Grand entrance but dramatic demise of spectacular theatre
Of all the fine city centre buildings we've lost over the years, few have been as spectacular as Leicester's old Palace Theatre, which stood in Belgrave Gate, just a few steps down from the Clock Tower.
I'm sure many readers will recall good times seeing everything from pantomimes to variety shows at this much-missed venue, which sadly, I never had the pleasure of visiting.
The theatre was designed in a Moorish style by Frank Matcham, the greatest theatre designer of his day, and was considered one of his finest buildings. It was also one of his biggest.
I have featured the Palace on this page before and recently, a 1905 description of the building and a photo of its old car park were in the spotlight.
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In response to these items, Ron Lambell wrote to me with some interesting notes he had made about the theatre.
"The theatre was built by George Duxbury, a well-known Leicester builder, at a cost of about £50,000," writes Mr Lambell, of Beaumont Leys.
"It was called The Palace Theatre of Varieties and opened in 1901.
"It was Leicester's biggest theatre, with seats for 3,500 people in the stalls and pit, dress circle, upper circle and the gallery.
"There were also several private boxes.
"Between performances, the roof could be opened to allow a complete change of air – very much needed, as most people smoked in those days, leaving a haze throughout the building.
"On the opening night, as well as a variety show, the audience was treated to a series of animated pictures on the American Bioscope.
Besides the variety show, the Bioscope was very popular, as it was able to show short films including Leicester Fosse's cup tie against Watford and Bleriot's flight across the English Channel.
"On June 20, 1929, the Palace pioneered sound film in Leicester with The Singing Fool, starring Al Jolson and, in 1930, the Palace changed to showing films full-time.
The cheaper seats up in the gallery of "gods" were closed off, as the sight of the screen would be distorted and almost impossible to view from the sharp angle involved.
"In 1937, the stage area was reconstructed and a revolving stage installed to show the ice spectacular St Moritz, and I was taken to see this show!
"Little use was made of the revolving stage after the ice show, so in 1938 films were reintroduced.
"In 1946, twice-nightly variety shows were introduced and the popular Max Miller Show was presented. Variety continued in the 1950s with Peter Sellers and Jimmy Young appearing.
"The Ray Ellington Trio appeared in the late 1950s and various other well-known artists, but crowds dwindled and audiences could only be attracted by nude shows!
"Eventually, the theatre closed and was sold to the Sketchley Dry Cleaning Company.
"The final show at the Palace was on February 21, 1959.
"It was soon demolished and the site redeveloped."
Mr Lambell concludes by saying: "Maybe the theatre could have survived if today's thinking had been operative at that time.
"A preservation order would have saved it.
"The revolving sign on the theatre's roof was sold to the owner of George's second-hand shop in Fosse Road, but he was not allowed planning permission to erect it on the roof of his shop."
Hmmm. I wonder what happened to the sign – does anybody know?