Friday, April 15, 2016

Essex road, London

The reel world

My recent trip to London found me within a couple of streets of Essex Road, so a short detour took me here. I knew there was a former cinema in the street, and had read that it was a good example of ‘Egyptian art deco’, but even this didn’t quite prepare me for this street frontage. Welcome to the former Carlton Cinema in all its glory. A fine work of 1930 by George Coles, an architect best known for the art deco cinemas he designed for Oscar Deutsch of the Odeon chain. Here, though, he was working for the independent cinema company C & R Theatres; the Carlton later became an ABC cinema, then a bingo hall, then a church.*

A vast expanse of white Hathernware ceramic cladding is given the Tutankhamun-accents that cinema (and also factory) designers loved in the late-1920s and early-1930s: elaborately-topped columns,† brightly coloured triangles, striped concave cornices rounding everything off at the top. Looking a little closer there are also decorative relief details around the window openings and a colourful zigzag strip running above the central row of windows.
I alluded to the boy-king Tutankhamun knowingly, because it’s said that the fashion for Egyptian decoration was given a boost by the opening of his tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. Egyptian was also attractive to cinema owners because it was seen as ‘exotic’, and the exotic, romantic, and otherwise unfamiliar and lavish were the kinds of look that they liked to cultivate when taking their customers to another world. Entering the ‘reel’ world of the movies usually entailed leaving the real world outside in the street. But for art deco cinema designers, facades like this were a way of advertising the exotic riches within, and giving even passers-by a taste of movie magic.

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*There’s more on the Carlton, Essex Road at the Cinema Treasures site, which reveals that the venue opened in 1930 with Harold Lloyd in Welcome Danger and closed in 1972 with Reg Varney in Mutiny on the Buses. O tempora o mores!

†Readers who click the factory link will see how the column tops on the Carreras tobacco factory in Mornington Crescent are more lotus-like than the rather stylized ones on the Carlton cinema. The same goes for the more leaf-like decoration on the bases of the factory columns. Since there's nothing ‘authentic’ about these Egyptian buildings, however, this doesn’t detract from the cinema’s design. 


bazza said...

The detail reminds me of a modern storm-water pumping station on the Isle of Dogs!
I wish I had taken more notice of al the Odeon buildings when they were around.....
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Yes, I know the pumping station you mean. Its architect, John Outram, was surely inspired by these art deco buildings as well as by the original Egyptian temples.

Jenny Woolf said...

Looking at those columns, I was remnded of a wonderful cinema that used to be in Twickenham. I think that must have had Egyptian style columns too. Or perhaps just brightly coloured terracotta. It was such a long time ago, I was a teenager when I saw it, but it did make an impression and I so wish more of them had been kept. I think it's been replaced with some bland place now.

Stephen Barker said...

The Loughborough Echo building has Egyptian motifs in its tiled facade. Unfortunately some of the tiling has been damaged and covered by new fascias for businesses occupying the ground floor units.

I will have to find the link to an article written by John Outram on the design and construction of the Pumping station that was on twitter recently. It is both amusing and informative.

There is a former large cinema in Northampton, which I think was an Odeon which is now an Evangelical church. The cinema had been sub divided to make it a multiplex in the 1970's. When the church was removing the paneling to open it up again much of the original interior was still in place including the decoration of the walls. I saw the building as part of a tour on the open house weekend in September. Worth looking out for if you are interested in 1930's cinema.

Stephen Barker said...

The link for the John Outram article on the Pumping Station is