ABC Cinema, Liverpool
Since closing for good in 1998, the former ABC Cinema has awaited its fate and at the timeof these photographs were taken, was in a bad state of decay. In June 2023 a fire ripped through the interior adding to its parlous state. A forgotten relic with no purpose - yet brimming with cinematic history.
A prime site that had previously been occupied by small shops and The American Bar Hotel was acquired by John Maxwell’s Associated British Cinemas on Lime Street and Elliott Street. The architects appointed were William R Glen, FRIAS, and Ernest A Shennon, FRIBA. Their collaborative talents were challenged when tasked with producing a super cinema on this modestly sized site that measured just 150’x75′.
An imposing, curved Portland stone faced facade, with a 100′ bronze coloured canopy was lit with 300 lamps that swept around the corner.
There were four sets of double doors leading into the main entrance hall which was lined with Italian marble with a floor of Tinos and white marble. There were two large waiting foyers that enabled many customers to be accommodated inside rather than queue outside. On the second floor was a 40 table café.
The auditorium design attempted a Continental atmospheric style that featured a stage end treatment consisting of a vast curved canopy over the splayed side walls which featured tall ornamental balconettes or alcoves containing elaborate mirror and plaster designs lit by concealed lighting . The proscenium was square, with a larger ante-proscenium of large vertical flutes within a square decorative border giving a cluttered appearance.
Later, some of the ornamental urn vases were taken off in an attempt to reduce the amount of embellishments on this very elaborate proscenium. This area was lit with Holophane lighting which could achieve many constantly changing colour themes.
The auditorium main span of ceiling was flat curving towards the sides, with a central sunburst rosette feature with a light fitting in the middle, the design of which was incorporated in other parts of the cinema.
The balcony extended well over the stalls area towards the stage seating 750 people which helped to increase the capacity to 1835 seats on this very slender site. The disappointing shallow stage was only 37′ in width which seemed out of proportion for such a large auditorium.
On Saturday 16th May 1931 the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Alderman Edwin Thompson, attended the Grand Gala opening. It is claimed that on the souvenir opening brochure, the famous ABC trademark triangle was seen for the first time, incorporated into the programme’s design. The first feature film shown was “Almost A Honeymoon” starring Clifford Mollison and Dodo Watts.
Vera Fendick was an usherette at the Forum and it was there that she met her husband, Billy Maines, who was a projectionist at Liverpool cinemas; including the Forum, Futurist and Scala.
A Liverpool projectionist who worked at the Forum from 1962 until his retirement when the ABC closed was the late Derek Minshull. He started in the projection rooms at the Curzon and Regent cinemas, Old Swan in 1954. Derek had his sight fixed on joining the city centre Forum and at the age of 23, he achieved this ambition. It was there that he stayed for nearly 36 years, progressing through the technical grades and being part of the many changes that took place within that building.
Derek was there on the closing night and had suggested to the manager that the classic movie “Casablanca” would be an ideal final film.
The building was Grade II Listed in 1981. It continued as a single screen cinema until the final films were shown; “Kentucky Fried Movie” and “The Other Cinderella” on 15th May 1982. With a budget set at £350.000 contractors moved in to turn the building into a three screen venue. Stipulations were put in place because of the Grade II Listing that no damage was to be done to the original fabric of the building during the alterations. ABC 1 seated 683 customers , the two mini-screens were formed under the balcony- ABC 2 seating 272 and ABC3 holding 217 seats. A new projection room was built into the rear of screen one, with the downstairs screens in the old stalls area served by a combined projection room.
The restriction of the small proscenium was overcome by the installation of a new wide screen frame brought forward of the original stage and splay walls, thus forming a new curtained proscenium.
The Gala Opening was held on Tuesday 24th August 1982. “Star Trek- The Wrath Of Khan” was shown in all three screens. The official opening to the public followed on Thursday 26th August 1982 when “Star Trek- The Wrath Of Khan” was screened in ABC 1 and presented in Dolby Stereo Sound. Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was shown in ABC 2, while “Grease” was the choice in ABC 3.
Another name occurred in 1986 when the company changed hands and the cinema became the Cannon. It closed on 29th January 1998 with a farewell film performance of the original movie, “Casablanca” starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. With a special ticket price of only £1 guaranteed the final performance to be well supported.
In November 2019, Liverpool Council said a number of options were being considered for the future of the building. This came three years after it had given the green light to plans to turn it into a state-of-the-art music, entertainment and performance venue to host live performances and holding up to 1,500 people, but little more was then heard about the project.