Belfast, BT4 1NY
Date opened: Saturday 7th December 1935
First film shown: “Bright Eyes”
Architect: John McBride Neill (1905-1974)
Original Seating Capacity: 1170
On December the 7th 1935 one of Belfast’s luxury cinemas opened its doors. It was the Strand, which stood on Gelston’s corner, Holywood Road. It was designed by a Mr J. McBride Neill of Belfast, who also designed the Majestic, and had seating for 1170 – 270 of those in the balcony. These were supplied by C.R Harrison and sons Ltd , Newton-Le Willows. It was Belfast’s first suburban cinema to be run by Union Cinemas and was built in six months by Sloan brothers of Pilot Street Belfast. They built three cinemas in Belfast and built the Tonic cinema in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Proceeds from the first performance went to the Lord Mayor’s Coal Fund.
The cinema was opened by Sir Crawford McCullagh, the mayor. He said it would be a worthy acquisition to Strandtown and district. The cinema housed a cafe, which housed a soda fountain. The carpeting was similar to the auditoriums. In shape and size the cafe corrrsponded to the foyer below it. The local press said, unlike many cinemas built in years gone by there is no over decoration but the auditorium has something new to show in cinema wall decoration, at least in Ireland. The walls have a ground of waterproof plastic paint, on which is sprayed a texture of metallic paint. The colour scheme was carried out in monochromatic shades and the general effect was bright and fresh. The speckling of the sprayed metallic paint was considered most attractive.
The auditorium had a specially woven snake design, which was said to give a luxurious effect. The stage was equipped with a festoon curtain. The foyer was covered with terrazzo in bold bars of colour, grey, red, black and aluminium. The payback walls were were covered with white rubber and staybrite steel, which continued the modern note. The foyer was large and triangulate in shape and there was ample natural light from the long window running around the corner at the apex of the triangle. There were cloakrooms for both sexes open off the foyer. A Mr D.D.Young, president of the White Cinema Club, who presided said that from the stage the auditorium reminded him of a Transatlantic liner wending it’s way through the Ocean at night.
Later, the cinema was taken over by ABC and they continued to operate it until it closed in 1983. In 1984 it became a live venue run by a Mr Ronnie Rutherford. In April 1988 it reverted back to cinema use with four screens. seating was for six hundred and forty two.
In 1999 it underwent a restoration bringing back many of its lost features and won an RIBA Architecture Award. In 2005 the cinema celebrated its seventieth birthday with a screening of A Night To Remember about the sinking of the Titanic. This was shown as part of the Belfast Film Festival. In 2013 it ceased as a commercial cinema and the Strand Arts Centre was established as a not for profit charitable venture. As well as films, it hosts many live events. The cinema is one of two remaining independent cinemas in Belfast, the other being the Queen’s Film Theatre. Seating at the Stand is now listed as seating six hundred and eight.
David A Ellis ©chestercinemas.co.uk