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Entertainment Port Talbot Plaza's colourful history and what's next in store

15:15  02 august  2020
15:15  02 august  2020 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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The Plaza is an abandoned cinema in Port Talbot . The building is listed for protection as Grade II. The cinema opened in April 1940. It has a modern design with Art Deco influences. Patrons included Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins. The cinema was built in 1939 and opened in April 1940.

A look back at the 71 year old iconic Port Talbot Plaza Cinema with some imagery of the building, important films and photographs of the staff through the

For many people in Port Talbot, the iconic Plaza Cinema holds a special place in their heart.

Built in the 1930s, the cinema has had a colourful history and has inspired a number of Welsh actors over the years including Richard Burton, Sir Anthony and Michael Sheen.

According to the cinema's former owner, Alex Jones, the Plaza was originally built to replace a smaller cinema further down Talbot Road that was destroyed by fire while showing the film FireFly in 1936.

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Port Talbot ' s Grade Two-listed Plaza Cinema has not been used since it closed in 1999. But Neath Port Talbot council plans to turn it into a community Work on the building is expected to start early next year. Port Talbot councillor Saifur Rahaman said: "I'm pleased that the plaza project is finally

Port Talbot English (PTE) is a variety of Welsh English spoken in Port Talbot , generally by the working class. Consonants in Port Talbot English generally follow those of Received Pronunciation. Some phonological characteristics of consonants specific to PTE include: Consonants can be geminated by

It was originally intended to be an Odeon cinema. However, because of the Second World War it was never completed fully on time.

Mr Jones explained: "The Odeon Company pulled out of the partnership...as such, it never opened as an Odeon and became the Plaza."

The first film at the Plaza was Babes In Arms, which starred Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in April 1940.

a close up of a street in front of a building © South Wales Evening Post a group of people standing in front of a building: Queues outside Port Talbot Plaza in 1952 © Port Talbot Historical Society Queues outside Port Talbot Plaza in 1952 a close up of a newspaper: News clipping about the opening of the Plaza © Port Talbot Historical Society News clipping about the opening of the Plaza

At that point the cinema wasn't quite finished.

"The outbreak of the Second World War meant there was an embargo on many decorative materials available," explained Mr Jones.

"Consequently, much of the building, such as windows, doors, the famous cream tiles and even the sign itself weren’t installed until building restrictions were lifted after 1950."

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Baglan is a large village in Wales, adjoining Port Talbot , named after Saint Baglan. Baglan is also a community and ward in the Neath Port Talbot county borough.

The cinema experienced its golden years in the 1940s, as cinema gained popularity, and again in the 1970s when Port Talbot's Grand, Regent and Odeon cinemas ceased showing films.

"Business still remained very brisk, with 1989 being the most successful year in the cinema’s history ever – sometimes attracting over 5,000 people in one day aided by Batman and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade," said Mr Jones.

Many who remember the Plaza in its prime recall huge queues of excited cinema-goers that would ring all the way around the building and the block.

a group of people standing in front of a store: Plaza Staff in the Foyer, 1967 © Port Talbot Historical Society Plaza Staff in the Foyer, 1967 a school bus parked in front of a building: Outside the Plaza cinema in 1987 © Port Talbot Historical Society Outside the Plaza cinema in 1987 a sign above a store front at night: The Plaza's final day in 1999 © Port Talbot Historical Society The Plaza's final day in 1999 a group of people performing on a counter: Another picture taken on the final day © Port Talbot Historical Society Another picture taken on the final day

The Plaza underwent a series of refurbishments throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and continued to attract big crowds, though these had become "sporadic" as cinema faced competition from video and the impending multiplexes at Bridgend and Port Talbot seafront.

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Port Talbot ' s Plaza cinema, where Richard Burton and Sir Anthony Hopkins used to visit, has been earmarked to reopen as a form of arts centre. But Neath Port Talbot council chief executive Steve Phillips said it would not be sustainable to run the Plaza and Princess Royal Theatre.

An evocative trip down memory lane at Port Talbot ' s iconic Plaza Cinema.

On January 4 1999, the Grade II listed cinema showed its final movie, Prince of Egypt, and according to Mr Jones, the audience at the main auditorium sobbed as the credits rolled for the very last time.

"Hundreds in the audience sat in silence refusing to leave until the curtains had closed and the lights came on," he said.

"As a mark of respect, no exit music was played after the film finished, and the audience were left to troop from the cinema in silence. A true part of Port Talbot had died that night."

a group of people in a room: Filmgoers at the Plaza in 1990 © South Wales Evening Post Filmgoers at the Plaza in 1990

From then on the building gradually fell into disrepair.

Though the classic architecture shell stood the test of time, the interior gradually became derelict and developed holes in its roof - it became a shadow of its former glory.

Pictures released by Neath Port Talbot Council in 2019 showed the eerie extent of the decaying rooms, with peeling art-deco wallpaper and filthy signs.

a store inside of a building: Inside the old Plaza cinema in Port Talbot © Neath Port Talbot Council Inside the old Plaza cinema in Port Talbot Inside the old Plaza cinema in Port Talbot © Neath Port Talbot Council Inside the old Plaza cinema in Port Talbot a flat screen tv sitting in a room: Inside the old Plaza cinema in Port Talbot © Neath Port Talbot Council Inside the old Plaza cinema in Port Talbot

That year the council approved proposals to create a new role for the Plaza so that it can once again be enjoyed.

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Port talbot - plaza . Opened in April 1940 it It initally closed as a cinema in 1983 when it was converted into a bingo hall but reverted to cinema use in 1985 This Cardiff cinema, ABC Queen' s switched on for a few minutes last night and the queue outside had a foretaste of what it will look like.

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And now, in July 2020, the Plaza is on its way to being transformed into a "vibrant and inclusive" community hub.

The facilities available will include a café, gym, office space, a hall, multi-purpose rooms, a conference area, digital recording studio and shops.

The project is being supported by £3.4m from the European Regional Development Fund, £2.2m from the Welsh Government and £1.7m from the council.

a person standing in front of a building: Port Talbot Plaza in July 2020 © WalesOnline/Gayle Marsh Port Talbot Plaza in July 2020 a train is parked on the side of a building: The transformation is underway © WalesOnline/Gayle Marsh The transformation is underway a truck is parked on the side of a building: Demolition work at the rear © WalesOnline/Gayle Marsh Demolition work at the rear

It will be complete with a roof covered in vegetation, called a green roof.

This element was funded through the Green Infrastructure Fund and aims to increase biodiversity on the building.

It should also have other environmental benefits such as decreasing storm water runoff, improving air quality by reducing carbon dioxide and pollution, and improving the energy efficiency of the redeveloped Plaza.

Demolition work is currently being carried out at the back of the building while the Plaza’s front is being retained.

The 'new' Plaza is due to be ready by autumn 2021 and will be occupied and managed by YMCA Port Talbot.

a close up of a cage: An artist impression of the cinema's front under the new plans © Asbri planning An artist impression of the cinema's front under the new plans

Keith Priddle, the chairman of the YMCA Port Talbot board of trustees, said the Plaza would play a major role in creating a new look for the eastern side of Port Talbot.

He said: “It is a major redevelopment of an iconic Port Talbot site and the YMCA is confident it will revitalise the eastern side of the town.”

Councillor Annette Wingrave, Neath Port Talbot council’s cabinet member for regeneration and sustainable development, said: “The Plaza will continue to be a reminder in the centre of Port Talbot of the world famous film stars this town has produced.

“It will also help revitalise this part of the town while at the same time providing a useful venue for a wide variety of uses.”

The Welsh Government deputy minister for housing and local government, Hannah Blythyn said: “Supporting towns across Wales continues to be at the heart of our regeneration work and our commitment to the future of our communities through our transforming towns agenda.

“I am pleased to see how Welsh Government funding is breathing new life into an historic and iconic building and bringing it back into use. Not only will this funding revitalise the Plaza but will ensure it can be enjoyed for many other generations to come.”

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