Memories of Sunderland: The Former ABC Cinema, Holmeside

The 1930s was the golden age of cinema. Long before mass television ownership became a thing, people were more inclined to go out for entertainment, with the cinema being a marvel which allowed people to see extraordinary things like never before.

This decade subsequently seen an explosion in the number of cinema values, including Sunderland itself. In fact, there were even two on the same street within a minute of each other! While the Regal/Odeon building opened up on Holmeside in 1932, just a few years later an even bigger cinema, known then as the Ritz, was built in 1937 on top of what was a former cattle market. The first film it ever shown was Swing Time, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The prevailing fear and high stakes of World War II did not stop the people of Sunderland from enjoying a trip to the pictures. In October 1942, the legendary film Gone with the Wind was aired in Sunderland, where it was screened for six weeks. Gone with the Wind reaped in $390 million, which still beats the Box Office Performance of many hit movies today. Adjusted for inflation, it remains the single most successful film ever!

Decline

After World War II, The Ritz was taken over by ABC cinemas, who expanded its capacity to 1500 people. Despite this, the world was now changing. The 1950s and 60s seen the rise of mass television ownership, which ultimately diluted the cinema culture of the 1930s, as well as the ability to simply buy videos on tape. While of course films remained a key part of popular culture and entertainment, it would never be as lucrative as the golden era.

These factors, combined with the decline Sunderland previously suffered in the 1970s and 80s, seen the ABC cinema go out of business and close prior to the new millennium. For a number of years, the empty building remained an eyesore, and was representative of Sunderland’s struggles during that period. In the early 2000s, the property was purchased and converted into a giant nightclub known as “The Point”, which delivered a significant boost to that area’s visual appeal and standing.

For many years, however, Sunderland held the notorious title of being the only city in the UK which didn’t have a cinema! The nearest screens available for local residents was the Cinema at East Boldon next to ASDA. That all changed in 2004, when Cineworld (Now Empire Cinemas) opened on High Street East. It has since consolidated itself as a nexus of entertainment adjacent to an arcade, a bowling alley and a casino.