One of Belfast’s best-loved but nearly forgotten buildings, the Floral Hall has a long and illustrious history as a place of entertainment and romance. Built in the mid-1930s it is a beautiful modernist dance hall. As the city’s pre-eminent entertainment venue for over thirty five years, loves, romances and marriages were born here. Generations danced here, or in later years, came to see Pink Floyd, or the roller discos. Public affection is strong and is rooted in this social history.
Situated on the slopes of Cave Hill overlooking Belfast Lough, the building is today sited within the grounds of Belfast Zoo. When it was constructed, it formed the centrepiece of the Bellvue Gardens. These had been laid out by Belfast Corporation at the terminus of the Belfast tram lines. They were to be a destination attraction and were a way of encouraging people to use the trams.
Bellvue Pleasure Gardens played host to band performances, open-air dancing, concert parties, amusements and fireworks. They made such an impression that they were described as a”unique possession amongst the municipal corporations of the British Isles” and soon became known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In 1933 the Corporation added a small zoological collection, again hoping to increase use of the trams.
The first proposal to build a dance hall on the Bellvue site was made in 1933. Plans were drawn up and costed at £21,900 but the plan was abandoned for cost reasons. Within a year a dance hall was back on the agenda. Designed by D.W. Boyd, Floral Hall was built and furnished by the firm of J. & R. Taggart at a cost of £14,520.
Opened on May 4th 1936, with its blue and gold interior colour scheme, tangerine entrance hall, and seating capacity for 1000 people, the Floral Hall quickly become a hugely popular venue. Over 130,000 people used the building in 1947 alone. It continued to be a popular venue into the 1960s when show bands frequented the building on a weekly basis. People travelled from all over Northern Ireland to dance in the Floral Hall.
Work began on the new zoo site in 1974, by which time the Floral Hall had become a tired building. A decline in the popularity of dance halls in general, as well as the impact of “The Troubles,” meant that visitor numbers fell sharply. Proposals were raised to convert the Floral Hall into a restaurant and wedding venue in 1973 but it was never taken forward. The building subsequently closed shortly thereafter. Despite its key location, the building has been closed to the public since, being used occasionally as a store room for animal feed. Whilst needing considerable work it is easy to imagine the atmosphere of a Big Band on stage and the dance floor filled with revellers as you walk through the ticket booths into the main arena.
BBT has been in negotiations with Belfast City Council about the possibility of restoring Floral Hall to its former glory. Plans have progressed and Council is keen to see the building restored. Discussions are now centred on the possibility of providing a wedding and conference facility alongside an education facility for the zoo that would help with regeneration in north Belfast. In advance of this, the Trust is launching an oral history project to gather and document the memories associated with Floral Hall and to capture the public’s affection for the building.
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