Memories of Bristol Cinema
The Whiteladies cinema pictured in the 1950s - "WHITELADIES CINEMA: THE FINAL CURTAIN" - January 2004 It's the end of the road for the campaign to save the former Whiteladies Road cinema from redevelopment, as the city's planning committee gives the go-ahead to turn it into a health club. - We look back at its history - JANUARY 21 was a sad day for Bristol's cinema lovers. Despite strong protests from campaigners, and a 5,000-strong petition, the city's planning committee finally decided - by six to four - to give the nod of approval to plans by London-based developer Medinbrand to change that much-loved landmark, the Grade Two Listed, Whiteladies Road cinema, into a health club.
The permission means that the outside will not be touched but internally the seats, projection rooms, suspended ceiling, timber cladding and foyer partitions will go. But, as part of the deal, the decorative plasterwork will stay and the former ballroom and auditorium will be restored. Although the cinema - then the oldest left in the city - finally closed its doors to the public in December 2001 it's a crying shame that Bristol has now lost another community cinema and, with it, a part of a living heritage stretching back almost three generations.
It's a far cry from the heady days in November 1921, when the cinema was proudly opened by the Duchess of Beaufort, who was joined for the occasion by the arch deacon of Bristol and a senior Free Church minister. Cinemas were still viewed with suspicion by some ministers and the management wanted the blessing of at least two influential churches before embarking on their newest venture.
It was a very grand building in a prime location. The imposing entrance hall featured 10 columns of Italian marble, a marble dado and a floor composed of marble crazy paving, or mosaic. The Western Daily Press reported: "Here one need not dream of dwelling in marble halls but can enjoy the reality." As well as comfortable seating for 1,300 there was a big crush hall where wellheeled patrons could wait in comfort. An elegant restaurant and dance hall built next to the cinema now house the Dog and Duck pub.
The cinema also featured a marble staircase with mahogany panelling and a balustrade which led up to a balcony with leaded lights. There was an upstairs hall with a sprung floor. At one end of the building a prominent white-stone tower arose, with the name of the cinema set in concrete at the top. The Bristol Times & Mirror newspaper insisted on calling it a "Kinema" as they said that it was a building devoted to kinematography. It certainly sounded posh - better than "Picture House" anyway - and suited its Clifton location.
The chairman of the venture was Mr Albert Moon, who became Lord Mayor in 1936, and who had interests in two other cinemas, the Bristol Gem and the Kingswood Regent. Considering its pedigree the cinema was strangely unadventurous and was the last major city picture house to be adapted for the talkies. It resisted the trend and even billed itself as "The Home of the Silent Screen".