Standing at the junction of Kennington Road and Black Prince Road (formerly Princes Road), S.E.11., The ‘Regal’ opened in November, 1937. No longer operating as a cinema, only part of the original facade remains and in a much altered form.
Built by cinema proprietor, Albert O’Connor’s ‘A. O. C. Picture Corporation, Ltd.’, the new building was designed by Bertie Crewe (William Robert ‘Bertie’ Crewe, 1860-1937) and Henry G. Kay, L.R.I.B.A. (Henry Gordon Kay, 1893-1979) in the mid-1930’s.
Crewe, who lived at 22, Blenheim Gardens, Willesden, N.W.2., is best remembered as an architect of theatre buildings but also designed the ‘Art Deco’ Odeon cinema in Southgate, N.14., which had opened two years earlier, in October, 1935.
Sadly, the ‘Regal’, which also incorporated a full-size stage with dressing rooms behind, allowing for the performance of variety shows, would prove to be Crewe’s last work. He died in January, 1937, 11 months before the new cinema was completed.
The brick building, finished in stone and granite was designed firmly in the streamline moderne style, defined by its clean lines and curves, which differed from the ornamental decoration of its more numerous ‘Art Deco’ cinema peers of the era.
When the doors of the ‘Regal’, advertised as “South London’s New Luxury Super Cinema” were opened to the public for the first time at 07.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 November, 1937, guests were met with an equally modern cinema interior of chromium and glass.
The centrepiece was a spectacular pendant candelabra from F. H. Pride, Ltd., which was suspended from the 25 ft. high entrance hall ceiling, whilst above each of the doors that led into the main auditorium were illuminated flower boxes.
Each of the cinema’s 2,100 seats were described as being a “luxury chair”, with customers also able to enjoy a cafe on the first floor. For those arriving by car, there was a large car park at the rear of the building with space for 100 cars.
The official opening ceremony was performed by His Worship, the Mayor of Lambeth, Councillor William Hunter, J.P., in his first public opening since taking office. O’Connor, as manager of the ‘Regal’, was also on stage and joined the Mayor in giving a welcome speech to a packed audience.
The opening gala then commenced at 08.00 p.m., with a performance by Paul Zaharoff and his international band, who were joined on stage by a host of famous screen, stage and radio stars of the era. The opening program of films at the ‘Regal’ included Ruby Keeler in ‘Ready, Willing and Able’, and ‘The Gang Show’ with Ralph Reader.
Despite opening less than two years before the start of the Second World War, the building managed to survive the London Blitz intact, yet in 1948, O’Connor sold the cinema to Granada Theatres, Ltd., a much larger, national circuit. The ‘Regal’ was subsequently renamed by the new owners, becoming the ‘Granada’ in January, 1949.
Despite being part of a bigger group, the south London site still fell victim to the rapid post-war decline in British cinema attendance. The ‘Granada’ closed its doors as a cinema for the final time on 15 July, 1961.
As part of a broader programme by Granada, the building was subsequently converted to a ‘Granada Club’, primarily for the playing of bingo, which was both increasingly popular and one of the few activities that could sustain the continued use of such large purpose-built venues.
In 1991, Granada sold their entire portfolio of bingo clubs to Bass Plc, the British brewer, lodging and restaurants group, who subsequently rebranded the business as ‘Gala Bingo’. The Kennington site continued to operate under Bass’ control but closed in 1997, with the building briefly serving as a church thereafter, before they too departed.
Having run out of viable commercial uses, the site was redeveloped in the mid-2000’s and is now home to a particularly uninspiring block of flats, known simply as 216, Kennington Road.
Standing within the Kennington Conservation Area, the former ‘Regal’ has managed to evade full-scale demolition, with a small section of the original facade surviving, yet the new block bears little resemblance to the moderne building that once existed,
The ground floor retail element of the scheme is currently occupied by a Tesco Express convenience store, which is accessed via a small entrance on Kennington Road.
For reasons unexplained, the six pairs of double doors that once opened into the entrance hall have been replaced with ugly ventilation grilles, whilst the three sets of double doors that led to the foyer have been blocked up.
The large canopy that once protected queening customers from the elements, has been partly demolished, with only a small section surviving. The decorative detailing, clearly visible in the photos below from 1937, has been crudely covered up, with Tesco’s nondescript corporate signage a woeful alternative.
Today the building stands as a particularly poor attempt by a developer looking to incorporate an existing facade into a new scheme. It is therefore debatable as to whether or not full scale demolition would have been the more appropriate option.
At some point in the future, there is a slim chance that the original entrance could be reincorporated into the building, however no such plans exist today. In the meantime, the former cinema will continue to stand as a shadow of its former self.