There is one more feature of the site in which the Fire Station and Empire stand that is worthy of mention. From the Empire and neighbouring Dun Cow the view across to the south side of the High Street is an astonishingly green one. Here the Sunderland minster church and its periphery give the overall impression of an historic and attractive village right at the very heart of the city. It is an impressive haven that perfectly complements the buildings across the street.
Today, as in times past, Sunderland’s minster sits within a substantial ‘village green’ a veritable haven for Sunderland that it is usually referred to as a town park. Other than the minster the green’s only occupant are the rustic looking almshouses of 1863 that have a history dating to 1727 when they were founded by Jane Gibson, widow of a notable Sunderland merchant.
The green is presently bordered on its east side by Crowtree Leisure Centre, the one obvious modern intrusion but another reminder of the leisure-focused role of this site. The centre recalls the crows that once nested in the tree tops of a vinery that stood close by near Vine Place. Bordering the green directly opposite the Dun Cow is a group of cottage-like shops in Church Lane that add much charm to the site. To the west the green is bordered by a hotel, a Travelodge of 2002 alongside St Michael’s Way. This modern thoroughfare separates the western side of the green from the broad complex of a village of a quite different kind – the City Campus of Sunderland University.
Collectively the theatre, pubs, green, university and neighbouring buildings have created a unique site of remarkable Edwardian buildings bordered by an ancient village at the terminus of a busy High Street. It is a site which has the potential to once again become the lively cultural heart for entertainment in one of Britain’s most historically influential northern cities.