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Why Old Cinemas?
What is "Art Deco"?
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Please note that this site is just a pilot. More content will be added regularly.
The author of this site does not intend to infringe other people's copyrights. However, this site exists primarily as a comparison between cinemas today and themselves in their heyday. As such I have provided, wherever possible, thumbnail images taken from other websites of historical examples of the cinemas in the collection. These thumbnails are always clearly credited to the author and always link to the original owner's site.
I hope that site owners will enjoy any extra traffic that results from my use of these thumbnails. However, if you would rather that I removed them from my site, please email me and I will happily comply.
Before this site launches in full, I will endeavour to contact all content owners and specifically clear all uses of their material.
There are, of course, fans of all sorts of buildings. Churches and cathedrals are often particularly closely studied. There are also fans of particular architectural styles, such as Art Deco.
I don't find it at all bizarre that people should find old cinemas in particular worthy of especial interest. Particularly in the golden age of cinema building in the UK, in the 1930s, most cinemas were designed by renowned architects to be places in which to transport mass audiences out of their humdrum lives and into a world of dreams. The films themselves were of course a large part of this, but by designing striking buildings with awe-inspiring interiors, the cinema chains could instill a feeling of genuine excitement in their audiences before the programme even started.
In the 1970s, the major chains undertook refurbishments of their cinemas. Single screens housing 1,000 - 3,000 patrons were no longer profitable, so the screen was split into two or three (or sometimes more) smaller auditoria; even if the total new capacity was far below the original, the cinemas could remain competitive. As part of the doubling or tripling process, most original architectural features were destroyed or covered up. The main exceptions to this occurred where a cinema had fallen into independent hands: for competitive reasons, an independent might elect to retain the more interesting quirks of the original building.
Furthermore, as all the circuits moved into out-of-town multiplex exhibition, High Street cinemas became increasingly redundant. Sometimes they were converted to alternative uses; often they would be demolished. A quick glance at Cinema Treasures regularly yields yet another closure. In a period of just a few months, the Odeon York has closed (the last Odeon to bear the original Odeon logo); Odeon Middlesborough collapsed; the Old Empress in Manchester burnt down; and the Cannon Leeds was demolished.
So what? Who cares? I do, and I don't think I'm alone. These buildings were designed, one and all, for the sole purpose of making people happy. I think it's only right that we should grieve for them when they're gone.
From being a ubiquitous presence on the High Street of even the most modest provincial town, the cinema is suddenly an endangered breed.
I have to be very careful here. I use the term "Art Deco" very liberally on this site. Although a great many classic cinemas were built during the Art Deco period, that does not mean that they are all Art Deco in style. They might very well by Art Nouveau instead, or some other style entirely. Unfortunately, I'm not an architectural historian, so I tend to use "Art Deco" to describe anything that has a distinctly 1920s or 1930s flavour.
Indeed, the major circuits had in-house architects who developed very distinctive designs of their own, which could not be said to be Art Deco at all. For example, Odeon was into striking modernist buildings, often tiled in white or cream, and very often with a fin or tower. None of this is anything to do with whether or not it's in an Art Deco style.
According to its entry at Wikipedia, Art Deco is characterised by its use of particular materials (aluminium, stainless steel etc.) as much by the design of particular motifs (chevrons and sunbursts) and broader design ideas (stepped forms, sweeping curves).
Wikipedia also claims that Art Deco's apparent opulence made it ideal for cinema interiors, which is perhaps why it is so easy to characterise all cinemas of the period as Art Deco.
The Cinematopia collection comprises modern photographs taken by the site's author and family and friends, of cinema buildings generally built before the 1950s.
The author also owns a modest collection of old cinema ephemera such as vintage programmes, magazines and branded products.
The site's author is a film and cinema fan. Although not an expert in architecture or theatre design, research for this website has yielded a solid understanding of the evolution of the cinema theatre, as well as the history of the major circuits.
The author is a member of the Cinema Theatre Association.
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If you wish to contact me about my use of copyrighted images, please read the section on use of external material first.
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This page last updated 2nd March 2011.