During its transformation, the historic Grade II listed cinema is hitting the road with pop-up events across the city

STUDENTS new to Leeds wandering in to Hyde Park Picture House, ticket in hand, often ask where Screen One is; bewildered by the wooden staircase and slightly fusty smell that greets them. With its worn ruby carpets and woollen-jumpered volunteers scooping popcorn and serving filter coffee from a tiny kiosk, the cinema is a far cry from the shiny multiplex at your local retail park. Opened in 1914 at 73 Brudenell Road, Hyde Park was among 70 venues in Leeds offering light relief from the outbreak of war, and now this crumbling cultural landmark is due a little TLC.

At the heart of the Picture House project is a desire to keep the stories of this unique venue’s past alive for the next generation

At the end of February, work starts on a £2.3 million refurbishment project to upgrade fixtures and fittings, improve accessibility and extend the building’s community engagement - made possible with the help of National Lottery Heritage Fund, Leeds City Council, Film Hub North, and The Pilgrim and Gwyneth Forrester charitable trusts. After an extensive feasibility study in 2014 with the cinema’s Friends (a committee set up in 1984 to support Hyde Park’s longevity), audiences and contractors, Birmingham-based DCA Consultants began to develop a strategy to realise its future.

2020 01 21 Hyde Park Picture House Render Daytime  Credit Page Park
The architects' external render with new extension Page Park

Architects Page Park were drafted in to sensitively restore the site and, as the team started chipping away at the Grade II-listed infrastructure, they uncovered more of the venue’s past. Peeling back the carpets revealed mosaic terrazzo tiling throughout the entrance, while microscopic examination of the paintwork exposed layer upon layer of dark browns, blues and creams, perhaps from when the local vicar migrated his congregation to the building in the 1920s or when it became a bingo hall in the 1960s. Beautiful line drawings depict the Dutch gable designed for the building’s original owner, the Leeds hotelier Henry Child, with its ionic columns made by Burmantofts Pottery. The slate roof will be reclaimed, the rusting on the ornamental cast iron lampposts touched up and the red glazed faience blocks cleaned. Heritage artefacts will be repaired and, as one of the only cinemas in the UK to retain ‘modesty’ lighting, the original gas lamps will be revived.

2020 01 21 Hyde Park Picture House Ground Floor Connection  Credit Page Park
Vision of the new ground floor connection Page Park

Meanwhile new additions will bring the cinema into the 21st century, with a ramp out front to ensure step-free access to the ticket booth, an interior lift and a wider foyer. An extension onto Brudenell Road will offer a cafe area and functional workshop space for community groups, and a 50-seater second screening room under the current auditorium will be home to a programme of independent films, industry talks, events and masterclasses. While the 35mm projector will remain, the second will be upgraded digitally with an advanced speaker system, acoustic partitions and soundproofing. 

Having screened his very first short at Hyde Park Picture House in 2012, the cinema's new patron, Yorkshire-born God's Own Country director Francis Lee, will ensure work by film-makers from the area continues to be championed. And the city's filmic past and historical cinema sites will be showcased in a series of illustrations by Leeds Arts University alumnus, Nobrow-published graphic artist Adam Allsuch Boardman. At the heart of the Picture House project is a desire to keep the stories of this unique venue’s past alive for the next generation, so a diverse activity plan will encompass projection room tours, schools visits, arts projects and education programmes, supported by Leeds Grand Theatre & Opera House group.

2020 01 21 Hyde Park Picture House Auditorium  Credit Martin Grund
The ornate auditorium Martin Grund

If you need your regular indie cinema fix while refurbishments take place, fear not: the On The Road programme will host a series of pop-ups across the city starting on 16th February. A new digital projector will be installed at Leeds University’s Pyramid Theatre for a series of new Indies Screenings, Docs & Artists’ Moving Image will take over 42 New Briggate on Tuesdays, Creatures of the Night will pair food and drink with cult classics at The Brunswick, and Music on Film will celebrate some of the world’s best concerts and songsmiths at The Brudenell Social Club. The Hyde & Seek and Memory Matinees programmes will move to Headingley’s Heart; the latter screenings free and inclusive to those living with dementia, proving Hyde Park’s understanding of the true power of cinema.  

You can also support the project by grabbing a can of local sponsors Kirkstall Brewery’s Picture House IPA, a citrusy grapefruit beer, with 20% from each sale donated to the fundraising campaign.   

Read more about the renovations and exiting plans for the cinema’s future here.