1930s cinema interior
Architect: J. Alexander (c. 1935)
Watercolour: J. Alexander (c. 1935)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection
Arguably, cinema was the new religion of post World War One Britain. Cinemas, rather than churches, became the dominant community building in a locality, their façades animating many a street or corner. They replaced church as the place of weekly pilgrimage. Inside, their expectant congregations waited to see what would be revealed behind the safety curtain - the holy of holies – the Hollywood celebrity. Now actors and actresses rather than saints became household names, the idols of the masses.
Professional cinema designers were many; few, however, could compete with the J Alexander (1888 -1974 ). The RIBA Photographs Collection houses some of his most astonishing designs for cinema interiors. Just as the film transported people away from their everyday lives, so too did Alexander’s interiors. On some, Venetian gondolas meandered towards the screen; on others Egyptian pharaohs were resurrected from their tombs. Perhaps most striking of all, though, was this design. Here form, rather than decoration, dominated. Curves combine with a bold colour scheme to creating a womb-like space, made all the more inviting by the plush seating. Around the walls of the auditorium are huge, caryatid-like figures.
What a shame, therefore, that Alexander’s design was never realized. Still, it may well have been demolished, divided up into many screens, or converted to a bingo hall or supermarket, a fate too many of the great 1930s movie houses have shared, thanks to the new shrine of the late twentieth century – the television.