Unusually, a photographic record survives of the Astoria under construction in 1933. (Cameras usually arrive at the demolition stage.) The hoarding on the house-fronts [left] is a trailer for the cinema to come.
Cranes were first on the site to lift the steelwork into place.
The completed Astoria in 1934, when Brighton still had trams.
The Astoria entrance in 1935, advertising a personal stage appearance by Gordon Fellowes and Miss Marsh, who provided an on-stage prologue to G-Men.
The Astoria auditorium in 1937.
The Astoria auditorium in 1958.
The Astoria foyer in 1955.
The Astoria foyer in 1957.
Bingo had taken over by the 1980s.
The Astoria derelict 17 years after its closure, with artistic additions by Banksie and others.
Photo of steelwork courtesy of Tim Sergeant
15 Gloucester Place, Brighton
• Plans were developed for a cinema to be called the Plaza by a partnership involving J Henson Infield, proprietor and editor of the Sussex Daily News (who was also involved with the Theatre Royal) and builder Frank W Griggs, who were joined by Hove Councillor E E Lyons, proprietor of the Academy, West Street—the first of a planned chain of Astoria cinemas; two were built in 1934—at Purley, Surrey and Cliftonville, Kent—and a third was planned for Worthing.
• Included in the row of houses demolished to make way for the cinema was 16 Gloucester Place, which has been the home of Christina Edmunds, the chocolate cream poisoner, found guilty in 1872 of the murder of a four-year-old boy who ate chocolates she had injected with strychnine and returned to Maynards shop in West Street.
1933 March 17 Although the date of 17 July 1933 has been given elsewhere for the first delivery of the steelwork, 17 March is the date of the photograph taken for British Challenge Glazing Co that shows construction is already well under way. Building work is carried out quickly by Griggs & Son.
1933 December 21 Opened by Sir Alfred Cooper Rawson MP. Designed by Edward A Stone for E E Lyons and with an interior decorated in art deco style by Henri & Laverdet; 1,823 seats, continuous performances of first-run releases. Prices 1s-2s 6d.The opening film is Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Henry VIII. T Guy Hindell is the resident organist on the Compton 3 cinema organ. Westrex (Western Electric) sound-on-film system, but—surprisingly for this date—it includes facilities for running sound-on-disc films. The proscenium is 42 feet wide and stage 20 feet deep; there are four dressing rooms. Café, restaurant.
1934 Acquired by Associated British Cinemas Ltd [London] after the death of E E Lyons on 9 August 1934.
1938 March 24 ABC winds up Astoria (Brighton) Ltd in a mass clear-out of companies it has bought up.
1939 August 26 Cowboy star Gene Autry makes a personal appearance.
1939 Prices are now 6d, 1s, 1s 3d and 1s 6d—cheaper than the Savoy, also owned by ABC. The chief projectionist is Fred Warner.
1940 June 16 Gone with the Wind starts a three-week run, one of only 12 provincial UK cinemas to show the film. In the afternoons tickets are 3s 6d in all parts, 3s 6d and 4s 6d for evening shows.
1942 August 16 Gone with the Wind returns on regular circuit release for two weeks and is held over for two more—a record run for Brighton at the time. (See also 29 September 1968)
1950 Shows the Italian neo-realist film Bicycle Thieves and X-rated French film Le Plaisir (see also Curzon).
1950 December-1951 January Used for light opera shows.
1953 July 5 X-certificate Technicolor 3-D feature House of Wax starts a four-week run. Prices are 2s 3d, 2s 9d and 3s 6d. It is immediately followed by another 3-D film, Sangaree, on the 'new giant panoramic screen'.
1957 summer Used for variety shows.
1958 August 2 South Pacific opens after the cinema is converted for 70mm (Todd-AO) operation with a new curved screen (50ft x 27ft) in front of the proscenium at a cost of £20,000, requiring removal of the organ. The Astoria is the only Sussex cinema with 70mm until June 1962. This ends the occasional live shows and ushers in the era of 'roadshow' film releases: South Pacific runs for five months until 10 January 1959.
1961 March 26 Ben Hur is the second film to start an extended run.
1962 June 10 West Side Story runs until 20 October.
1966 June 23 Astoria is the first UK provincial cinema to show Doctor Zhivago, which runs until 3 May 1967 and returns from 10 August to 25 October 1967, a total of 56 weeks.
1968 ABC cinema chain is acquired by EMI. Now 1,354 seats.
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey is show in 70mm. Now 1,354 seats.
1968 September 29 Gone with the Wind returns in a 70mm version and runs until 18 January 1969.
1970 Now 1,230 seats
1975 July 10 Sensurround system, which uses large low-frequency speakers to create rumble effects that can be felt as well as heard, is installed for the Universal Pictures release Earthquake.
1975 October 23 Gone with the Wind is back again for a month's run until 19 November.
1976 June EMI is granted a bingo licence.
1977 January 7 Sensurround is used again for Midway.
1977 May 7 Closed shortly after the town's other ABC cinema re-opens as a quadruplex. It has been the only cinema to continue running children's Saturday morning matinees. The last film is A Star is Born.
• In 1978 it became a bingo hall, EMI spending £150,000 on conversion. It later was called the Coral Social Club (still a bingo venue), and in 1992 was taken over by Gala Bingo. In 1997 it closed completely. Bass Leisure was granted permission to convert to a night club but was refused a drinks licence and abandoned the scheme.
• On 15 July 2000 the premises were raided by police after a group of people broke in and made preparations for a rave to follow the Essential Music Festival. The rave did not take place.
• The building was granted Grade II listed building status in November 2000. The Astoria Moving Picture Trust planned a single-screen cinema with e-cinema capability but the project was not fulfilled. The Astoria was sold to Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas of Yes/No Productions and percussion group Stomp and Loretta Sacco for £1m in 2001, intending to turn it into a music venue and cinema but plans were abandoned in 2006 as the projected costs reached £6m.
• In November 2007 it was bought by local property developer Mike Holland for £2.2m.. In September 2011, Brighton & Hove City Council voted in favour of his plan to demolish the building and replace it with a six-storey office block. In January 2012 the Council's decision was upheld by the Communities Secretary. The building is now scheduled to be replaced by accommodation and retail units.
• The souvenir programme for the opening of the Astoria can be seen online in the Bill Douglas Centre collection.
Brighton cinema directory
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