Behind the modest, boarded up exterior lies a truly beautiful Grade II* listed building, boasting remarkably extravagant Baroque and Moorish interiors by the renowned Russian designer and director Theodore Komisarjevsky. It is the last in a string of cinemas in Britain he designed that can still be used for its original purpose. The others have either been demolished or converted to other use.
The venue began its life as the Victoria Music Hall in 1887 with space for dances, concerts and plays. A film was first shown at the Victoria in 1896, the year of the birth of cinema, leading to the building being converted into the area’s first dedicated cinema in 1907. In 1930 it was rebuilt as the Granada – the building you see today – and one of the chain’s largest and most lavish ‘Super Cinemas’ with 2,700 seats.
This area of east London played a vital part in the early development of cinema in Britain with film studios located nearby, contributing to a rich local cultural heritage. Indeed rumour has it the site was a popular haunt with a young Alfred Hitchcock who grew up nearby.
Initially the Granada operated as a ‘Cine-Variety’ theatre, presenting a mixture of live entertainment and films. It was equipped with excellent stage facilities and played host to entertainment legends including The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Scott Walker, The Who, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison.
The vast venue was remodelled as a triple screen cinema in 1973, reflecting the changing tastes of cinemagoers while retaining all the architectural and decorative features for which it had become famous.
In 1989 it was acquired by Cannon cinemas and by 2000 had been absorbed into the Odeon chain. That year Odeon management dispensed with many of its older cinemas and after placing a restrictive covenant preventing the screening of English language films, the venue was sold to Mohan Sharma and renamed EMD Cinemas. This restrictive sales clause caused outrage amongst local people and led to the formation of the McGuffin Film Society to help restore the venue as a community-wide resource. In April 2001, Odeon management relented and the cinema was then able to screen any film and in any language.
After 116 years as the area’s flagship site for arts and entertainment, the building was closed in January 2003 when it was sold to it’s current owners, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG). Their plans to turn it into a church were rejected by Waltham Forest Council in 2002 and by national government on Appeal in 2003. A second planning application submitted by UCKG was rejected in 2011 and a third in June 2012 awaits the council’s decision.
So the cinema remains closed to this day, depriving the borough’s 225,000 residents of their last remaining cinema.
The building is scheduled by English Heritage as a Grade II* Listed Building in recognition of its outstanding architectural and cultural significance and is the only British cinema which retains an original Christie theatre organ built specifically for the venue.