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.’