Historic Kings Heath cinema gutted in early morning blaze
|Published: 17th September 2011 11:48|
The future of what was once a popular Kings Heath cinema looks more uncertain than ever after an early morning fire gutted the classic interior of the building and brought the ceiling crashing down.
More than fifty firefighters tackled the blaze on Kings Heath High Street.
Police on the scene were refusing to comment on the nature of the blaze, which caused the High Street to be closed and shops and flats evacuated early on Saturday morning.
The fire is understood to have started around 6.20 this morning. Damping down was continuing six hours later and much of the building declared unsafe to enter - although the High Street was reopened to traffic at around 10am.
Local resident Susan Oxley, whose flat is just metres from the side wall of the old Kings Heath cinema says she was woken by the sound of crackling as the fire took hold.
"Thick black smoke was belching out of the buidling and you could see the roof lifting," she said. "Then at about 8.15 the roof collapsed and made one hell of a bang."
As she spoke to AboutMyArea there was still smoke coming from the building and a piece of charred cinema floated past and landed by her back door.
"At first the firemen came round to tell us to close our windows, but when part of the side wall went they said we'd better get out!"
Shopkeepers arriving for business in the Parade found their shops and restaurant cordoned off and may not be open for business until later in the day.
Chris Smith from Nova Dry Cleaning says the place was taped off and surrounded by firefighters when she arrived at 8.30. "There was nothing we could do, so we all went to Costa Coffee to discuss what was going on," she said.
Fifty five firefighters tackled the blaze and many had to to wear breathing apparatus to enter the inferno. A Hazardous Substances Unit was also called in.
The former Kingsway Cinema and Gala Bingo Hall had been at the centre of a planning row recently. Attempts to reopen it as a restaurant and wedding venue had been blocked by Birmingham City Council planners, largely because of problems over traffic congestion and parking.
The Kings Heath cinema fire came as a shock for former resident Jon Chatfield, who now lives in the south of France.
"It's my first time back in the country for four years so I thought I'd visit my old local High Street - and I see this," he said. "I remember seeing films there as a kid."
Susan Oxley echoed the voices of many local people saying she would prefer the old Kingsway cinema turned into a music venue. She said it was such a shame it had stood empty and said the building had been frequently broken into in recent years. Around the back walls had been broken down where vandals had gained access to the derelict shell.