Saturday, January 4, 2014

Notting Hill Gate, London

What, has this thing appeared again tonight? (3)

My third New Year reprise, another post that has seen many visits since it was published, is a cinema that was originally a theatre. It celebrates the architects of the theatre-building boom of the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods, men who are admired as decorators, wielding putti, swags, and curvaceous light fittings with aplomb, but also au fait with sight lines, acoustics, and everything practical in the theatre from crush bars to crash bars. They probably deserve to be better known, and known for more than the boulevard baroque of their decorative style, but it was that, mostly, that I wrote about, back in September:

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.

1 comment:

Hels said...

Thank you. I am always fascinated by Victorian theatres.

In Hobart the architect John Lee Archer was asked to make the new Theatre Royal gorgeous. This building was opened to the public in 1837. And Ballarat’s Her Majesty’s Theatre was completed by 1875. Both were rich on the inside, but rather classical and free from applied decoration on the outside. [I am assuming for the moment later renovations did not change the original plans substantially].

Your theatre, The Coronet in Notting Hill Gate, wasn’t built until 1898 so we are not talking about exactly the same era. But the putti, swags and curvaceous light fittings lifted The Coronet’s applied decoration to another level.

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