Saturday, September 21, 2013
Notting Hill Gate, London
The Coronet, Notting Hill Gate, was once my local cinema. I must have passed it hundreds of times and have seen a few movies in it too, but it's a long while since I've actually looked at the building. Then, one day recently, I walked by as the morning sun was throwing its baroque plasterwork into delightful relief and I stopped and looked more closely. In truth, its design is a theatrical hybrid – a bit of Italian Renaissance (the arches in low relief), a lot of baroque (the swags, and much other detail), some non-specific classicism, some leaves that wouldn't be out of place on an Art Nouveau building.
It's theatrical to be sure, and the building was indeed designed originally as a theatre, in 1898. As early as 1916 is was converted to a cinema and a ready market for movies in West London has kept it going. I'd wondered whether it was by the architect Frank Matcham, who did so many highly ornate theatres that have kept me entertained over years, from London's vast Coliseum to Cheltenham's small but perfectly formed Everyman. It's not by Matcham, but by a designer who drank from the Matcham spring: W G R Sprague, himself a prolific architect of theatres in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Born in Australia and the son of an actress, Sprague seemed destined for the theatre. He worked for Matcham and for another theatre architect, Walter Emden, before teaming up with Bertie Crewe and designing theatres off his own bat.
The facades of the Coronet show off well what Sprague liked to do – to create what he referred to as 'the free classical form'. From the Aldwych to the Gielgud, Wyndham's to the Ambassadors, Londoners can sample his work, keeping their eyes diverted before the lights go down. The Coronet, lit up by the morning sun, is a shining example of his style.