Former Liverpool music hall could reopen as a theatre in £5m project

Garston Empire opened in 1915 and once played host to stage and screen legend Gracie Fields, later becoming a cinema and a bingo hall. Tony McDonough reports

Tony Murray
Entrepreneur Tony Murray outside Garston Empire


A former Liverpool music hall that once played host to stage and screen legend Gracie Fields could be brought back to life as a theatre.

Garston Empire was opened in 1915 as a music hall and was later converted to a cinema,  welcoming packed audiences during the years between the two world wars – a golden era of cinema-going.

It screened its last movie in 1961 and, like so many suburban picture houses across Merseyside, it was turned into a popular bingo hall. It closed its doors for the final time almost two decades ago and has been unused ever since.

Local backing

Now local entrepreneur Tony Murray, owner of the nearby Masonic pub, is leading a £5m project to transform the venue and return it to its original purpose as a theatre. He has the backing of other business people and local residents.

They held an informal meeting at the Pig Shed Café in Garston where they heard Tony outline his vision to return the Empire, which has been on the Theatres Trust ‘at risk’ register for seven years, to its “glory days”.

They have now formed the The Friends of Garston Empire (FOGE) and the steering group includes Merseyside theatrical agent and producer, Les Bather, as well as Val Colvin, Melissa Waddington, Tony Griffin, Phil Fitzpatrick and 16-year-old Cian Ryan – a student of LIPA 6th form who already has a wealth of experience in theatre and TV. Offers of support and backing are also flooding in from celebrities, local entertainers and theatre groups.

Garston Empire
Interior of Garston Empire which could become a theatre once again. Picture by Ken Roe


Roaring success

Recalling his days as a bingo caller at the Hackney Empire in London, Tony said: “The idea just came to me in a flash one day. I know that they have turned the Hackney Empire into a roaring success and I thought we could do the same thing, if not better, with the Garston Empire.

I put a post on Facebook and I’ve been overwhelmed with support. It has just taken-off like a rocket.”

Stage one of the scheme is to secure local ownership, or a lease on the premises, but early estimates suggest the total cost of refurbishment, to the highest standards, would be around £5m.

Tony added: “We are already in negotiations with the owner, who is sympathetic to the idea of retaining the building and re-opening it as a theatre. The Empire is right in the centre of Garston and we are determined to see it turned into the resource and the great focal point that it is capable of becoming. 

When it’s back in operation The Empire can be the driver to help Garston re-invent itself as the vibrant shopping centre that it always was.  There is a great sense of optimism about the place. 

“There is groundswell of support, not only locally in Garston, but from influential organisations in Liverpool and nationwide. We are at the start of what is clearly a big challenge, but with the level of backing that we have got I’m confident we can make it happen.”

Click here to see the FOGE Facebook page

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