A Short History of the
"One of London's two finest surviving cinemas" - Andrew Gilligan, Evening Standard, 2008
Waltham Forest's EMD Cinema stands on a site which has provided entertainment and culture to local people for well over a century.
The original Victoria Hall opened during May 1887 to provide a venue for dances, concerts, meetings and plays. The site's long association with the movies began when it played host to one of London's first ever film shows in 1896, the year of cinema's birth. The original venue is believed to have been a haunt of the young Alfred Hitchcock who lived in nearby Leytonstone. Hitchcock's family were keen entertainment-lovers and it is inconceivable they would not have been regular visitors to the area's most popular venue.
The Victoria Hall was renamed The Victoria Picture Theatre when it was converted into the area's first dedicated full time cinema in 1907. In 1930 the Victoria Picture Theatre was purchased by the showbiz moguls Sidney and Cecil Bernstein of Granada Theatres, who decided to reinvent the site as their first modern 'Super Cinema' - and London's first Granada Cinema. Sidney Bernstein was a lifelong friend and collaborator of the adult Alfred Hitchcock with whom he would later form Transatlantic Pictures (a film company whose productions included Hitchcock's 'Rope' and 'Under Capricorn'). It may even have been Hitchcock's familiarity with the Walthamstow venue which alerted Bernstein to the potential of the site.
The architect of the Bernstein's new 2,697 seat Walthamstow cinema was Cecil Massey with flamboyant interior decorations by the world famous Russian director and designer Theodore Komisarjevsky. The cinema's lavish interior was inspired by a trip to the grand Alhambra Palace in Spain, resulting in the Granada's large foyer being designed in an elaborate 17th Century Baroque style with a marble floor and extravagant chandeliers while the main auditorium boasted colourful Moorish-inspired arches and grille-work. Sidney Bernstein insisted that the beautiful interior should be decorated with fresh flowers each day.
The cinema was built to present a mixture of films and live performances and was therefore equipped with an expensive purpose-built Christie cinema organ and first rate stage facilities.
Over the years the venue would play host to such entertainment legends as The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, The Walker Brothers, The Who, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison.
Following the success of their new venture the Bernstein brothers would open more than 50 further venues around the country but the Walthamstow site remained amongst their most consistently profitable and the only one to survive into the 21st Century as a working cinema.
The Bernstein's cinema chain proved to be so financially successful that the brothers were able to launch Granada Television in 1954, a channel which survives to this day.
The Walthamstow venue was remodelled as a more modest three-screen cinema in October 1973, reflecting the changing tastes of cinemagoers but still retaining all the architectural and decorative features for which it had become famous. The Granada was the only British venue which retained an original Christie cinema organ in its intended setting, helping to secure the building's reputation as a nationally important landmark for students and aficionados of motion picture history.
During the 1990s the venue changed hands several times and was variously known as the Walthamstow ABC and the Cannon Cinema as well as spending a brief spell under the ownership of Richard Branson's Virgin empire.
Following a series of mergers amongst cinema companies in the late1990s, the venue was eventually absorbed into the Odeon chain who soon found themselves with an excess of sites in the London area. As a result, Odeon began selling many of their cinema buildings.
In 2000 English Heritage awarded the cinema Grade 2*(star) Listed Building status in recognition of its outstanding architectural and cultural significance, placing it amongst the most important 8% of buildings in Britain.
Shortly afterwards, the venue was sold to businessman Mohan Sharma who renamed it the EMD Cinema. Unfortunately Odeon had sold the building with a restrictive agreement preventing the screening of English language films. This restrictive sales clause caused outrage amongst local people and led directly to the formation of the McGuffin Film Society to help restore the venue as a community-wide resource. In April 2001, Odeon management finally relented and the EMD Cinema was then able to screen any film and in any language.
Sadly, after 116 years as the area's flagship site for arts and entertainment, the building closed its doors to the public in 2003 when it was purchased by a controversial Brazil-based religious organisation called the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG).
The address of the EMD cinema is:
186 Hoe Street
images may be purchased as a set of postcards.
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