A brief history of the Strand

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A jewel of art deco design, it is the only remaining cinema in Northern Ireland from that golden era when, at one time, Belfast boasted over 40 picture palaces.

 

  • The Strand was opened on 7th December 1935, built for and operated by the English Union Cinemas Group. It had one screen with stage and 1170 seats. The first film shown was Bright Eyes starring Shirley Temple.
  • It was built on the site of Strandtown House, the home of Gustav Heyn, founder of the Headline Shipping and Belfast Steamship Companies. It is the last of the pre-war Belfast cinemas still in existence.
  • It was designed by John McBride Neill who also designed the Curzon (Ormeau Road), the Majestic (South Belfast), The Tonic (Bangor).
  • The cinema’s design was influenced by its proximity to the nearby shipyard of Harland and Wolff, featuring curved walls and a port- holed foyer.
  • One of the features of the decoration inside the auditorium was three rows of port-holes on the splay walls on each side of the proscenium (the rectangular frame “arch” around the stage). These were back-lit and gave the feel of being inside an ocean liner. The proscenium had a wide plain border surrounding all four sides and had rounded corners. Seating was provided in stalls and circle levels. A café was located on the first floor.
  • In October 1937, Union Cinemas were taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) and they continued to operate it until it was closed in 1983 when rumours began to circulate that the Strand was about to be knocked down, converted to a bingo hall or sold to a supermarket chain.
  • Reopened in 1984 by local businessman Ronnie Rutherford, it operated as a concert and live performance venue on its 14 feet deep stage from 1984-1986. Performers included Little and Large and The Drifters.
  • Converted into a 4 screen cinema In April 1988, it reopened for films seating Screen 1: 276, Screen 2: 196, Screen 3: 90 and Screen 4: 80. The most popular film on was Three Men and a Baby which ran for 26 weeks!
  • The building’s façade was restored emphasising its Art Deco style in 1999, winning an RIBA Architecture Award.
  • In 2013, the Strand ceased trading as a commercial cinema and Strand Arts Centre was established as a not-for-profit charitable venture to ensure the short-term survival of the building. There are longer term plans to completely renovate the Strand.