London, WC2H 7LQ
Date opened as the Royal Panopticon Science and Art: 18th March 1854.
Original Architects: Finden & T. Hayter Lewis.
Other architects involved in future work: John Perry and Frederick Reed, E. Clark & Pollard, W.M. Brutton.
Original Capacity: 5,000.
Seating capacity at time of closure: 1438.
First film shown here: 25th March 1896.
Date Closed: 1st September 1936.
Final production: Dante, the Danish magician in his ‘Great Magical Spectacle’.
Demolished in November 1936.
On the 6th December 1882 just after one am, The Alhambra theatre, Leicester Square, London went on fire, destroying the interior of the building. The start of the fire was in the balcony area. Several firemen were injured, and it was reported that a Thomas George Ashford died from his injuries in Charing Cross hospital. A great crowd gathered but were kept back by a large number of constables and some surrounding properties suffered damage.
It was reported that the fire was not subdued until six in the morning. The cost of the damage was estimated at £150,000. There were twenty-six steam fire engines and eight manuals fighting the ferocious fire. A Turkish bath, which was adjoining the building, was also burnt out. The original building opened on 18th March 1854 as the Royal Panopticon Science and Art, designed by T. Hayter Lewis. This lasted two years. It re-opened on the 3rd April 1858 as the Alhambra Palace, run by a Mr E.T Smith. Hayter Lewis also designed this.
On May 12th 1858 Queen Victoria and family attended Quaglienis (circus) cirque. In 1860 Smith ran it as the Alhambra Music Hall, with the ground floor housing tables for food and drink. From 1864 a Mr Frederick Strange ran the theatre. An alteration took place in 1866.
In 1871, then known as Royal Alhambra Palace Theatre of Varieties, it re-opened, after some work had been carried out. Entertainment included Ballet, opera, pantomime and farce. Alterations included brand new Brussels carpet throughout the auditorium; new and brilliant gas devices, new elegant rows of orchestra stalls and new private boxes. The pit was raised so each patron would have a good view of the stage. Also the entrances were improved. On the 1st October 1878, a trombone player by the name of Harry Johnson aged 34 passed away while performing. In 1881 alterations again took place under architects Perry and Reed. It re-opened on the 3rd December 1881 with The Black Crook.
After the fire it was decided to re-construct the theatre along the same lines as the old one. It took only twenty-nine weeks to re-construct, and was designed by Perry and Reed. Professor A. B. Kennedy, who designed and tested the whole of the ironwork, assisted them. By coincidence it re-opened on the 3rd December 1883 with The Golden Ring.
It is reported that visitors will notice that, while the general lines of the building are preserved, there is some loss of the grace, quaintness, and picturesquness of the old design. The snug private boxes round the first tier have given place to a dress circle. When the theatre re-opened there was still work to be done in the decorative department.
Alterations took place in 1888 by Edward Clark. It was alerted again in 1892 and again in 1897 by W. M Brutton. Brutton designed an extension at the rear to give a second entrance on Charing Cross Road. In 1912 prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham made further improvements.
The Alhambra also showed films.
Robert W. Paul, a former collaborator of British photographer and film pioneer Birt Acres presented films there on 25th March 1896.
The theatre was demolished to make way for Odeon’s flagship Odeon Leicester Square, which opened on Tuesday 2nd November 1937 with the film “The Prisoner of Zenda”.
David A Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk