© Ms Ruth Povey
ABC CINEMA, WHITELADIES ROAD (west side)
BRISTOL, BRISTOL, BRISTOL
Ms Ruth Povey
26 July 2006
25 February 1999
Date of last amendment:
25 February 1999
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ST 5773 WHITELADIES ROAD
Cinema, formerly with ballroom and restaurant, now respectively offices and public house. 1920-1 as the Whiteladies Picture House by James Henry LaTrobe and Thomas Henry Weston of Bristol. The cinema is of limestone ashlar and render, roof not visible, and incorporates a mid nineteenth-century terraced house of rock-faced Pennant stone with ashlar dressings and twentieth-century pantiled roof. Large auditorium with gallery along street facade, now divided, with striking tower, entered from foyer at corner of site. The foyer block is aligned with a mid nineteenth-century three-storey terrace to the right, the first house of which is incorporated as inner foyers with a ballroom on the first floor now converted to offices. The single-storey former cinema restaurant (in 1999 the Dog and Duck Public House) fills the area in front of the terrace house.
Entrance with curving Ionic tetrastyle portico. Over the foyer a square tower rises to corner corbels supporting grotesque masks. Above is an octagon having panels which extend down on two sides with the raised inscription WHITELADIES PICTURE HOUSE. The two other corresponding panels facing away from the street are left blank. The four other angles of the octagon have regularly spaced mushroom shaped piercing like a belfry. The tower is capped by a dome with a rope moulding around its base, and this is surmounted by a cupola and finial. Long vertical windows at first floor level on the main front and at second floor level on the return wall. Access to the tower is gained by a door from a roof terrace over the foyer. The foyer block return wall has an exit door to the street, two windows at mezzanine level, four round windows for the first floor and a parapet with small roundels. The auditorium wall is enlivened by symmetrical pylons of giant sunken panels and three winged wreaths supporting sunken panels with lattice decoration separated by triglyphs surmounted by double scrolls under a moulded cornice. The rear wall is left as unadorned render. There are four steps up to the cinema entrance (at the opening these were described as being of `Sicilian marble'). The two pairs of entrance doors are partially glazed with fine inlaid wood veneer. The reused nineteenth-century terrace house has two gable projections to the left, one with a Venetian window and balcony. Its ashlar dressings have the character of early seventeenth-century strapwork.
INTERIOR. The foyer is altered, but plaster acanthus cornice decoration survives above the false ceiling. The auditorium is subdivided, with two small cinemas created out of the rear stalls, where decorative plasterwork survives in the ceilings. The balcony has been extended forward to make a third cinema. Here the barrel ceiling survives, with baroque plaster fields outlined in egg and dart and panels of latticework and Greek key mouldings. At the back the ceiling is higher, with decorative spandrels, to accommodate the projection room behind the curving rear wall. Two vomitories. Sloping emergency exit passage with terrazzo floor. More of the original plaster decoration survives in the void area behind the present screens: tall panels decorated with plasterwork ovals, foliage and false balconies, these are separated by elaborately moulded consoles supporting a cornice. In the ceiling, plaster decoration in the form of a roundel surrounded by semicircles and honeysuckle. The curved proscenium for a screen introduced in 1959 also survives. The interiors of the former ballroom and restaurant are no longer of special interest.
ANALYSIS. An elaborate cinema complex of the post World War I period. While the interior has suffered alteration, significant quantities of good plasterwork survive, as does the overall sense of a greater grandeur than was found in pre-1914 cinemas. However, of greater interest is the exterior treatment, with the eye-catching tower and the extraordinary neo-Grec plaster decoration on the return wall. The tower is a late but prominent contribution to `Bristol Art Nouveau', as exemplified by other listed buildings in the city, including the Central Library by Charles Holden, Everard's Printing Works by Henry Williams and W J Neatby, and the Cabot Caf' and Air Balloon Hill School, both also by LaTrobe and Watson.
Andor Gomme, Michael Jenner and Brian Little, Bristol: An Architectural History, London, Lund Humphries, 1979, pp.411, 424. 437-8
Andor Gomme, Architects in Bristol, a checklist of their work, typescript in Bristol Central Library, p.24
Bristol Times and Mirror reports of 15 October, 5, 19, 26 and 30 November 1921
Obituary of James Henry LaTrobe, The Builder, 6 January 1922, p.6
Charles Anderson, A City and its Cinemas, Bristol, Redcliffe Press, 1983, p.34
Allen Eyles, ABC: the First Name in Entertainment, Burgess Hill, Cinema Theatre Association, 1993, pp.15, 135
Richard Gray, Cinemas in Britain: One Hundred Years of Cinema Architecture, London, Lund Humphries, 1996, p.138