On Monday 20th May the public enquiry setup to decide the future of the EMD cinema on Hoe Street will announce its decision. The cinema was purchased by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in 2003, the fight to save it and bring it back in to public use has been raging ever since. The UCKG have tried but failed to get permission granted to turn the EMD in to a church. Last year Waltham Forest council voted in favour of a compulsory purchase order, UCKG appealed and the enquiry was started. Whilst the planning row has raged, the grand old cinema which opened in 1930 has been slowly crumbling away. Vandals, weather and fire have all taken their toll on the fabric of the building, the interior which was designed by Russian Theatre director and Designer Theodore Komisarjevsky has suffered greatly. Many Walthamstow residents have been frustrated and confused by the plight of the EMD. Frustrated because the process has taken so long, confused because whilst trying to save one cinema a brand new multiplex is being built just a few hundred yards away. Some have asked the question if we are getting a new cinema why bother saving the old one?
The new multiplex will make a welcome addition to Walthamstow, regenerating the old arcade site and providing a local alternative for cinema goers. Like many others I go to Stratford when I want to see a film, when the new cinema opens I for one will jump at the chance to see films closer to home and spend my money locally. The EMD on the other hand could be much more than just a cinema. It would give Walthamstow a multi purpose entertainment venue used for films, theatre and music. Waltham Forest Council have been working with the Soho Theatre and some really exciting plans have been created for the building. Soho Theatre have a great deal of experience in this area, their home on Dean Street was a former synagogue before they converted it in to their vibrant multipurpose home, they are ideally placed to help shape the future of this beautiful building. The EMD has a history of offering varied types of entertainment, there was cabaret on stage the night it opened and as well as film several world-famous musicians have played at the venue including the Beatles, the Stones and Johnny Cash.
There are lots of examples of buildings like this being bought back from the brink. One such success story is the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfermline, this venue was built in 1922 and like the EMD was used for cinema and theatre. The venue was turned in to a bingo hall in 1965 but in 2006 the bingo closed and the building was left to rot. A local resident formed the Alhambra Theatre trust and led the fight to bring the Alhambra back to life, blood sweat and tears went in to the restoration and the venue reopened in 2008. The Alhambra now hosts a variety of different events, including UK theatrical tours like blood brothers, concerts and local drama groups. I visit this venue regularly with work and It’s great to see a building that was nearly lost thriving and loved by its community.
Stories like that of the Alhambra prove that these giant buildings offer the flexibility and options to become viable again. If the EMD were to reopen I’m sure concert promoters such as Metropolis music and Live Nation who regularly promote gigs at venues like Brixton Academy and Shepherd’s Bush Empire would bring their acts to E17. Combine this with theatre, cinema and a community programme the EMD could become an important and valued arts and entertainment venue. I only hope that when the decision is announced it is the right one and that the future of the grand old cinema on Hoe street is secured.