You’d be forgiven for dismissing this unflattering facade as another blight on Sheffield’s rundown West Bar district – an area slated for an exciting and ambitious face-lift before the credit crunch took hold in 2008. You might, however, be surprised to learn that, behind the prefabricated cladding, is the last remnant of a vibrant city centre movie scene.
Information about the Don Picture Palace is sparse, but the hazy images below (taken around 1910) date its construction to the early twentieth century. The 1950s image above shows an ornate stand-alone cinema that dominates the streetscene. The building was originally symmetrical but shortsighted post-war alterations saw the removal of the curved lower left corner to accomodate an uninspired extension with rooftop parking.
Further “modernisation” saw the arched doorway boxed-in, to bring it “up-to-date”, with bland panelling spanning the width of the facade. These additions look relatively cosmetic and could potentially be reversed, but the lasting alterations to the left side render the building of less historical value and thus less likely to be considered worth saving.
(Image by Chemical Engineer, in public domain)
While several historic buildings remain around West Bar, like the Fire and Police Museum (above), many feel that this improving area on the cusp of redevelopment would benefit from having the Don – an ornate and historic building in a city where so many have been controversially demolished – integrated into a dynamic modern street-scene. Other cities have achieved this, making for a less bland and more interesting atmosphere. Sheffield managed it with the former Lansdowne Picture Palace.
Unfortunately, the building now looks set to be demolished despite its historic appeal, The city council claims there’s nothing it can do to prevent this, since the Don is neither listed nor part of a conservation area. In a proud city desperately trying to reinvent itself, a revitalised Don Picture Palace facade would be a welcome addition. Unfortunately, Sheffield council’s record for bulldozing historic buildings, irrespective of public opinion, means the Don’s days are most likely numbered.
The Don closed its doors as a cinema decades ago, and is currently used by Armadillo Storage, its historic facade hidden behind prefab cladding. In determining the building’s future, why not apply this simple test: if the changes to the door can be reversed, then retain at least the facade. Perhaps then the building can finally live up to its name – Progress House.
Keep reading – explore these Spectacular Abandoned Theatres and Cinemas of the Northeastern United States, and discover the Forgotten Treasures of Glenroyal Cinema in Shipley, UK.