The Alexandra Cinema, Coventry

The premises was originally an old coffee house, refurbished into a single screen cinema, the Alexandra Picturedrome in 1917 by Elijah Strong. After Strong’s death, Harold Philpot bought the cinema during the 1930s; the cinema has been said to have experimented with 3D. During the Blitz, the cinema had been damaged, but not destroyed and reopened in the 1940s. During the 1970s refurbishments were made to divide the plot up into three screens. By its latter years Theatre One (changed name in 1970) had a poor reputation with whom it allowed though the doors and was known as a Flea Pit for its poor cleanliness. In 1991 it was sold and refurbished as a nightclub, which closed down only year laters. Since, it has remained derelict; however, in 2011 plans had be confirmed to demolish the site for new student accommodation.

Resource: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Coventry.htm

Stories about Theatre One:

1)A friend of mine, a John Francis, was a projectionist at Theatre One (the old Alexandra) in the 70s. I saw “The Exorcist” from the projection room in 1974. I remember one lady getting up from her seat & fainting in the aisle. They had a chair in the foyer for ones like her. That cinema always through its history showed “seedy” films, but also showed the Italian “sword & sandals” type, like “Hercules” films with strong men such as Reg Parks, a famous muscleman, now deceased. He actually helped train Arnold Schwarzenegger if I remember correctly. Steve Reeves was another fit guy in such films. The “Alex” also used to show Nudist films to titilate those who liked them. (Doug Wesley)

2)I know why we called the Savoy the Flea Pit. One afternoon a long long time ago after coming home from the Savoy I sat in front of the open fire getting warm when my mum noticed I was scratching a lot, she insisted on rolling up my trousers to find my legs were infested with fleas walking up my legs. I was not too impressed, I was stripped and put in the bath while my clothes were burnt on a garden fire. Mum was not very happy and after getting dressed I was marched back to the Savoy. She spoke to the Manager and told him what had gone on, he asked me to show him where I had been seated. The chair I had been seated in was infested with fleas and all the horse hair stuffing was falling out. From his account a tramp had tried to make the seats his home, they found him asleep and removed him. We ended up with free complimentary tickets, needless to say we sat well clear of the offending area, to be fair not the cinema’s fault and the affected seats were removed (feel itchy now?). Funny story, on one occasion my dad took me to the Savoy one afternoon (under sufferance I seem to remember), anyway on the way to the Savoy he called into the butchers (Farmers the Butcher) to collect some sausages for dinner later that day. I called into the Savoy Sweet Shop next to the Savoy to get some sweets. We were ushered to our seats, the house lights were dimmed and we settled down to watch the film. I looked over at my Dad who had now opened the newspaper-wrapped sausages and began to suck on one end of a sausage (I can hear you all cringe, but he loved raw beef sausage, testament to Farmers the Butcher I guess). Anyway not long after he had started munching a couple appeared at the end of the row we were seated in “Excuse me” the man said “can we come through” Poor ol’ dad, mouth full of sausage, could not make a reply but stood up to allow them to pass (wonder what they thought). At this point the newspaper holding the string of sausage fell to the floor spilling the contents, he could do nothing to stop it then the couple stepped on the sausage lying on the floor, the sausage split open and was now being trodden all along the aisle (what a mess). Dad was not happy and all I could think of was Punch and Judy,lol. He bit off the end of the sausage he had been chewing on and then gave the couple a right dressing. “Why don’t you people come at the beginning of the film” he said. The funny thing is the cinema was almost empty. They could have picked any seat in the house but they chose to sit in our row. Can you imagine what a laff we had when my dad told my mum. It made us laugh for a long time after. (Radford Kid)

Sourced: http://forum.historiccoventry.co.uk/main/search-posts.php?q=flea+pit&search_in=searchposts

The plans from City Council:

Objectification:

Policy OS3 – Local Area Regeneration

“Local Area Regeneration initiatives will be promoted and encouraged throughout the
City, but with particular emphasis on Priority Areas, in order to… create jobs for local
people; … respond to the cultural and recreational needs of the local community; …
improve and protect the natural and built environment; … and reverse the adverse impact
of traffic on the environment.

• The application site is located within the Hillfields / Swanswell Regeneration area
which is designated in the CDP as a ‘High Priority Area’. We consider that the
proposed scheme does not comply with policy OS3 because:-

a) The introduction of 42 residential dwellings will not create jobs for local
people; and

b) the scheme will not respond to the cultural and recreational needs of the local
community; and

c) demolition of this landmark building is contrary to the policy of protecting the
built environment; and

d) the introduction of 42 residential dwellings will heighten, rather than reverse,
the adverse impact of traffic in the immediate environment.

• We would favour the retention of this site for leisure / community / commercial
use, which would create jobs for local people, perhaps as a mixed-use development with an element of residential. At the very least the two ‘indicative’
retail units should be conditioned as part of any planning approval. We would
favour the retention, adaptation and reuse of this building, but failing that would
want to see a building of high architectural quality to compensate for the loss of this heritage building

Section 20 – Façade and Interface

Page 36 of the SPG states that “the presumption should be in favour of the retention and
conversion of old buildings of merit, or elements of these buildings, as far as possible.”

• We submit that the former Theatre One building is of merit and should be
retained and converted.

The Theatre One building is one of just two examples of early cinemas that
survive in Coventry. It opened as a Victorian coffee tavern in the 1880s and was
converted into a picture palace, The Alexandra, in 1917 (see Exhibit 4 attached).
It is one of just two cinemas that survive from the First World War (the other
being the Globe in Primrose Hill Street, later the Coliseum and now the Kasbah).

From the early days the owners screened 3D films even as late as the 1950s.
The Alexandra pioneered stereophonic sound in Coventry. After the name
changed to Theatre One in 1968 the cinema pioneered multi-screen using the
former circle as one auditorium, the stalls as the other. In 1974, third auditorium
was added by dividing the stalls into two, long before the multi-screen cinemas of
today. The building has a long and colourful history.

Source: http://planning.coventry.gov.uk/portal/servlets/AttachmentShowServlet?ImageName=885256

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 21.18.11

This story from the news paper clipping would be a lovely short piece of spoken narrative to layer over visual imagery. Then having cinema sounds and voice recordings of some logbook notes in between as well. The pieces of evidence will be layered on top of each other and not in chronological order. This nostalgic story will be layered with demolition plans and current imagery with means to help RESTORE the cinema in its former glory.

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