Gaiety Cinema on City Road. Credit: Eoin McCaul

Rat-infested old Roath cinema that’s become a decaying eyesore 18 years after it shut down

The old Gaiety Cinema on City Road has been abandoned since 2006

RAT-INFESTED, covered in graffiti and with weeds the size of trees growing out of it, the Gaiety Cinema has been left to decay for nearly 18 years.

Once the home of a theatre, cinema, bowling, alley and bingo hall, it’s now half hidden behind hoardings as people who live and work in the area wait for the next chapter in the saga.

They are awaiting its demolition to make way for a new development of flats.

Osman Zaman, owner of next-door Chaiiology, has been in business there for four months and says he can’t wait to see the back of it.

He said: “I’m happy to see it go because hopefully when they build flats there, there’ll be no more rats. Huge, huge rats too – I see them all the time on CCTV.”

Work on tearing it down was due to start last month, according to a planning application submitted to Cardiff council, but Mr Zaman said he’s seen no-one at the site since January.

Cardiff Council stated that the timeline was down to Draycott Group, the developer, but The Cardiffian has been unable to get in touch with them.

Bats have even been found nesting in the building, as stated in the same application, and these must be safely removed, which may delay demolition work further as a licence is needed to do this. 

Getting a bat licence could take up to 40 days and no application has been made at the time of publication.

This means the decaying building could be left standing for more than a month.

A company called Bonnes Mares bought the building after it shut down and it has been left empty ever since, falling beyond the point of repair.

People living and working nearby are fed up with the state of the building.

Even those who are sad to see such iconic buildings come down are fed up with this eyesore and potential health hazard.

Father Irving Hamer, who has been the vicar of nearby St Martin’s Church for 25 years, said: “Why did it go into such an appalling state? They have got away with murder just letting it rot.

“Over the last 20 years it’s been redundant. Very few people around now can actually remember the theatre – no-one really has a care anymore.

“But you can’t let the past disappear all the time. Buildings like the Mackintosh or the Gate Arts Centre show what can be done – what I call creative reimagining.”

Mackintosh Community Centre used to be Roath Castle and still bears the castle-like architectural features on its roof.

Mackintosh Community Centre and Sports Club in Roath. Credit: Eoin McCaul

Father Irving said: “The Gate was a building that could have fallen into absolute disrepair like the Gaiety.”

First opening in 1912, the Gaiety Cinema screened silent films for an audience of up to 800.

It became a bingo hall in 1961 until closing in 1994.

Lying empty for a few years, the Gaiety was next given new life as Spin – a bowling alley, restaurant and bar. 

Open from 2001 to 2006, the Spin logo remains up across the front of the building.

An anarchist group turned the building into a squat in 2012, but were soon evicted by the police.

An evaluation of the building in 2014, found that the piping had been ripped out, the walls were starting to crumble in and a floor was covered in needles.

The Gaiety Theatre on City Road. Credit: Eoin McCaul

The cinema continued to rot as the building next door was knocked down and the eight-storey City Heights student flats built in its place.

Plans for Gaiety House, another block of student flats on the site of the Gaiety, was submitted in 2019 and met with a flood of objections from local residents.

A demolition application for the building was approved in 2018 but allowed to expire before another application was granted in December 2023.

The current developers, Draycott Group who built neighbouring City Heights, aim to transform it into affordable flats.