Chiswick W4: The Magic of the Movies

Chiswick W4: The Magic of the Movies

The Palais, the Electric, the Royal, the Commodore… Chiswick has a proud heritage of cinema-going dating back to the early 20th century

With construction work soon expected to start on the Chiswick Cinema at the ex-Ballet Rambert site, W4 will soon have its own independent picturehouse. It won’t, however, be the first. On the contrary, during the first half of the 20th century local film fans were spoilt for choice with no less than three cinemas on the High Road and another at Youngs Corner in Stamford Brook.

Chiswick’s first purpose-built and shortest-lived cinema was the Palais. It opened in 1909 at No. 365 (in more recent times Woolworths and now Waitrose) and not everyone warmly welcomed its arrival. On 7 May of that year The Chiswick Times reported the reaction of the Chiswick Free Church Council: ‘The members view with grave anxiety a hall in Chiswick for bioscopic entertainment on Sunday . . . it will depreciate the residential value of our suburb and lower the moral tone.’

Seating only 350 people, the Palais’s first screening was Lt Shackleton’s Pictures of the South Pole. The cinema was not exactly blessed with good fortune: a workman fell and injured himself while working on the flagpole and the manager was assaulted by a drunk. The Palais closed in 1916, the victim of wartime austerity, an Entertainment Tax and competition from the grand Chiswick Empire vaudeville theatre just up the road.

Situated on the corner of Duke Road and the High Road, the Electric opened in April 1911. The building had a sliding roof which was activated during the interval so that ‘foul air could be released.’ Initially owned by Universal Pictures Ltd, various proprietors came and went and in February 1927 the name was changed to the Coliseum. It was converted for sound in 1929 but showed its last film in January 1932. There was one last incarnation: it re-emerged later that year as the Tatler and specialised in newsreels. The doors shut for good in 1933 after the licence was revoked.
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The Cinema Royal at 160 Chiswick High Road was popularly known as The Cave – it once boasted a flashing electric stalagmite outside – and was originally licensed in 1888 as a hall for music and dancing. It became a cinema in May 1912 and could accommodate 450 people; the proprietor, Mr Benjamin Slope, was fined for overcrowding in 1914 when 660 people were crammed inside. The Royal closed in August 1933 and the site is now, appropriately, The Old Cinema antiques emporium.
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The Commodore during its later incarnation as a Mecca Bingo Hall

The foundation stone for the Commodore Cinema at Young’s Corner was laid on 1 January 1929 by the Hollywood actress Tallulah Bankhead and the first film screened was Showboat on 14 September.

The vast neo-classical building was originally designed for cine-variety, with seating in stalls and a circle and provision for 252 standing spaces within the auditorium. An orchestra was employed, the stage was 28 feet deep, the proscenium was 50 feet wide and there were eight dressing rooms, a café and a dance hall.

Associated British Cinemas(ABC) took over the licence in 1933 after which the large-scale stage shows and orchestra were dropped and the Commodore continued simply as a cinema until 8 June 1963. The premises were subsequently converted into a Mecca Bingo Hall and then, in1981, re-developed as the Qantas House office block.
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Archive illustrations reproduced by kind permission of Chiswick Local Studies Collection

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