A cinema in Clarendon Park? You bet. For a brief stint in the 1920s, 64 Clarendon Park Road (now the Chinese Christian Church) was home to the “Lyric Electric Theatre”. There were upwards of forty different cinemas in Leicester at the time, with some of the biggest being the ABC in Belgrave Gate and the Classic Cameo Theatre on High Street (they changed their names and ownership several times during their history).
For a large portion of the early 20th century, and particularly during the 1920s and 1930s, the cinema had a central role in the social lives of many people. It helped that a trip to the cinema was vastly more affordable than it is now, with a couple of cinema tickets, a tub of ice-cream during the interval and the tram fare home costing a fraction of the equivalent indulgence today.
A chequered history
64 Clarendon Park Road was built in 1892 as Knighton Public Hall or Knighton Liberal Club. It was the headquarters of the Liberal party for about a decade, until the party’s popularity declined and it was forced to vacate its fancy Clarendon Park HQ for a less salubrious venue.
The new owners turned the building into a cinema, and the former political nerve centre became home to first dates, back row shenanigans and Hollywood escapism for a generation of Clarendon Park residents.
Tastes changed however. The arrival of television, and other competing leisure activities, led to a decline in the number of independent cinemas, and the Lyric was one of many casualties.
Following the closure of Lyric, 64 Clarendon Park Road was taken over by a hosiery company, who put the building to use as a warehouse. When that closed, a company that made specialist parts for footwear took over. The site was subsequently occupied by wholesalers J&J Levy until the 1980s. It was then that the Chinese Christian Church took over. This interdenominational church performs services in Mandarin, Cantonese and English and supports the city’s Chinese Christian community with regular events and a programme of youth work.
From headquarters of a political party, to an entertainment hub, to a hosiery warehouse, and finally a meeting point for one of Leicester’s religious communities. The eventful history of this architecturally significant building reflects the history of the city itself.