One of London’s great Art Deco cinemas is about to reveal itself, after being hidden away under 1960’s metal cladding.
The former Dominion cinema on Station Road, Harrow, designed by FE Bromige, and opened in 1936 had a magnificent frontage that was truly of its age, but sadly in the 1962 the owners decided that it needed to look less jazz-age and more space-age, and had it clad in blue metal sheeting. It was really the cruellest thing to do, but in some ways it may have been a blessing, especially as the upkeep of maintaining it was deemed to be impractical. As the years went by most local people had no idea what lay underneath the brutal frontage, yet it has sat effectively undisturbed for nearly sixty years.
However this sleeping giant is about to wake from its architectural slumber, because a new development will see the cladding removed. Developers, Asprea 2 Ltd will build 78 new homes in a new section behind the old frontage, but retain a cinema.
Clearly this will be an enormous task, and recently scaffolding has gone up in front of the old cinema frontage. Today I went to have a look and interestingly some of the cladding has been removed , giving us a ‘sneak-peek’ of the hidden frontage that has not seen light in fifty-nine years. The following photos were taken by myself.
What is obvious, on examining the work taking place, is that there must be a great deal of structural steel holding up that sheeting. It is also clear that a great deal of the 1936 frontage has already been lost, in particular the canopies. It also appears that many of the metal framed windows have been damaged, with breeze blocks filling in the spaces behind, where once users of the café may have looked out from. It is not really surprising that the work was done with such little care. Back in 1962 Art Deco ‘moderne’ style was very not much loved, and summed-up a long lost pre-war world. Young cinema-goers were not interested in the mystique of the old picture palaces, in fact cinema audiences were suffering a huge decline since the advent of television. Associated British Cinemas, (or ABC as they were better known as), didn’t have the money to spend on shoring-up what was a fading plaster clad frontage, less so on cleaning and replacing draughty windows.
Time moved on, and as the cinema went from highs to lows those who could recall the Dominion in its glory days themselves faded from history. ABC was taken over by Cannon Cinemas , and by 1995 it had become an independent, renamed the Safari and was showing Bollywood films, reflecting the cultural changes in the local area.
Back in 2015 I wrote a piece for Lonodnist.com, which you can read here –
The next few months should prove to be interesting, as the work goes on. One imagines that little will be visible , as it is likely the ‘big reveal’ will be shrouded , this time in plastic, rather than metal sheeting. Personally, I can’t wait. Yes, it will be a shame to see the Dominion, as it was, effectively be demolished, with just a cosmetically adjusted frontage, but at least an homage will be made to a previous age. After all, how many cinemas were completely demolished over years, to be replaced with bland supermarkets or office blocks?
Text and 2021 images – Mark Amies