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years as the downturn in admissions
began to bite. It is therefore all the more
important to retain what survives. This is
what our listing project is designed to
achieve. In general terms statutory listing
works, and owners of redundant cinemas
find new uses for them. Bingo has been
the great saviour of very large auditoria in
run down suburbs with no possibility of a
community or some other arts use. The
Granada, Tooting for example retains its
splendid interiors but much of the
atmosphere has been lost through taking
the stage into the auditorium and raising
the light levels so that the public are able
to see their game cards.
More intractable cases include the
Rialto, Coventry Street in the West End
which has been ‘dark’ for almost nine
years. The rent for such a gilt-edged site
seems to preclude films and a scheme for
conversion to a shopping arcade was
wisely rejected by the Westminster City
Council. The Rialto has no backstage
space at all otherwise live theatre use
might be the answer. The problem must
be addressed soon as the interior
decorations are suffering from dampness
not helped by the ground floor being
pressed into service for site works
(including concrete mixers) for the
alterations to the Trocadero complex on
the other side of Rupert Street.
Occasionally in historic areas we find a
reluctance by the local planning authority
to take a listed cinema seriously. A
building so obviously recent is treated as
devoid of interest and regarded as a ‘lung’
in which to contemplate redevelopment
within a sea of Georgian or older
‘respectable’ buildings. One example
concerns a remarkable interior designed
in 1929 to complement its adjacent
genuine medieval foyer. Other
comparable interiors in the same style (of
which there were few) have vanished.
This leaves this auditorium unique both
here and abroad. Consent has been
granted and unless the owners change
their mind it is likely to be hideously
subdivided despite it being listed Grade
II* and within the curtilage of a scheduled
ancient monument. Reversible the
subdivisions might be, but when in our
lifetime? Representations to the planning
authority and the local MP (who has a
very direct connection with heritage
matters) fell on deaf ears. Only the
recession has saved this fine interior so
far.
Other case histories have been happier,
although sometimes inconclusive. The
Rex, Berkhamsted (1938, Grade II) is the
best remaining example of the cinema
work of the architect David Evelyn Nye.
Paradoxically, Nye went on in post-war
years to become a successful conservation
architect with the National Trust and
other organisations and only saw his
cinema designs for the small London
suburban chain of Shipman and King as a
meal ticket. His splendidly festive Art
Deco auditorium designed in
collaboration with the fibrous plaster
specialists Mollo and Egan survives,
although cut up into smaller spaces. It has
been derelict for some years although the
local authority defeated a demolition
application at a public inquiry with our
help. Now there is hope that the Rex
might become part of a conference centre
with the original appearance of the
building restored.
The Cinema Theatre Association is not
a statutory body but can advise with
applications on listed cinemas, on their
contextual importance and suitable future
use.


Richard Gray is Chairman of the Cinema Theatre
Association and also works for English Heritage. The
Association can be contacted at 40 Winchester Street,
London SWI V4NF Tel: 071 -834 0549.
Grosvenor, Rayners Lane, Harrow (Architect: Frederick
Bromidge, 1936). Listed Grade II*. The facade has
recently been totally restored after a period of neglect.
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