The Aaben: gone but not forgotten

Unless you’re a film, cinema or architecture buff, the name ‘The Aaben’ probably won’t mean a lot, if anything, to you.

But, from when it opened in 1928 as the York until it closed its doors in 1991, to the residents of Hulme it came to be more than just a cinema, it became a key focus of community life.

© Greater Manchester County Record Office

To look at, The Aaben was never going to win any prizes, but it won the hearts of people living in the area.

But how it looked and what it was called is not really all that important. What’s really important is what it stood for.

It stood for the community.

Originally, it gave people a reason to get up, go out and meet up with others, to sit down and enjoy the latest Hollywood talkie.

Then, in 1969, it got converted to a four-screen cinema – one of the many multi-screen complexes that were sprouting up all over the country at the time.

We won’t mention that, for the two years before this, it had been a bingo hall.

The Aaben changed its name to reflect its new style – and the imaginative name they came up? The Unit 4 Cinemas, of course.

It changed hands again in the mid-1970s and, obviously, it had to change its name again, and no prizes for guessing that it returned to being The Aaben again.

And while it still served the community, the films it showed reflected the changing nature of that community.

Gone were the Hollywood mainstream titles (although the better ones still got shown) to be replaced by independent and ‘art’ films that appealed to the ‘alternative’ lifestyles of a growing number of Hulme residents, and to the students who lived and studied not too far away from the cinema.

During this ‘arthouse’ period and among those students attracted to what was being screened was Mark Kermode, who was living in Hulme while studying in Manchester, and who was a regular visitor to The Aaben. Visits that must have fanned the flames of his passion for films and helped put him on the path to becoming a cinema critic.

While it was popular amongst its regular visitors, their numbers couldn’t keep the business going, so The Aaben finally closed its doors in 1991.

At a time when renting VHS tapes almost killed off going to the cinema altogether, keeping open a large, old building that was attracting ever-dwindling numbers just made no commercial sense at all.

They’d tried to find a buyer for The Cinetheque (as it was known for the last year it was open, and another great name…) proved impossible.

Standing empty, it very soon became derelict.

And it got very derelict, very quickly thanks to vandals and thieves who stripped out anything of any value.

It was eventually knocked down in 1993 to make way for new housing as part of Hulme’s ‘City Challenge’ regeneration programme.

If you visit where The Aaben stood on Jackson Crescent, you’ll find homes built under “City Challenge”. Just around the corner is One Manchester housing association’s, £23 million ‘Hulme Living’ development project, The Aaben.

And while there may never be another cinema in the area, the intention is that the 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and 3 bedroom townhouses and the open, communal spaces, that make up both the Baker Place and The Aaben elements of the project, will go some way to giving them the same sense of community that The Aaben cinema did almost 90 years ago.

Properties will be available from September and all tenancies starting in September and October will get their first months rent half price.

If you want to find out more about The Aaben development the show apartment will be open between 15:00 and 20:00 on Thursday the 3rd August.

Or you can visit www.townhouse-lettings.co.uk/aaben/

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