as his main attraction at some of his venues.
The Empire, these days, is run by Winners of Thetford whereas the long-sold Hippodrome at March, which he also ran, is now a Wetherspoons.
But as Cinema Treasures rightly states, the Empire itself is just as the late Mr Jacobs would have remembered it.
“As soon as you enter the foyer the style hits you,” it says.
“Beautifully inlaid doors with a five sided arch surround, ornate angular plasterwork, and the stair balustrade to the circle remain as built and lovingly maintained.
“The auditorium is amazing with the richly moulded reeded and prismatic ornamentation.
“The angular boxes at circle level, the impressive side circle openings, the ceiling decoration with the twin lighting troughs, the Aztec motifs on the balcony front all remain in glorious high Art Deco style.”
Eyes down for a visit maybe?