London, SE15 5SL
Date opened: 8th February 1932.
Date closed: 14th January 1961.
Architects: Frank T Verity and Samuel Beverley.
First film shown: “The Calendar” starring Edna Best.
Final film shown: “The Bulldog Breed” starring Norman Wisdom.
Seating Capacity: 2250.
The first Gaumont Palace of 1932, run by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT), and the first one in London, opened its doors on February 8th in Peckham, South East London. It was erected on the site of the old Peckham Hippodrome in the High Street. It was designed by notable architects Frank T Verity and Samuel Beverley.
The foyer was larger, larger than many of the West End cinemas. The auditorium ceiling was slightly domed and was painted in soft tones, spring flowers, the complete effect of the auditorium being light, giving a feeling of freedom and spaciousness.
The auditorium was coloured Chinese red and parchment. The main architectural lines were green with silver and old gold and purple silk panels. The tableau curtains (tabs) were silk in a brilliant shade of green. Carpeting in the stalls and circle were coloured red relieved by green wreaths. Seating, which was 2,250, 950 being in the circle was coloured soft green. There was standing room for another 250 people.
The proscenium opening was 38 feet wide and the stage had a depth of 18 feet. Dressing rooms were under the stage
The cinema was built with 655 tons of steel-work, one of the main girders alone weighing an incredible 60 tons. The steel-work was designed under the direction of the architects and was supplied and erected in just twenty-four weeks by the company Moreland, Hayne and Co Ltd.
It was opened by the mayor Alderman J. Pearlman J.P., and one of the attractions was a three manual Compton organ ten rank. The sound system was British Acoustic. Stage lighting was by Strand Electric based at Floral Street, London.
In 1937 the cinema became, like others just Gaumont, a decision was made to drop the Palace name. In 1941 it became a victim of the war and suffered bomb damage, which closed the cinema for a while. Unfortunately the building was hit a second time in July 1944 when a V1 rocket badly damaged the side of the facade. This time the theatre was closed until 22nd January 1945. In 1948 the building was dark for four months for refurbishment.
The first attraction was ‘The Calendar’. The second feature was ‘Almost a Divorce’ On the stage a Bobby Howell and his band entertained. Closure as a cinema came on the 14th January 1961 with the screening of ‘The Bulldog Breed’ and ‘The Final Dream’.
Apart from be the first Gaumont to open in 1932 and the first in London, it was also the first Rank Organisation cinema to be converted into a Top Rank bingo club, opening on the 15th May 1961. It was modernised in the 1970s, sadly removing all traces of its art deco past. It was eyes down until 1998, closing as a Mecca club. The wrecking ball came along in the summer of 2002 and the cinema went the way of many others. A block of flats replaced the house of dreams. There was a reminder of its glorious past, the block was called Gaumont House.
David A Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk