Opened in 1932, the Plaza Super Cinema and Theatre in Stockport’s Mersey Square is a bonafide Art-Deco gem. In many ways, the Plaza is a contemporary to other Art-Deco edifices of the age: the Empire State Building opened only one year earlier, and in 1933 the fantastic Midland Hotel welcomed its first guests in nearby Morecambe.
Designed by architect Thomas Thornley and commissioned in 1929, its construction required the removal of 10,000 tons of Stockport’s distinctive sandstone bedrock before the substructure could be anchored into place. Indeed some of the theatre, including the stage, is technically underground.
Inside, the Plaza is just as sumptuous as anything the Jazz Age had to offer. It’s drenched in classic Art-Deco decor, including Egyptian sculptures and friezes, sunbursts, bespoke tiling, minimalist straight lines, and gold, silver, and bronze highlights.
The lavish interior was the work of Joseph Gommersall, except for the Plaza’s crowning glory, the Mighty Compton Organ. Its breathtaking sunburst design was a collaboration between Manchester Cathedral organist Norman Cocker and Arthur Ward, a director of the Plaza.
On October 8, 1932, the ornate crenelated frontage was finally complete, the beautiful front doors opened to the public, and Stockport could boast a world-class entertainment venue. It must have seemed like going to another planet for the industrial workers of smoke-blackened Stockport, many of whom worked in the hatting industry. So it seems appropriate that the first presentation was the Laurel & Hardy feature, Jailbirds, which may have featured bowler hats made in Stockport.
Ultimately changing tastes and the insidious creep of TV caused British Variety Theatres to dwindle in popularity. Alas, the Plaza was no different and was transformed into a garish Bingo hall in the 1960s, its glory days well behind it, and its art-deco decor besmirched by faux glitter overlays.
That was until 2000, when the Stockport Plaza Trust acquired the building. Volunteers and grant funding restored the Plaza to its former glory. The theater reopened fully in 2009, its facade again adorned with vivid red and green neon lighting: a beacon showing where Stopfordains can find great local entertainment.
Today, the venue operates as a thriving cinema, theater, and cafe. The Compton Organ was also brought to complete working order, so regular organ recitals are a feature of the venue’s program. More importantly, the Plaza has regained recognition as one of the finest examples of an art-deco super cinema in the north of England, and rightly so.