Wales

Port Talbot Plaza: The cinema being reclaimed by nature

The overgrown seating
Image caption Trees have sprung up where cinema-goers once sat

At first glance it appears to be a long abandoned garden, but this is in fact what remains of a much-loved cinema.

The Plaza in Port Talbot, built in the 1930s, closed in 1999 and nature has slowly reclaimed the building.

For many people who grew up in the south Wales town and surrounding areas, it is a special place.

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Media caption'The old cinema looks like a scene out of Jurassic Park'

Local boys who went on to become Hollywood stars, Richard Burton, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen, once watched films there.

But in the 20 years since it closed its doors the local community has watched the once beautiful building with its art deco facade fall into disrepair.

Image caption A red velvet curtain still hangs in the old auditorium

For Alex Jones, the former owner and projectionist, the building holds many memories.

He watched the cinema become quieter and quieter over many years until eventually it was no longer sustainable.

He recalled the final night: "Every show had been really quiet and it was really demoralising. We were sort of fading away to black that last week.

Image caption Decades of dust and debris adorn the dilapidated entrance

"I didn't see the last show go in [so] I thought I would go and have a last look [in the auditorium].

"There were hundreds [of people] in... suddenly everybody had a last nostalgia trip."

The final film was DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt.

'Sobbing in the audience'

The end credits rolled to the Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston soundtrack When You Believe.

"It always chokes me up when I hear it now," said Mr Jones.

Image caption A freezer that once held ice cream still stands in the foyer

"People would always leave during the credits... but everyone stayed, nobody left and it was really quite choking to see it. I think they stayed to see that curtain close for the last time.

"The curtain shut and you could hear people sobbing in the audience. People were taking snapshots - with their instamatic cameras back in those days.

"It was quite a nostalgic moment and everyone was quite choked.

"I never expected that it would be such a poignant moment for people round here, the final night.

"I'm glad it didn't die with a whimper, it went out with a bit of glory."

New lease of life

The council bought the building in 2009 and now plans for it to be changed into a community hall have been submitted to the planning committee for consideration.

If they are approved, the rear section of the Grade II-listed building, which houses the auditorium and stage, will be demolished.

Image copyright LDRS
Image caption The facade has been a Port Talbot landmark since the '30s

A new structure over the same footprint would replace it - with the hope of including a 250-seater hall, cafe, meeting rooms and gym - while the frontage would be restored to its former glory.

Mr Jones is thrilled the building could be used by the community again.

"It's a really iconic building, it's striking from the outside, it's got a beautiful look to it and to have it lit up again, whatever it's going to be, it will be nice to see it again."

Image copyright Reuters/BBC
Image caption It was the local cinema for actors Sir Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton, who grew up in the area

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