Demise of theatre was part of social change but the closure of Blackpool's Palace came as a shock

By Barry Band

Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 12:14 pm

Sixty years ago the summer show was in full swing at Blackpool’s Palace Theatre. Six months later the building would be demolished.

We’ve previously mentioned the demise of the huge complex but the first thing that future historians will need to make clear is the actual location of the Palace.

It occupied most of the block north of the Tower, which is now shared by the Viva night spot and the Poundstretcher store.

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A later business called the Palace existed for nearly 20 years from the mid-1980s on the site of the former Palatine Hotel, two blocks south of the Tower.

The new Sands Resort Hotel now occupies that site.

But our topic today is the Palace theatre, cinema and ballroom complex that occupied the promenade block between Church Street and the Tower.

At the time if its closure many older Blackpool and Fylde folk remembered the Palace’s history of variety bills headed by great names like Harry Lauder, Vesta Tilley, Marie Lloyd, George Robey and Little Tich.

Top stars of more recent memory came to the Palace until the late 1950s. Summer season shows ran from 1956 to 1961.

The programme cover and poster for the 1961 show appear on this page. In the cinema the season-long attraction was Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston.

In the great gap of 60 years since closure, many have wondered why the Palace was closed by the owners, the Blackpool Tower Company.

The following text is the first page of my Palace history, published in 2012.

News that the Blackpool Palace complex was to be replaced by a department store came as a rude shock to residents and visitors alike .

The ornate building with a promenade frontage of 180 feet was like no other in the resort. It was, in fact, a marble palace.

So why was the Palace, with a 2,100-seat variety theatre, a 1,972-seat cinema, and a make-believe ballroom demolished?

So much speculation has been applied to the demise of the Palace that a book about its history can hardly begin without an explanation.

Like many similar situations it all came down to money - and the loss of it.

The decision to close the Palace in 1961 was forced on the owners, the Blackpool Tower Company, because it was a white elephant.

It was a time of change in our social lives. The Palace had been closed in winter since 1956. Theatregoing was in decline because of the rise of television, ballroom dancing had been affected by rock’n’roll and even Hollywood was struggling to keep up its output of crowd-pleasing films.

On top of this the Tower Company had been hit by the Tower fire of 1956 and their bold decision to rebuild the ballroom in its original gilded glory, an undertaking that closed part of the building for 18 months.

The only way out of a downward spiral that affected the Tower Company more than its competitors was to capitalise on the value of the Palace’s seafront site and use the money to improve the Tower and the Winter Gardens.

A rescue by Blackpool Council was a non-starter in those days. The cost would have led to a huge rise in council tax (then known as the “rates”) and there was no apparent use for the huge building.