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Home / Culture and Heritage / First Garden City Heritage Museum / Letchworth Buildings / Broadway Cinema / The Palace Cinema, Letchworth's 1st cinema
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The Palace Cinema, Letchworth's 1st cinema


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Opened in 1909, The Palace Cinema, or ‘Picture Palace’, was one of the first purpose built cinemas in the country. It was designed by Letchworth architects, Parker and Unwin and was the first building in the Garden City with an electricity supply.

It was purposely located at the then remote top end of Eastcheap to inhibit fire damage should the highly inflammable nitrate film catch fire. As an added precaution, the town fire station was built next door not long afterwards in 1911.

The Palace was set up by a local early pioneer of the cinema, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper. He recognised, long before most, the huge role that Cinema would play in entertaining the masses. He had started The Alpha company in St Albans in 190? And also ran a production company, making films to show at his venues.

The building itself was initially quite a plain, almost domestic design. The frontage incorporated two small shops but, tardis-like, beyond that was a single level auditorium with seating for 750 people.

It was extensively refurbished in 1924, with the introduction of balcony seating and most notably, a brand new façade, in the form of a Hollywood-Roman style triumphal arch, designed by local architect and auctioneer, Edgar Simmons. Nonetheless, it was still affectionately known to the locals as the ‘flea-pit’!

In its early years it was regularly used as a venue for popular lectures about natural history and other topics, presented by the curator of Letchworth Museum, William Percival Westell.

In 1930, The Palace brought the first talkies to Letchworth, with features like ‘Mammy’ starring Al Jolson, or a young Maurice Chevalier in ‘Innocents of Paris’. These introduced the joys of “100% - all talking - all-singing – all dancing” entertainment to delighted locals.

13th Aug 2009

Art and Design, Citizenship, Geography, History

Key Stages:
Foundation, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4+

cinema, talkies, movies, Letchworth, architecture

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