’5 Cinemas We Wish We Could Have Saved’ by Alice
The Picture House by the Sea by Holly Hepburn combines four fantastic novellas about The Palace at Polwhipple, an art deco cinema in Cornwall. The cinema is long past its heyday and survives off the back of Ferrelli’s, the family run ice-cream concession in the foyer. When the owner of Ferrelli’s breaks his leg, his granddaughter Gina comes to the rescue – in more ways than one. Dismayed by the state of the cinema she remembers so fondly from childhood holidays, she is determined to give The Palace the makeover it deserves.
To celebrate the release of this magical book, I’ve been looking into cinemas from the past that I wish could have been saved. It turns out there are dozens of sad cinema stories, but I’ve narrowed them down to the five that made me wish I could jump back in time and take on Gina’s role as renovator and saviour.
1. Empire Theatre – Ealing
This cinema opened in 1934 as the Ealing Forum Theatre. Since then it has been through many names including ABC, Cannon, MGM , UGC and Cineworld and finally settling on Empire. The building was assessed for listing by English Heritage in 2003, but sadly it was turned down and closed its doors for the final time in 2008. The building itself was demolished in 2009, all but the art deco frontage, which has been left as a ghostly facade supported by scaffolding.
However, there seems to be a happy ending on its way for this sad shell of a cinema. Permission has been given for a brand new Ealing Filmworks development. The development will include an 8-screen cinema, restaurants and shops. The most exciting part though is that the current frontage will be kept as the entrance! This development could open its doors as soon as 2018, but until then, Ealing’s Classic Cinema Club will be showing films every Friday in their own makeshift cinema in Ealing Town Hall.
2. Angel Cinema
This beautiful grade II listed building designed by H. Courtenay Constantine is now… a Starbucks!
But once upon a time, in 1911, it was the Angel Cinema, before becoming an Odeon in 1963 and eventually closing in 1972.
This is not the only cinema that was designed by H. Courtenay Constantine. The same architect designed the Tower Cinema in Peckham, which opened in 1914 and was once listed as ‘one of the three towers to visit in London’ next to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge! Sadly, this beautiful cinema also closed in 1956.
3. Plaza Cinema – Camden
This cinema was originally a bakery and was converted into an Electric Theatre in 1909, making it one of the oldest cinemas in the country. Its closure caused outrage in 1994 when rent increases from the landlord forced the owners to throw in the towel.
4. The Capitol – Forest Hill
This is yet another grade II listed building that once housed a cinema. The cinema was open from 1929 to 1973 and, although I am sad that I never got to see this lovely building as a cinema, I can’t say I’m too disappointed by what it has now become. This building has been a Wetherspoons pub since 2001 and, as J.D. Wetherspoon loves his historical buildings, what this building used to be is no secret. The entrance is decked out as a ticket booth and the bar runs the length of where the cinema screen once was.
Other old cinemas that have been converted into Wetherspoons pubs include The Coronet in Holloway (which was also once known as The Savoy Cinema) and The Opera House, which was one of the very first Wetherspoons pubs and has kept the stage intact.
5. The Ritz – Tunbridge Wells
This 1,600 seat Ritz was once known as Kent’s most luxurious cinema.
It was definitely an unusual cinema. When Classic acquired it in 1972, they added a third screen in The Florida restaurant. As this room was not originally intended to be used as a cinema, the films had to be projected through the ceiling using a periscope. It is rumoured that David Bowie’s parents met in this very restaurant.
This cinema was also the first non-multiplex in the country to have a Pick ‘n’ Mix stall and one of the first to show popular films simultaneously on multiple screens.
Although the site is still empty, there is a development in progress for a complex called The Belvedere, which promises to house a ‘boutique cinema’ so fingers crossed!
So those are the five cinemas I personally wish could have been saved. If there are any cinemas you wish had never closed or if you have any fond memories of the cinemas mentioned, please tweet them with the hashtag #picturehousebythesea.