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Rio Cinema, Dalston

Restoration of the exterior canopy

The Rio Cinema is the longest operating community cinema in London and an iconic part of Dalston. The original building was an auctioneers’ shop owned by Clara Ludski. Ludski converted it to a picture palace in 1909: the Kingsland Palace. It was a huge success and she soon bought up adjacent properties and commissioned the architect George Coles to create a bigger single-screen picture-house. Construction began in 1913, and the Kingsland Empire opened in 1915. There was a two-level tea-room, domed tower, and an elaborate auditorium featuring five side arches and a proscenium with double columns either side, topped by a frieze.

With the arrival of sound in the 1930s, the cinema was taken over by Capital & Provincial News Theatres who commissioned architect Frank Ernest Bromige to refurbish it in Art Deco style. Bromige’s ribbed streamline style survives in other London cinemas, such as the Grosvenor cinema in Harrow. Here, he created a new auditorium within the shell of the earlier cinema. Through a secret door on the Rio's roof, it is possible to peer into the 'void' and see the ceiling and upper walls of the old 1915 auditorium.

The parapet was reduced in 1944, but otherwise the exterior and auditorium remained unchanged since Bromige’s design in 1937. In the 1950s and 60s the building became part of the Classic chain and in the early 1970s it became Tatler Cinema Club showing adult films. In 1976 it was renamed the Rio, and since 1979 it has been run as a charity. The blue and pink Art Deco interior was restored in 1997 and the building was Grade II listed in 1999.

The exterior had fallen into disrepair. The roof canopy leaked, the plasterwork was cracked and faded and the metal fascia work was rusted and had in parts come away. The restoration project included replacing the signage, lighting and fascia details and restoring the plasterwork.

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