Cinemas of Streatham- Past and Present

The only surviving cinema in Streatham is the Odeon. It opened on 30 June 1930 as the Astoria with a seating capacity of 2,576. Built in the style of an Egyptian temple with an interior of Egyptian red, green and gold and walls with bas-reliefs of Egyptian scenes. The stage was far larger than many West End theatres 78ft by 38ft and a height of 69ft. The large Compton organ took 6 months to erect and build.

Many famous orchestras and big bands played at the cinema including Billy Cotton and his band and Anton and his orchestra.

Odeon took over the Astoria in 1939 eventually becoming part of the Rank group. It reopened on 18 September 1961 as an Odeon cinema after some modernisation with a reduced seating capacity of 2,127. Leslie Phillips and Juliette Mills attended the gala opening and Rank described it as “South London’s first Luxury Theatre”. The Royal Festival ballet performed in 1968 and 1969 and the first pantomime, Cinderella. in 1968. Acts such as The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and the Supremes performed on stage with Ian Drury and the Blockheads as the last live show in December 1978.

In September 1991 the cinema was reorganised to 5 screens and 1,955 seats; in 2001 to 8 screens and 1,487 seats.

The last cinema to close in Streatham was the ABC at 5 High Road. A wonderful Art- Deco Grade II listed building. The façade and foyer is today a flooring shop and the auditorium part of the Picture House apartment complex.

It opened on 14th November 1938 as the Regal with 1,232 seats in the stalls and a further 730 in the circle. From 16 October 1960 it was known as the ABC and in 1977 converted into a triple screen cinema. It became a Cannon cinema for a period before being bought back by Associated British Cinemas. The cinema closed in December 2000 and the auditorium demolished in 2002.

The Gaumont Palace opened on 14 March 1932 with 2,431 seats which included 1,020 in the balcony and a further 1,000 standing seats. Today it is part of the London Square Development of apartments and retail units.

It was designed in an Art Deco style with an open-air terrace where teas were served and a marble entrance hall which was reputed to be a copy of the Stockholm Town Hall. Following bomb damage in 1944, it reopened as the Gaumont on 18 July 1955 with a smaller capacity.

The cinema closed on 25 March 1961 and in January 1962 opened as Europe’s largest bowling alley with 40 lanes (reduced to 36 lanes). On the first day, famous personalities such as Millicent Martin, Bruce Forsyth, Dave King, Sir Richard Attenborough, Liz Frazer, and Ian Hendry were present

Prince Harry and William made 2 visits to the “Zapp Zone” on the first floor of the complex in October 1992.

The Megabowl was demolished in October 2014 but the façade has been retained and the wonderful original tiles exposed.

The Golden Domes 130-132 High Road. Today the domes have gone and the site is a Carpet Right retail unit. The cinema opened in September 1912 with 700 seats. The vestibule contained a fountain with coloured lights. The cinema was enlarged in October 1929 and taken over by ABC in 1935. With the opening of the Regal Super Cinema further up the High Road the Golden Domes Picture Theatre closed on 12 November 1938.

The Empire Picture Theatre at 255 High Road opened on 12 December 1910 with 1,200 seats. The cinema closed in May 1932 due to competition from new larger super cinemas in Streatham. During WW2 it was used as a food storage warehouse and was hit by a V1 flying bomb on 17 June 1944. The frontage was rebuilt as a Post Office and then the site became Potters Snooker Club. Today the Hideaway Jazz Club occupies the site.

Streatham had a number of other sites where films were either shown or demonstrated on new equipment, Ace Movies Cinema at 119 Mitcham Lane  opened in February 1933, Cinematograph Theatre at 172 High Road 1913-1915, Mitcham Lane Picture Theatre at 127 Mitcham Lane (corner of Blegborough Road and Mitcham Lane)  1929/30, Streatham Town Hall at 344 High Road where in February 1896 the Kinetiscope was displayed, Beehive Assembly Rooms 496 High Road where, in May 1897  a cinematograph was used to show 16 films and the Streatham Wesleyan Methodist Church on the corner of Stanthorpe Road and High Road where in October 1896 a cinematograph was demonstrated to the Juvenile Society

(Sources: Patrick Loobey, Cinema Treasures and John Brown)

Mark Bery
Streatham Society