• Wednesday , 22 November 2017

When the Lights Go Down – Waterford’s Love Affair with Cinema

The Savoy, 1953, Broad Street (Photo from the Annie Brophy Collection) The Savoy, 1953, Broad Street (Photo from the Annie Brophy Collection)

Cinema in the 20th century represented a façade. Cinema architecture during the Roaring Twenties was characterised by the whimsy and grandeur of the art deco style and its opulent interiors. Seldom did such surroundings emulate the unemployment and poverty expereienced by many in Ireland at this time. Yet in a way, this architecture of film allowed the population to be transported from the mundane to the magnificent.
Left: The Coliseum during its heyday c.1910 Right: In present day, the structure has long been demolished (right) Left: The Coliseum during its heyday c.1910 Right: In the present day, the structure has long been demolished (right)

Waterford, like the much of the country, was poverty stricken in the 1930s and 1940s. Movie-going became an attractive pastime, with theatres offering cheap prices and heated interiors. This popularity can be seen in the number of cinemas which developed in Waterford over the past 100 years.

The earliest of these was the Theatre Royal on the Mall, which still stands proudly to this day. The second was the Coliseum on Adelphi Quay. ‘The Col’, as it was locally known, was built in 1910 originally as an ice rink. Business declined and it was soon converted into a cinema in 1913. The structure dominated a corner site in the city and while it didn’t quite have the unique art deco features that would later emerge, it maintained an attractive decorative masonry and large display frames for film posters. Its closure coincided with the arrival of television in the 1960s and its eventual demolition was to make way for commercial and residential developments.

Left: The Savoy c. Right: Present day now replaced by Supermacs and The Book Centre (right) Left: The Savoy in the 1970s Right: Present day, now replaced by Supermacs and The Book Centre (right)

Interior of The Book Centre with retained cinema features Interior of The Book Centre with retained cinema features

The 1930s saw the arrival of Broad Street Cinema in Broad Street, later becoming known as The Savoy in 1937. The Savoy was completely redecorated in the popular art deco style to hold a beautiful new cinema and cafe. The well proportioned façade, lavish decorative detailing and large signage suggested a world of glamour only to be matched by the magic on the screen inside. The interior was equally as impressive with upholstered seating, a luxury unknown to many other venues at the time. The cinema closed in 1976 and reopened a year later as a live music venue. Ultimately the venue closed and the building once again went through a metamorphosis. Supermacs took over the lobby while the rest of the theatre was lovingly maintained and converted into a bookshop. The Book Centre is a much loved part of Waterford City where one can sit for hours reading books and drinking coffee while being surrounded by the memories of a space which held the silver screen. The stage, screen, balcony, and ceiling can still be seen today. The atmosphere and drama within this architecture is retained, even long after the cinema has gone.

Left: The Regal (source: www.forumwaterford.ie/history) Right: Present day as the Forum Left: The Regal (source: www.forumwaterford.ie/history) Right: Present day as the Forum

On the other side of the city, local business owner Martin Breen transformed Matterson’s Bacon Factory on the Glen into The Regal Cinema Deluxe. The Regal opened its doors in 1937 with a seating capacity of 1400, and severely modernist, yet refined, frontage. The stepped facade and (almost) full height glazing of the building, plus its horizontal banding, stood majestically amongst its plain counterparts. After its closure in 1985, it was repurposed for a number of different uses but continued to maintain a luxurious and decadent frontage.

Left: The Regina c.1960s (source: Micheal O'Sullivan) Right: Present day as Waterford Omniplex Left: The Regina c.1960s (source: Micheal O’Sullivan) Right: Present day as Waterford Omniplex

The Regina opened in Patrick Street in 1957. The cinema had a seating capacity of 1500 and boasted one of the largest screens in Ireland. The exterior façade represented a shift in cinema architecture to a post-war modernist style. The expanse of glazing and the large type and signage were striking along its narrow street context. It was redeveloped as Waterford Cineplex in 1993 but due to decline in users closed in 2008. By this time Waterford no longer had any cinemas in the city centre, a clear loss considering how many occupied the city over the years. Earlier this year the cinema reopened as Waterford Omniplex, once again bringing people back into the city to experience a night at the movies.

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