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Oxford St Peter St Manchester's 'Entertainment Street' last place for another office block

What have the BBC, Granada TV, the Cornerhouse, the Opera House, the Palace Theatre, the Library Theatre, the Free Trade Hall, the Albert Hall, a new rock guitar shop, the former Gaumont and the Odeon Cinema and got in common? They are all situated along the Oxford St - Peter St axis, and are places of music, media and entertainment. But Manchester City Council wishes to destroy one of the most prominent and symbolic of these landmarks...

I never thought about it until recently. I've never seen it highlighted in any guidebooks, no-one ever pointed it out to me, but the ... yards from the where the Mancunian Way crosses Oxford Road to where Quay St crosses the RIver Irwell has a string of landmarks associated with music, media, showbiz and entertainment. In the past, this character was even more prominent, as there were more venues in past times than there are today.

Manchester is famed as a city of music and entertainment, yet it has no Wardour St, no 42nd St or Tin Pan Alley. Actually, it does - it's this succession of streets which form roughly a straight line, with a kink at St Peters Square where the Metrolink lines cross.

Other cities brand cerain districts or streets. Why not this one, though I'm not sure what you'd call it: Entertainment St? Music and theatre St?

View of Oxford Rd

We'll leave the name for now, let's just take a walk from south to north and stop off at the places that make this axis what it is.

We start at the Royal Northern College of Music, with its new extension overlooking Oxford Rd. This world-class music institution needs no introduction.

Further up on the corner is the former Grosvenor Picture Palace, later converted into a bar, but retaining many original features.

We walk further past Johnny Roadhouse one of Manchester's longest-established musical instrument shopts.

Where the Mancunian Way passes over Oxford Rd, there's a great view towards the Central Library. On the right is New Broadcasting House, main centre of the BBC in the north since the 1970s. On the newsroom windows you'll see large format halftone images of the presenters, including the late lamented Tony Wilson. North West Tonight comes from here, as well as many regional and national tv and radio programmes.

Opposite the BBC is a superb new shop that has recently opened. It sells rock guitars and has an amazing set of electric guitars on the walls. This store will make any rock or air guitarist's mouth water, and is fully in keeping with the character of the 'strip'.

The guitar store is on the ground floor of the Dance House Theatre, housed in the former double cinema built in 1931.

On the corner, by the railway bridge is the former A1s music store - I went in there many a time to pluck my version of 'Stairway to Heaven' on a guitar I couldn't afford.

A little further and we are at Manchester's premier centre for artfilmbooksfooddrink - the Cornerhouse - at least tha's what it says on the outside and on the website. The Cornerhouse is one of Manchester's most prized assets and it's been going since 1985.

Opposite the Cornerhouse is the Palace Hotel, not normally a venue but a place where famous artists and singers have been known to stay. It used to be the Refuge Assurance building and dates from the last decade of the 19th century.

blurred buses on Oxford St

On the next corner, by Whitworth St, is the Palace Theatre. It's interesting to note that the exterior we see today was added onto an older interior. The Palace is another of Manchester's best-loved venues, with a glittering programme of shows.

I can't help mentioning that St Mary's Maternity hospital used to be on the corner of Oxford St and Whitworth St West. It's now the site of the apartment building Whitworth West where I understand ghosts are now providing entertainment for the residents.

As we walk up the gentle incline of Oxford St, you can feel a sense of excitement building as this pavement has been walked on by countless people on their way to a gig, show or theatre performance.

On the left is a multi-storey car park, but let's pretend it doesn't exist. Instead, let's think back to the prestigious Gaumont Cinema and what was there before it, the Hippodrome. As with the Palace Theatre, elements of the earlier building were incorporated into the new one, which was demolished in 1976.

Across the street is the basement venue that was Gillys, a venue that rocked to the sounds of 'Sabbaf', Purple and other heavy rock legends.

Now we are on the corner by Portland Street. The McDonalds restaurant is housed in the former Oxford Picture Palace, one of Manchester's first cinemas.

Across the street things take a turn for the worse, as we have on the opposite corner one of Manchester's many lacklustre recent additions, with its bland curved facade. Further along, facing Peters Square is Elisabeth House, an early 70s creation that I think could be made to look better but few people are fond of.

But in between them, now standing sad and empty, is the jewel in the crown of Manchester's Entertainment Street, the Odeon, former Paramount Cinema. I'll come back to that later.

On the left is Peter House, built 1958, same as me. It stands on the site of a former theatre on the corner.

Now we are crossing St Peter's Square. Dominating the square is the Central Library, home of the Library Theatre, previously known as the Intimate Theatre due to its small size.

On the left is the Midland Hotel, where Manchester's premier music industry event, In The City has been held on many occasions. In late September you'll see hordes of music industry people and young musicians in strange garb in this part of town. In 2006, a Routemaster bus was parked opposite the Midland to provide a temporary venue for unsigned singers.

Now we continue along Peter Street to the corner of Mount St. The tall building, recently refurbished, is Television House, former home of ABC Television. It stands on the site of the Gaiety Theatre.

On the left is the Theatre Royale, one of Manchester's oldest theatres, later a cinema where I saw 2001 in 1968. Today it's a night club, but also serves as a venue during In The City. Next door is the Free Trade Hall one of Manchester's most famous concert halls, and former home of the Halle Orchestra. Bob Dylan played here in 1966, and In 1976, the Sex Pistols made history in the Lesser Free Trade Hall. The facade dates from 1854 and was incorporated into the Radisson Edwardian hotel, which has also hosted In The City.

Just across the street is the Albert Hall. Formerly a genteel concert hall, it later became Brannigans night club, which closed in January 2011.

Next, on the left is Bar 38, an occasional venue for music-related events. It stands on the site of the shabby set of buildings which once housed the Gallery, a basement club where I played my one and only gig in Manchester (March 1985).

Now we are on Deansgate, and it's just a short walk down the gentle incline to the Opera House, which like the Palace, is now a highly successful venue for shows, musicals, though not many operas.

Manchester Opera House 1999

Just a little bit further down on the left is the now historic building where independent television began in Manchester. It's the Granada TV building, opened in 1955, one of the earliest modern style buiildngs in the city. The stars who went in and out of here, and the tv programmes broadcast from here are too many to mention, but the most famous is Coronation Street. The actors go in and out of the studios here every day.

We can complete the walk to the Irwell, border of Manchester and Salford. About five minutes further on Chapel Street is another early cinema, but we'll stop here, and return back to look at the centrepiece of Manchester's Entertainment Street or Rock'n'Roll Alley, the Odeon Cinema.

It closed in 2004 just after the Disability Discrimination Act came into force, and has stood empty since. Manchester City Council have approved the demolition of the building, and an office block is slated to be built on the site. I've had a look and I find it hideous, partly because of what would be destroyed to make way for it.

The Paramount later Odeon is a 1930s style art deco cinema which up until a few years ago had a magnificent interior. I came to see many films here. It was the last remaining 'super cinema' in Manchester city centre that recalled the glory days of the 1930s.

We've been told that the building is now unsuitable for further use and needs to be torn down as soon as possible.

But I have been contacted by promoters and developers who believe the building could make a fantastic music and community venue. Right at the heart of Entertainment Street, its re-opening would be a symbol of Manchester's resurgence as a prime place for entertainment. But if it is destroyed and a faceless office block is put up in its place, what will the symbolism be then?

Manchester Odeon Cinema 2 Jan 2005

Manchester City Council, under the leadership of Councillor Richard Leese and Chief Executive Howard Bernstein (both knighted in recent years) have managed the recent development of the city quite well, and done some good things.

But they have also made many grave errors and this, if it goes through, will be perceived as one of the most infamous. Both men are hard working and dedicated to the betterment of the city, but if the Odeon is demolished, I believe they will be remembered for that, and not for the more positive things they have done.

For the sake of Manchester and Entertainment Street, we need to save the Odeon.

More links and extra info to be added. Can you think of any further locations along the 'strip'?
For an authoritative history of popular music in Manchester going back to its origins, I can recommend 'Shake Rattle and Rain by band member and music historian C P Lee.
Many thanks to Ed Glinert of Manchester Walks for a correction to the text! Ed and others offer a range of walking tours of Manchester. Go to www.newmanchesterwalks.com.
I can also recommend Manchester England by DJ and writer Dave Haslam. The first edition bore a photo of mine Manchester England review

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-08-19

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