A historic former picture house dubbed “the heart of Billingham” is set for a major facelift – and could soon be home to a swanky new restaurant.
Tees property specialists Mandale Group is investing £200,000 to completely re-shape one half of The Picture House, a much-loved building which sits on the corner of South View and Mill Lane in the town.
The developers have identified the site as a prime location for a new high-end restaurant to follow in the footsteps of several other retailers and a micropub, which have successfully established themselves within the 90-year-old structure.
Mandale Group originally purchased the property 40 years ago and converted the main part of the building into a snooker hall and bar.
But following the decline of snooker as a popular pub sport in recent years, the first floor has made way for a purpose-built fitness studio.
Meanwhile the ground floor – formerly the main entrance to The Picture House – is now home to micropub the Hog’s Head, which has already proved a smash hit with locals, as well as six other small businesses, creating a thriving hub of independent retailers.
Another side of the building has until recently been used as a car dealership, which has relocated to Stockton.
And Mandale Group’s head of property development Joe Darragh told Tees Business: “Now is the time for us to invest in this grand old building again, to give it a new lease of life and bring something new to Billingham.
“We’ve already had a lot of interest in the building for other purposes, but we felt it needed to be regenerated again and given a completely new direction, while also enabling the existing micropub there to expand, as it desperately needs more space due to its success.”
Part of Mandale’s refurbishment of The Picture House will create a new 2,500 sq ft facility with outside paving and seating areas.
“We think there’s a real market for a high-end restaurant here,” adds Darragh. “If you speak to a lot of people in Billingham, they have to go to Norton, Stockton or Middlesbrough for a nice meal.
“So this would fill a gap and would be an ideal location for an Indian, a Thai restaurant, a Chinese or a Tapas bar.”
Nicola Parsons opened the Hog’s Head micropub at the front of The Picture House 18 months ago, and now needs more space to expand.
“Weekends are really busy and it gets a bit tight, so we want to create a pool room and get a pool team going,” said the 38-year-old.
“The restaurant is a fantastic idea and I think it’ll be really good for the area. We don’t have a lot of restaurants here, it’s mainly takeaways, so the idea of having somewhere classy to sit down and eat a nice meal sounds really appealing to me and I know it has got a lot of local people talking.”
Parsons also says it’s pleasing that an important building with so much history is being preserved.
“It’s the heart of Billingham, everyone knows The Picture House,” she said. “It has been a lot of different things over the years but it’s really nice to see it staying open, and not being made into flats.
“The regulars love coming here and some of them remember coming here to watch films years ago. The stories I’ve heard from our regulars are brilliant. Some of them have had a mooch around and recall memories of coming here in their younger days, and we have memorabilia up on the walls so we never forget what this place used to be and the place it had in the community.
“Many pubs have closed in Billingham over the years but we’re seeing more open now so we’re seeing local people doing the pub crawls and staying local.
“This was definitely needed for this area of Billingham.”
The Picture House was opened in December 1928 and originally had a 28 feet wide proscenium. It was equipped with CinemaScope in 1955 and the proscenium was widened to 35 feet. It was later converted to a bingo hall before one half of the building was converted into a car dealership in the 1980s.
• Enquiries can be made to Joe Darragh on 07973 908599 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org