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So Long, Pyke’s Cinematograph Theatre

June 1, 2019
by the gentle author

I undertook a melancholy pilgrimage along the Central Line to pay my last respects to the Pyke’s Cinematograph Theatre in Shepherds Bush this week, after a tip-off from one of the readers. As you can see, all that is left standing is a fragment of the facade of this early temple of moving pictures.

Impresario Montague Pyke opened the Shepherd’s Bush Cinematograph Theatre on 3rd March 1910 and it showed films until 1981, when it closed with The Fog. In 1923, after Pyke went bankrupt, it was reconfigured by John Stanley Beard as the New Palladium, becoming subsequently the Palladium,  the Essoldo, the Classic, and finally Odeon 2. Despite surviving a flying bomb, a period of dereliction and a decade as the Walkabout Australasian bar, it has not escaped the voracious developers of our day.

Sitting next to the Shepherds Bush Pavilion and the Shepherds Bush Empire, in the Shepherds Bush Conservation Area, you might think this line of fine palaces of culture and entertainment overlooking the green were integral to the identity of the place. Yet last year Hammersmith & Fulham Council granted permission for full demolition except part of the front wall, which will be stuck onto the hotel tower in spread sheet architecture that will occupy this site in future.

Bearing a formal resemblance to a triumphal arch from ancient times, this fragment stands now as a poignant relic of another world, a vanished universe of the romance of early cinema – black and white films, live musical accompaniment and the advent of talkies. Innumerable dreams that were conjured here have vanished, leaving just this wrack of an arch – the portal to an era of cinematic glamour and fantasy forever lost to us.

You will recall I have lamented the growing resemblance of London to the backlot of an abandoned movie studio, full of frontages, so the irony of a cinema now joining the parade of facades has not escaped me.

As the Shepherds Bush Palladium

Original interior

External plaster signage

External plaster signage

The Walkabout Australian Pub, the Cinematograph’s last incarnation

This is the future of the facade of Pyke’s Cinematograph Theatre

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12 Responses leave one →
  1. mlaiuppa permalink
    June 1, 2019

    This is so tragic.

    In this regard, my city is stellar light years ahead of London and you can tell them that.

    We have saved many of our old movie theaters of that time. We recognize the artistic value of the architecture of this period both inside and out.

    We completely restored our Spreckels theater (spreckels.net)and it now houses our symphony orchestra. Several other movie theaters of the day have been saved, protected and restored. the North Park Theater is now the home of the Lyric Opera. Our City council voted for finance a $26.5 MILLION dollar restoration of the Balboa Theater in downtown. There is the La Paloma in Encinitas, the Casino Theater is now a candy store, The Casa del Prado theater has seen continued use, the city of Coronado restored The Village theater, There are tours of the restored theaters of the era in Los Angeles. Some with their original organs restored. They Mighty Wurlitzer! There are film festivals in which a local organist plays the original scores from the silent films being shown. People pay good money to watch these black and white silent films and listen to the original scores played on these wonderful instruments exactly as the originators intended. It is like experiencing a time machine.

    Maybe it’s a Pacific coast thing but we consider our Art Deco theaters precious and have worked hard to preserve and restore them. We keep our “back lots” where they belong, at Universal Studios, Burbank and other industry sites.

    Whoever it is in London at that is allowing this wanton destruction should be publicly shamed. Name all of the names on all of the boards. Both those in government granting the permits and those in the private corporations destroying your legacy.

    The interior of that movie theater was wonderful. All lost now. They didn’t even keep the entire front façade, only a piece of it. Barbaric.

    That horror they are replacing it with is an abomination to the eye.

    Shame. Shame!

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 1, 2019

    Yet more ghastly façadism….grrrrr!!

  3. Sue Mayer permalink
    June 1, 2019

    This facade stuck on the front of a modern high rise building will look awful. Why oh why are we destroying so much of our heritage!!!! Grrrr.

  4. June 1, 2019

    How very sad and to destroy wonderful buildings – that could be put to use – just to build yet another hotel lacking any personality. Apparently nothing is worth keeping as long as some money can be made out of destroying it.

  5. June 1, 2019

    Ah yes ! the cinematographic theaters sadly have all but gone and Monty Pyke’s cinema was particularly fine example judging from the picture of the ornate interior . It must have been a nice evening out back in the 20′s when it was first built . Over the years many of the local cinemas gradually deteriorated and I recall our very small local one in Keninghall road in Clapton became fondly known as the “Fleapit “. However these local focal points of entertainment all had their own heyday and for every family that lived in the area there are personal memories of visits .For the children it was the Saturday morning film clubs .
    I have a personal memory of one event at at our local Keninghall road cinema in it heyday. It must have been around 1961. There was a film starring Diana Dors and it was advertised that she would be making a personal appearance at the cinema for the films first showing . There we were in the evening with mum and dad in the big crowd outside and the Rolls Royce drew up and out she stepped onto the red carpet in her low cut glittering gown and everybody rushed forward for a better view . The flash bulbs from the press cameras popped as the melee ensued. I remember my father fighting his way to the front of the crowd in his flat cap to get a first rate view of Miss Dors casting my poor mother and me adrift in the exited mob. He suffered a week in the doghouse without a word spoken for that. !

  6. Laura Williamson permalink
    June 1, 2019

    This is all so wrong and the ‘plan’ looks utterly ridiculous.

    I cannot believe that London does not still have ample examples of shoddy 60s/70s buildings that have no identifiable history and architectural merit, which would be no loss and all gain if replaced by something new.

    I’m not against new buildings and new architecture, cities evolve, as London has, but it feels to me that it is currently on course to become a low rent low rise version of New York, losing in the process so many things that contribute to its uniqueness and without NYCs particular grandeur. What will be left?

  7. Mary Purcell permalink
    June 1, 2019

    You and your readers need cheering up, so when you’re ready, why not do a piece about the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley. It’s one of the oldest cinemas in the country (?doors first opened in 1912) and belongs to the local community. Recently they vetoed a suggestion that it joins the Curzon chain. It has a fine art deco interior, recently restored.

  8. Jane Manley permalink
    June 1, 2019

    I took a similar photo myself about three weeks ago when I was on an epic journey of rediscovery of the area I worked in back in the late 1980s. I could remember it being a bar but had never been in. Just around the corner I was sad to see that a very old pie and mash shop was closed. I used to go there for lunch with friends. It had been there for years but was compulsorily purchased in 2015 and has remained empty ever since.

  9. Alexandra Rook permalink
    June 1, 2019

    Facadism depressing tokenism could have incorporated building below a new o e above to make use of ‘air rights’. I saw my first film at the Shepherds Bush fleapit (all
    Cinemas seemed to attract that slur) in the 1950s, Oaklahoma; I recall the Rogers & Hammerstein song I thought was called ‘The Surrey with the mane on top’ but I see it’s actually rather differently called http://bit.ly/2EPjMJP

  10. Johnny C permalink
    June 1, 2019

    Dear TGA, another great post, thank you. Maybe on your next westward excursion you could visit us here in historic Harefield and witness our abundance of historic sites and also sadly the destruction to our countryside by the HS2 project. I would be happy to guide you should you fancy another summer escape from the city heat and smog.
    Best regards.

  11. mlaiuppa permalink
    June 3, 2019

    As to the keeping of the façades, is there perhaps some ordinance, code or regulation requiring it?

    I know in areas of my city (especially the older ones with views of the ocean or city) there are requirements that one wall of the original building must be kept. Or that a replacement structure (if the former is beyond saving) must adhere to the exact footprint of the former structure.

    We have areas where there are height limits so as not to build up and block the view of an existing home.

    I’m sure some ordinances and requirements are designed to save structures and preserve the character of neighborhoods, but in some cases they end up being a challenge to developers to stay within the letter of the law but still end up violating the spirit of it.

    “Loophole” is the worst form of architecture.

  12. Marcia Howard permalink
    June 5, 2019

    Shame, shame, shame…

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