Cinema finally set to return to Kentish Town?

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Shortwave Cinema group are frontrunners in bid to turn historic former Pizza Express building into one-screen picturehouse


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The future for the Pizza Express building looks set to include an arts cinema
The future for the iconic building now looks set to include a small cinema

It’s always nice when one of our campaigns makes a real impact.

And the word is that after your massive support for our many stories on turning the former north London polytechnic into a picturehouse, several very respectable chains are about to pounce, include hip Bermondsey arthouse gaff Shortwave.

For the uninitiated, Shortwave is a 52 seat independent cinema and bar which screens “the best recent releases and previews of emerging filmmakers”. Since opening in SE1 in 2009, they’ve even hosted the London Short Film and Independent Film Festivals.

Coronation Gardens Cinema 1911-1913. Photo: Sam Nightingale
Coronation Gardens Cinema 1911-1913. Photo: Sam Nightingale

“I just thought I’d let you know ahead of everyone else,” said founder Rob earlier this week, “that, thanks to you and your readers, we are one of a handful hoping to open on the site on the corner of Prince of Wales Road. Our plan is simply for a small indie cinema with approx fifty seats and cafe bar.” Rob also explained that many years ago he studied at the poly, “so there would be an element of going full circle with things.”

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As we have explained before, the historic site has a century-long association with the pictures. Before the polytechnic was built in 1929, Coronation Gardens, the park that existed opposite the old Palace on Prince of Wales Road, boasted a screen where Kentishtowners could enjoy a continuous stream of films in the open air. But alas the novelty soon wore off – blighted by the Great British Summer – and it ceased operating in 1913. (Interested in the history of local moviehouses? Do read more on this and the other seven Kentish Town cinemas in our recent 2000 word feature here.)

Of course the new screen – the first in 40 years – will be subject to planning being given consent; we also hear that Shortwave are one of several competitors, with Curzon and Picturehouse poised too (for the record we’ve heard nothing about either Everyman or Soho House). “But not many operators would be interested in a single screen cinema, as it’s pretty niche,” admits Rob.

We hope he gets the gig. And in the meantime, have you caught a glimpse of the rather polite squatters occupying the building?

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Cinephiles! Watch this space for more info

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  • Philip Grey

    Shortwave would be eminently preferable to the Everyman or Soho House groups who are more interested in peddling over-priced nibbles and cocktails than offering adventurous programming. Fingers crossed the commercial challenge dictated by a single 50 seat auditorium keeps the usual suspects away and favours the brave and community spirited.

  • John Nicholson

    Kentishtowner are right to flag up this important development and full marks to them for their campaign. However it’s really important that everyone keeps up the pressure on this one. Over the last 6 months a number of local residents groups have been meeting with the architects on behalf of the developers to try and secure the best deal for Kentish Town and its residents. Over a series of meetings at The Grafton, local residents groups including those representing 1 Prince of Wales Road and the Inkerman area, have worked to secure a design that doesn’t overwhelm this landmark site, impact adversely on the existing residents at 1 Prince of Wales Road but also secures a community space for a cinema rather than a market value commercial space for a supermarket or chain restaurant. Camden Council now have 2 planning options for consent and it is vital if residents want a cinema that they support the option that includes a cinema space. As its stands planning officers seem ready to approve the option without a cinema and we need to be ready to write in in support of the planning application which includes the cinema space. Keep an eye on Camden’s website for when the applications go online and are open for comments. This is not by any means a done deal and the campaign is not over. Keep it up Kentishtowner and all Kentish Towners who care about this.