A spectacular 1930s cinema in Woolwich is being restored to its full pomp and splendour after being taken over by the ChristFaith Tabernacle Church.
The former Granada Theatre in Woolwich's Powis Street opened on Apri 20th, 1937 in the heyday of cinema building. Stars of the day, Glenda Farrell and Claude Hulbert, opened the theatre - part of legendary Sidney Bernstein's Granada group - and the first movie shown was "Good Morning Boys" starring Will Hay.
The architects behind the 2434-seater theatre were Cecil Masey, who also co-designed New Wimbledon Theatre, and New Zealander Reginald Uren who was also responsible for groundbreaking Hornsey Town Hall.
The theatre's stunning interior with its gothic sensibilities, designed by the Russian theatrical director and designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky, saw it labelled as the "most romantic theatre ever built". Its beauty was confirmed when it later became one of only two cinemas in the Granada chain to become Grade-II listed, the other being in Tooting.
Notable design features included a Grand Staircase with medieval figures on the wall, a Hall of Mirrors, extravagant chandeliers, a cafe on the foyer balcony and a stunning auditorium with gothic styling.
In the decades after its opening, the venue also played host to some musical acts that went on to become superstars, including Buddy Holly (1958) and Roy Orbison and the Beatles (1963).
By the 1960s, it went the way of many cinemas and introduced bingo for part of the week and eventually the housewives' favourite game supplanted movies altogether and it become a full time Gala bingo hall. The attractive Hall of Mirrors even served as a casino for a time.
It continued hosting bingo, as Granada and then as Gala Bingo, until new owners took it over in 2011 and since then they have set about returning the building to its former glory and have named it the "Ebenezer Building".
The vast interior has been extensively cleaned, new carpets have been laid that are sympathetic to the original design and new light fittings have been especially commissioned to match the original 1930s lights, many of which are still in place. Many of the original internal doors are also still in tact and where new doors were needed, the church has gone back to the same company that made them in 1937 to get new matching doors.
A Mighty Wurlitzer organ was a major attraction at the theatre when it opened - often played by famous organist Reginald Dixon - but Woolwich Granada's organ was sold off years ago and is currently at a hall in Tywyn, Wales, but the CFT Church say they are working to get the original organ back.
Its original billing in 1937 as the "most romantic theatre ever built" is a title it can now accurately live up to as a marriage venue licence has been issued and the church recently hosted its second wedding.
The theatre is at the corner of Powis Street and stands opposite Woolwich's former Odeon theatre which is also now a church.
A new life as a church is entirely in keeping with the original design. In a brochure produced at the time of the theatre's opening, Theodore Komisarjevsky explained that he designed the building in the style of a cathedral:
"I selected the Italian Gothic style, used mostly in churches, to decorate the interior of the Granada Woolwich," he wrote.
"Houses of worship were not intended to be like cold dismal drill halls or mortuaries. They were not meant to depress people. Churches were designed for 'religious shows' which has the same origin as the shows of Secular theatre. The aim of ecclesiastical architecture was to attract people, to offer them not only rows of pews in which to say their prayers but romantic relaxation and artistic pleasure amid surrounds of hope, colourful beauty and harmony."
The black and white photos below come from a promotional booklet produced at the time of the theatre's opening. A copy of the booklet is kept at the Greenwich Heritage Centre and these photos are used with their kind permission.
Now, a look at the building as it is today:
At the top of the Grand Staircase are the medieval figures on the wall. Turn left to enter the Hall of Mirrors. A cafe was originally on this balcony area and the church hopes to set up a new cafe near the entrance.
With the interior once again wowing visitors, the London-based church say they are now about to embark on improvements to the exterior, in consultation with heritage consultants and local planners.
Local ward councillor, John Fahy, commented: "I'm delighted to see the old Granada Theatre building rising up once more to embrace this new cathedral in the most splendid of surroundings. This magnificent building is a joy to behold and as Woolwich renews its spirit of hope and opportunity, this building will play a significant role for the whole community."
You might also be interested in this article about the Greenwich Granada