Monsters Inc was the last film I saw at the Old Granada (EMD) cinema on Hoe Street. I went with my other half and two friends, we were in screen one, and there were about four other souls in there with us. On arrival we walked straight through the foyer and in to the dark auditorium, we watched the film, then left without giving the grand old building a second thought. Not that long after this last visit the cinema closed, and it stayed closed. Years of relentless campaigning by local residents eventually resulted in a victory, the cinema was wrestled from the hands of the church who had bought it and left it to rot. Walthamstow waited, and waited, and waited for something to happen. As we waited and decay and rot ate at the fabric of the building, it felt like nothing would change. Finally though, change came, shutters came down and light was let back in to the building for the first time in over ten years. The cinema has re-opened, and it is spectacular.
The building, now owned by the pub chain Antic, has re-opened as a pop up pub called Mirth, Marvel and Maud. We arrived just before the doors were flung open on the first night. With face pressed up against the cold glass I peered in at the interior, an interior that looked much bigger and grander than I remember. Finally at about 6:30 they opened the doors, the waiting crowd wasted now time getting inside, and I think we all took a collective step back at how amazing the space was. I was expecting the usual antic treatment of bare plaster, unfinished walls and peeling wall paper. It seems they have taken a different approach with this building though, the interior looks restored, less damaged than I thought it would be, more spectacular than I imagined.
The pop up occupies the foyer area. Downstairs the vast expanse of space with moulded ceiling and walls is impressive to say the least, the old popcorn stand is now a cocktail bar, with the main bar down the stairs that used to lead to the stalls. The smaller space upstairs by the balcony is now a seating and dining area, nestled under the beautifully decorated curved ceiling. I don’t know if it’s possible to be star struck by a building, but that’s the closest term I can find to describe how I felt. I don’t think I was the only one who felt like that, I watched as the good the folk of Walthamstow wandered around, open mouthed, gazing at at the slightly faded glory of the cinema, all of us like kids in a sweet shop. It’s remarkable to think that this magnificent interior has been lurking behind wooden shutters for all these years. Seeing it again reminded me why people fought so hard to save it.
Mirth, Marvel and Maud, the EMD, the Granada cinema has been re-born, but it still has a lot of growing up to do. The pop up is fantastic, but this building deserves to be more than just a pub. The grand auditorium that lies in darkness behind locked doors deserves to be bough back to life. It needs to be freed from the collective cobwebs of ten years of neglect. I hope the owners and Soho Theatre find a way of working together and breath life back in to the long closed stalls and half forgotten balcony. Antic seem to have done a fantastic job so far, it looks like they have treated the Granada with the respect it deserves. They have gently helped it to break the silence that has trapped it for all these years. I hope the next stages of restoration and re-development are carried out with as much respect and sensitivity. Walthamstow finally has its cinema back, and this is just the starting point not the final destination. We are going to have to wait again to see what comes next, but in the mean time we can celebrate the return of this iconic building.