Electric Motors, Regeneration and Relevance

We’re almost reaching the end of our journey here.

Each and every restoration project that we take on is more than just an opportunity to bring life back to a previously unloved building.

We live in a society where ‘new’ things are often prized over older ones. Nowhere is this shift in perception more noticeable than in the mercurial commercial centres of our towns and cities.

In the last decade, there has been an increased focus on rapidly modernising shopping districts, leading to the abandonment of the faded shopping malls of the mid-90s and the adoption of more Utopian commercial centres, that favour wide spaces and natural light over traditional polished floors and confined spaces.

These new shopping areas are often a boon to the city, however their construction will always prove to be a detriment to someone.

The victims of these developments will often be the independent business owners and, unfortunately, the run-down cinemas. Suddenly forced onto the periphery of the public’s interest, these businesses have the choice of either slowly fading into obscurity or completely restructuring their brand.

We’ve found with our current project that sometimes it’s best to take an establishment in a completely new direction, for the good of the business as well as the people that will have the opportunity to visit it.

Our team have finished sourcing the necessary parts and pieces to bring this traditional cinema back to life once more.

The site now functions as it should do. A number of electric motors have been fitted to shift the plush new curtains that were fitted last week and the final parts have been found to bring the Philips DP70 Projector back into working order, but our work’s far from done yet! Now that the place is functional, it’s up to our Programs and Acquisition team to make the business relevant and unique enough to attract cinema goers back inside.

The entertainment industry is a crowded market place. When cinemas first started to populate our landscape in the late 20s and mid-30s, there was not much to compete with them. Of course, there was radio, football and, for most men, with feet propped and pipe puffing, the ever present newspaper – but nothing could really compare with the sheer novelty of cinema in those times.

Things are a little different in today’s day and age. Who could have predicted that the television screens, that wormed their way into the homes of Great Britain in the 50s, would find a way of miniaturising and resting in our pockets, an ever present form of distraction?

With the theatre slowly reaching a point where our construction crews can take a step back, the task at hand is to once more make this cinema a relevant and attractive option to the paying public. We need to seek out past patrons of the cinema as well as reach out to new ones.

In real terms, this means identifying our target demographics and finding an effective method of reaching out to these people and letting them know that there is a new alternative for their movie trips – one that will take them away from their digital worlds and sharp shopping districts and back into an analogue realm of rich technicolor that they might have forgotten existed.…

More Than Just A Trip To The Cinema

A new kind of event is on the rise and it’s showing cinemas how to get people excited about movies again.

Cinema is one of the unifying cultural standards that has the power to bring together all kinds of people, no matter how disparate their origins. Cultural landmark films, such as Titanic, Grease and The Matrix are revered today (despite their age) because of the power they had to inspire and influence so many people upon their release.

These classic films have now found a new lease of life, being re-screened within the context of innovative events that allow fans to relive their favourite movies on the big screen through a different perspective.

Although we’re firm in the belief that any trip to the cinema has the potential to be a life affirming experience – depending on the quality of the film and the state of the cinema – there’s a new kind of movie experience that is increasing in popularity and it’s giving the ‘standard’ night at the movies a run for it’s money.

The Drive-in Cinema

It might well be a cliche in and of itself, that is associated with the American genres of Midnight Movies and Grindhouse cinema, but the Drive-in Cinema is starting to make waves in the UK. So much of our cinematic culture is influenced by the States, it only makes sense that we should start to adopt this distinctively retro tradition as well.

Taking advantage of balmy summer nights; events companies are making a killing setting up temporary cinemas in wide open spaces and showing classic films that are guaranteed to draw in big crowds. It’s a new way to experience movies that makes you feel like you’re almost part of one!

The Movie Experience

Each and every film is a cult favourite for a reason. Whether it’s an iconic outfit or a particularly memorable set – it’s often these physical markers of a film that will make them endure: think the Cantina in Star Wars.

Companies like Secret Cinema are now capitalising on the ambience of cult hits such as Bladerunner, The Lost Boys and Alien, by creating tailor-made, one-off experiences based on these iconic films. Set in breathtakingly unusual venues and featuring hired actors in authentic costumes, fans of these films can enjoy re-watching them whilst being immersed in a simulacrum of the movie world.

The Orchestral Movie Night

Often, it’s the soundtrack for a movie that sets it apart from it’s competitors. How thrilling would the opening for Jaws really be without John Williams’ pulsating score? Whilst it’s always fun to re-watch these classics, without the iconic music they might not be as enjoyable.

Touring orchestras have recognised the love people have for music in cinema and have started to perform entire scores alongside screenings of classic films. Most recently, the world of Harry Potter has been brought to life with a live orchestra accompanying a touring screening, giving Potter fans an excuse to get lost in their favourite world once more and share an unforgettable experience.

In order for cinemas to remain current and sustain ticket sales, we think it’s important for them to expand their programming to include these kinds of events, in order to foster a real sense of community within their establishment and create exciting moments, for their visitors to enjoy.

The Restoration Business

We’re in the business of resurrection here at the Regal Group.

The very act of restoring the faded cinemas and theatres of the world is, in itself, a task that involves dredging up long lost techniques of the past.

Whenever we take on a new project, we have to involve ourselves in a variety of methods in order for us to be able to assess the condition of the build as it stands and get a clear idea of what we need to do.

In some ways the task of restoring an entire building is not too dissimilar to renovating a classic car.

An expert in, say, Porsche 928 parts for restoration, would need to be just as well versed in how the particular parts of a certain model of a 911 fit together as we would an outdated make of projection system. Just like the historically minded mechanic, we would need to source discontinued spares to ensure that our own machine ran as smoothly as it did when it was first built.

We’ve got our work cut out at the moment.

The entire team is tackling a project that has us working round the clock to renovate a dilapidated cinema in time for it’s grand re-opening in December.

Early Cinema architecture here in the UK was heavily influenced by the grandiose designs of the Theatre and Music Hall traditions. Wanting to attract large audiences and instil them with a similar sense of wonder that they would have had at a traditional live action show, the designers of these early Cinemas focused on recreating the intricate plaster gilding and using similar thick, velvet drapes to evoke a sense of luxury and wealth.

As the Cinema quickly started to overtake the Theatre as the most popular form of Entertainment for the paying public; mass production of cinemas forced architects to think more pragmatically about their designs. This led them to abandoning the grandiose nature of Theatre in favour of the Art-Deco design that defines some of the most iconic cinemas in the world, such as Shanghai’s Cathay Cinema and the UK’s Odeon Cinema in Birmingham (closed in 1962, but surviving today as a Bingo Hall).

Despite the ornate nature of American Art-Deco cinemas, the form of the style that British architects adopted from the 50s onwards is a reflection of the speed that they were required to work at, as well as the limited budgets they were stuck with. Grand and austere in their own way; these buildings stand out from the ugly concrete tower blocks of the time.

For this particular project, our work has primarily been focused on replacing the outdated projection gear in the single screen theatre and reupholstering the entire building.

Footfall is a major contributor to a feeling of disrepair in cinemas and this case is no exception.

Many of these ex-Art Deco buildings have had their original carpets replaced with cheap alternatives – usually a decision made by margin-wary owners. Our first suggestion was to reinstate these thick lush carpet. They might well cost more and be tougher to clean, but they last much longer than the cheap stuff and they look gorgeous. A similar approach will be taken to the seats, which have certainly seen better days.

As far as projection gear goes, we’re currently on the hunt for a 70mm projector, similar to one that would have originally been used in this place. The popularity of this format is on the rise and we’ve convinced the owners to invest the time and money in tracking one down.

All we have to do is find the parts and piece one together…

Two Theatres We Lost In The Blitz

Two Theatrical Establishments That Were Never Recovered

Our work in the Theatre and Cinema industries often finds us travelling to London, a veritable graveyard of forgotten theatres and cinemas.

Although it’s often tempting to cite the changing habits of the paying public as the reason for the decline and eventual closure of such storied entertainment establishments as the Crouch End Hippodrome (now a Virgin Health Club) and the East Ham Palace Theatre (demolished in 1958) – it would be remiss of us to forget the massive amount of destruction that the targeted bombing campaign known as The Blitz, wreaked on the city.

Over 32,000 civilian lives were claimed during the 8-month bombing campaign that saw nearly as many bombs dropped across a number of major industrial cities. However, the targets of the bombs were not strictly kept to industrial locations. In the face of a resilient enemy, Adolf Hitler made a concerted effort to also attack the places where Brits would be relaxing – hoping to create terror amongst a population that were still set on enjoying themselves during the most deadly world conflict in history.

These three theatres did not survive The Blitz, but their legacies and stories still live on today:

The Holborn Empire

Like many of London’s Theatres, The Holborn Empire was inaugurated on the site of a former Music Hall. Once known as the Royal Holborn Theatre of Varieties, the Empire was reopened in late January 1906, after costing its owners £30,000 in renovations. This was no small expense for the time and, upon it’s opening, journalists praised the lavish design and materials used in it’s construction.

On the nights of the 14th and 15th October, London very nearly lost two icons. Bombs fell over the Holborn area, including a time-delayed bomb that lodged itself in the roof of the building. Many ‘duds’ were dropped at the time and there was a discussion as to whether or not to continue performances. In the end, stage icon Vera Lynn moved her show to the Palladium – whilst the Holborn Empire was obliterated in a second wave.

 

Queen’s Hall

Perhaps better remembered than the Holborn Empire, the Queen’s Hall, with it’s 2500 capacity was the capital’s principal venue. The building was opened in 1893 and hosted The Proms from 1895 right up to it’s untimely destruction in 1941. Although criticised for it’s uninspired design and uncomfortable seating arrangement, the Hall was famed for it’s excellent acoustics.

Thanks to The Proms bringing classical music to thousands of Londonders for a nearly 50-year tenure, the loss of the Hall during the Blitz was mourned greatly. For decades after committees lobbied for the rebuilding of the Hall, but the decision was made that the construction of a new hall would inevitably take away too much custom from competing halls that had taken up the slack. Today, The Proms are held in The Royal Albert Hall.

Despite the loss of these establishments, it’s safe to say that their spirit lives on in the dozens of other theatres that litter the West End and further reaches of London. 

Retrofitting Yesterday’s Cinemas: Converters and Curtains

The technology of cinemas has come on leaps and bounds in the last few decades.

Usually a key part of most of our briefs, when taking on a cinema restoration, is to somehow retain the spirit of the existing picture house, whilst fitting it with the kind of new, flashy technology that the 21st Century cinema-goer expects.

This constant push-pull between old world and new is what makes our jobs so interesting at every level.

People don’t like to say it, but what they really want out of a cinema is unadulterated nostalgia. You can see it in the constant stream of sequels and reboots that somehow find their way onto our multiplex screens every year. The films that have regularly brought in the biggest crowds over the last few years have either been direct sequels to movies that were released a few months ago, or they’re remakes of properties that were released decades ago.

Think: Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Fast and Furious, James Bond. As much as there are always a wealth of new movies, based on new concepts, that are released each year; the movies that are keeping the big cinema chains afloat are the multi-picture franchise tent poles that find a way of tapping into the inner child of all of us.

What’s the secret to the success of these films? Is it the returning cast members? Is it the familiarity of the setting? Or, perhaps, is it the comforting ambience of an old loved thing that’s been revamped with the very best technology?

We’re inclined to think the latter.

A large part of the work that our technical team sets out to achieve is often as simple as replacing light bulbs.

Old cinemas are full of charm and often quirky in design, however they are also, usually, riddled with inefficiencies. The 70mm theatre we’re currently working on is no exception.

Although the theatre is technically functional now – the projector and seats were fitted a few weeks back – the building is still some way off being complete. After all, there’s a lot more to the cinema experience than just a comfy seat and a beautifully projected movie…

When we’re asked to prepare a tender for a restoration job, we’re always sure to inform the owners that we don’t do anything by half measures. If you’ve got an old rundown cinema, then simply reupholstering the seats is not going to solve all your problems.

Every system in the building should be overhauled, so that the cinema experience is completely revamped for your consumer.

That means installing new lighting systems, replacing ac-dc power supplies, servicing sound systems and even re-thinking the concessions stands.

When your customer comes in, after a 6-month renovation period, you should be able to proudly show them how much has changed, rather than leave them guessing as to which part of the cinema has received special attention.

We are of the belief that vising the cinema should always be a special occasion. These are times that should be cherished and remembered. They should never be humdrum or routine – they should be familiar, at the same time as being fresh new and new.

Just like your favourite blockbuster returning for another crack at box office glory.

Case Study: The Granada Cinema, Woolwich

From Cinema to Bingo Hall to Cathedral

In our first case study, we’re going to look at the history of a building once described as ‘The Most Romantic Theatre Ever Built’.

In the late 30s, the world of live entertainment was undergoing a transition. Up until this point, the British paying public had been getting by on a mixed diet of bawdy show tunes in packed out Music Halls and more serious theatrical performances in traditional theatre spaces. However, with landmark films such as Chinatown Nights and Hitchcock’s Blackmail, the era of the ‘talkies’ had well and truly come – bringing with it the adoration of thousands around the country, as well as the demand for grander cinemas to project what was fast becoming the most popular form of entertainment media in the country.

Woolwich’s Granada Cinema is a quintessential example of early Art Deco design. Unrestricted by the budgetary restraints that would hold back future architects in the wake of the Second World War; the Granada might appear somewhat civic at first glance, but one step inside is enough to prove otherwise.

Everything about the Granada Cinema was designed to glorify the performances of the time. The developers wanted visitors to associate visiting the Granada with a religious experience, as such they hired Theodore Komisarjevsky to design the grand Gothic interiors.

Komisarjevsky initially made his fame in his home country of Russia as a famous director of musical directors. Despite the popularity of his productions, Theodore was soon to flee Moscow as the secret police of the Soviet Regime were unhappy with the level of fame that he was achieving.

After a brief stop in Paris, he headed to London where he directed Prince Igor at Covent Garden.

This debut on the London theatrical scene was met with rapturous acclaim.

Londoner’s found his attention to detail and authenticity in replicating Russian life to be second to none and soon the young director (just 26 at the time) found his talents in much demand.

Theodore was a versatile artistic mind. His experiences as a young man in pre-Soviet Russia, a country that was under the thrall of the Russian Orthodox Church up until his departure from the country, left a lasting impact on the work that he created in his long and varied life.

Construction on ‘the most romantic theatre ever built’ began in 1936 and the building was open officially in 1937. With a capacity of 2,434, it was the largest of it’s kind by a long shot and it’s extravagant architecture, that included a ‘Hall of Mirrors’ and a gallery of Renaissance style paintings, made it stand out as one of the most elaborately decorated theatres in the country.

In response to criticism over the building’s likeness to a cathedral, Komisarjevsky wrote this:

‘If there are a few grumblers who think that a “church style” doesn’t suit a theatre, I’d like to point out to them that not only during the Gothic period in Europe, but before it in the East and after it in the Renaissance and Baroque times on the continent, the architectural decorations of churches did not differ greatly from those of places of amusement.’

The Granada’s tenure as London’s grandest theatre space was not to last indefinitely, though. Despite drawing in a sold-out crowd for music concerts, including the infamous Beatles/Orbison Tour of 1963, business dropped off during the 60s, with the hall being primarily used for Bingo up until the 2011 when it was bought by Christ Faith Tabernacle Churches.

The Pentecostal Church spent thousands renovating the lavish interiors, replicating the original lighting and commissioning carpets from the company that had designed the originals in 1937. Although you can no longer describe the Granada as a theatre, it has retained it’s grand theatrical look and you can argue that it still fulfils it’s original purpose as seen by it’s designer:

‘…to attract people, to offer them not only rows of pews in which to say their prayers but romantic relaxation and artistic pleasure amid surroundings of hope, colourful beauty and harmony.’