Rebuilding Dublin as a Cinematic City for the 1920s

JAP’s end of year “Irish Notes,” Bioscope 25 Dec. 1919: 97.

Despite an increasingly unstable political situation as the War of Independence intensified, Irish cinema at the end of the 1910s was in a very healthy state, and cinema in Dublin especially was about to change radically as it underwent a post-World War I, post-1916 Rising building boom. Not that cinema did not face criticism from the Irish Vigilance Association and its press supporters in their ongoing campaign against imported popular culture, which the Evening Herald memorably saw as an “invasion of our theatres by the ever-increasing forces of smut-huns whose poison gas has been as great a danger to public morals as machines of war have been to the physical weal of the people” (“Cleanse the Theatres”).  Notwithstanding such campaigns, the exhibition side of the industry looked particularly strong at the end of 1919, and Irish film production also looked promising. In his last “Irish Notes” of the year in the Bioscope, JAP noted two coming productions. “‘Rosaleen Dhu,’” he reported, “is the title of a four-reel film which has been produced by the Celtic Film Company around Bray, Co. Wicklow” (“Irish Notes,” 25 Dec.). He gave more space to the news that

the Film Company of Ireland recently reconstructed as the Irish Film Company [and] has just completed its only 1919 production, a screen version of a story by the famous Irish novelist of the early nineteenth century, William Carleton. The film, “Willie Reilly and his Colleen Bawn,” was made amidst some of the most picturesque scenery in the vicinity of Dublin, and features Brian MacGowan, who made a big hit as the central figure, “Matt, the Thrasher,” in the company’s super-production, “Knocknagow.” (Ibid.)

 

Ad for the trade show of In the Days of St Patrick, Irish Independent 27 Jan. 1920: 4.

Beyond the expectations of this substantial production, JAP observed that both the Film Company and Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply, which was also completing a film about St Patrick, were building film studios in the Dublin suburbs. “There is plenty of room for both companies,” he concluded, “and ‘competition is the life of trade.’”

Clontarf Town Hall reopened on 23 December 1919. Dublin Evening Mail 20 Dec. 1919: 2.

To some extent, the reopening on 23 December 1919 of Clontarf Town Hall as a picture theatre epitomizes the development of Dublin film exhibition. The Town Hall had first operated as a cinema in 1913 at the height of the pre-war cinema building boom, and as such, was among the first of the suburban cinemas whose offerings of professionally produced entertainment outside the city made cinema such a phenomenal success in the 1910s. With a substantial resident population and a seaside location that drew people out of the city, the town hall had looked like a good prospect as an entertainment venue throughout the 1910s, but it experienced difficulties that saw it closing and reopening regularly, including in 1916 and 1917. It would change hands again in May 1920, when a Mr O’Connell was named as the proprietor (“Irish Notes,” 13 May). As such, it did not have the stability of the Bohemian Picture Theatre and Phibsboro Picture House in the north-city suburb of Phibsboro and the Princess Cinema and Rathmines Town Hall in the south-city suburb of Rathmines. The Bohemian in particular had overcome the disadvantage of location vis-à-vis city-centre cinemas by attracting patrons to Phibsboro with its musical attractions.

A 1926 Goad Fire Insurance map of the Sackville/O’Connell Street block containing La Scala and the Metropole.

If the 1910s saw the advent and the dominance to a significant degree of the suburban picture house, the turn of the decade to the 1920s would see the city-centre venues spectacularly reassert themselves. Four large cinemas were under construction on key sites in the Sackville/O’Connell Street area that had levelled during the fighting in 1916: La Scala, the Metropole, the Grand Central and the Corinthian. The destroyed block to the south of the GPO, the centre of fighting during the Rising, was about to become the location of two of these cinemas, La Scala and the Metropole. Formerly a hotel at the corner of O’Connell and Princes Streets, the Metropole would become an entertainment venue that included a dance hall, a restaurant and a thousand-seat cinema.

Caricature of Frank Chambers, Irish Limelight Nov.1917: 1.

That seating capacity was dwarfed by La Scala, “Dublin’s new super cinema,” which would occupy a site on Princes Street that had been the premises of the Freeman’s Journal and the print works of the Alex Thom publishing company (“Behind the Screen”). “When completed,” the Irish Limelight observed when the project was first announced in the spring of 1918, “the seating accommodation will exceed that of the Gaiety Theatre, while adjoining the auditorium will be spacious tea and refreshment lounges, modelled on the most up-to-date lines” (ibid.). At this point, the seating accommodation was put at 1,400, but when La Scala opened in August 1920, this figure had more than doubled to 3,200 (“Building News”). La Scala was promoted by a consortium led by Frank Chambers, who had opened the Carlton Cinema in O’Connell Street in December 1915, but who had sold his interest in the Carlton in order to focus on La Scala, with which it would be in competition.

Goad Fire Insurance map of Dublin’s Lower Sackville/O’Connell Street and Eden Quay showing the location and relative sizes of the Grand Central Cinema and the Corinthian Cinema.

But La Scala would have plenty of other competition, both established and new. JAP put it succinctly when reporting on a conversation with another proprietor of a Sackville/O’Connell Street cinema. “Speaking to Alderman Farrell, managing director of the Pillar Picture House, and other Dublin cinemas, the other day,” JAP revealed,

he confirmed the report that he had purchased the site in Sackville Street formerly occupied by the D.B.C. restaurant, which vanished in the flames of the 1916 rebellion. It is a fine site, one of the most central in Dublin. The only trouble is that it is almost directly opposite the two palatial cinemas – the Metropole and the Scala – at present in process of construction, and within a stone’s throw almost of half-a-dozen other houses doing good business. And just round the corner on Eden Quay, the newly-formed Corinthian company are building one of the two picture theatres promised in their prospectuses” (“Irish Notes,” 11 Sep).

Farrell’s new cinema would be called the Grand Central, its name incorporating that of the Grand Cinema, which until its destruction in 1916, had stood next door to the iconic DBC restaurant.

Extract from James T. Jameson’s assessment of the viability of the Corinthian Picture Company. Courtesy of the Architectural Archive of Ireland.

Another key member of the Irish cinema industry was asked to comment on the soundness of the Corinthian Picture Company’s business plan. On 25 August 1919, James T. Jameson wrote a report on the viability of two cinemas that the Corinthian Picture Company intended to build on sites at South Great Georges Street and Eden Quay in central Dublin. As the managing director of the Dublin Kinema Exchange and Mart and Ireland’s most prominent pioneer film exhibitor, Jameson was in a good position to make this assessment. His report was appended to an estimate of the profits of the two cinemas in a document that survives at the Irish Architectural Archive (“Statement”). In it, Jameson approves of the architectural drawing that Thomas McNamara had prepared and of the central locations that the company had secured. With good tram links and plenty of passing trade, the latter would ensure that

there will be no necessity for expensive competitive films, as good ordinary programmes would in my opinion be quite sufficient, neither would there require to be a great deal of advertising, both of which are such a heave outlay on Picture Houses built in out-of-the-way streets […], and for which big extra attractions and expenses are involved to secure a clientele.

The particular merits of the Eden Quay site were that it “is faced with the inward and outward evening flow of patrons for the Royal Hippodrome and Tivoli Theatres, besides being in the line of persons passing from the North and South sides of the city. The impressive front of this Theatre also cannot be missed and will always be a standing attraction.” Indeed, the company decided to proceed with only this cinema, but it would not open until August 1921, almost exactly two years after Jameson wrote his report.

Although he mentions the possibility of increased revenues if the cinemas could secure Sunday opening, Jameson curiously did not take the growing competition in the Sackville/O’Connell Street area into account. The Recorder had banned Sunday opening for city-centre cinemas except in poor residential areas, and part of the controversy that La Scala would cause related to its attempts to get around this restriction. Suburban cinemas did not have to face the Recorder’s ban, although local clergy enforced Sunday closing in Rathmines. Other objections to the new city-centre cinema boom came from those who feared that cinema was replacing other art forms. “I read your leading article on ‘Music in Dublin,’ in Saturday’s issue, with very great interest,” letter writer “Musicus” commented in the Irish Times at the end of October 1919. “One would have thought that a fine [concert] hall would have been erected in Sackville street, instead of a new picture house, of which we have plenty” (“Music in Dublin”).

JAP was also less impressed than Jameson appeared to be with the re-centralization of cinema. “What puzzles me,” he opined, “is why all the new cinemas are being built in the centre of the city. I know of one or two sites in the outer circle which are simply shrieking to have cinemas built upon them. One district in particular should prove a veritable gold mine for the man who gets there first” (“Irish Notes,” 11 Sep). The unnamed suburb was probably not Clontarf, but it may have been the Liberties, Pembroke or Stoneybatter, where the Manor Street Cinema opened in May 1920.

Areas of Dublin’s suburbs did remain to be exploited by the cinema trade, but what was remarkable as 1919 became 1920 was the way in which parts of the city centre destroyed during the 1916 Rising were not being reconstructed as concert halls, press/publishing facilities or restaurants. They were being rebuilt as part of a cinematic city for the 1920s.

References

“Behind the Screen.” Irish Limelight Apr. 1918: 4.

“Building News.” Irish Builder 14 Aug. 1920: 530.

“Cleanse the Theatres.” Evening Herald 4 Jun. 1919: 2.

“Irish Notes.” Bioscope 11 Sep. 1919: 95; 25 Dec. 1919: 97-98; 13 May 1920: 112.

“Music in Dublin.” Letter. Irish Times 27 Oct. 1919: 6.

“Statement Showing How Estimate of Profits Is Arrived At and Report of Mr. James T. Jameson.” RP.D.147.7, Irish Architectural Archive.

From the Stomach to the Front: Projecting the World on Irish Screens in April 1915

The growth of picture houses in the 1910s provided Irish people with unprecedented visual access to the world. The increasing number of cinemagoers could view otherwise difficult or impossible to see geographical spaces, the geopolitical spaces of Europe’s battlefields and even the intimate spaces within the human body.

Stomach film DEM 24 Mar 1915

Dublin Evening Mail 24 March 1915: 5.

“You can take a series of X-Ray pictures at intervals of a few minutes each, while the stomach is busy digesting food,” observed an article in the Dublin Evening Mail in late March 1915.

[P]ut these pictures together on a film, thrown them on a screen, and –

You virtually have a MOVING PICTURE of the stomach in action while digesting your food. (“Moving Pictures of the Stomach.”)

Designed to look like a news item, this article was actually an advertisement for Bisturated Magnesia, a treatment for excess stomach acid. It used the term “moving pictures” – capitalized like no other word in the body of the article – to attract the roving eye of newspaper readers (and film historians), dyspeptic or not. Some advertisers clearly saw moving pictures as a desirable technology with which to associate their product in this way, as the promoters of White’s Fruit Jelly Crystals had done in the same newspaper in August 1913 (“Really Moving Picture”).

In their use of stomach X-rays, the advertisers of Bisturated Magnesia were, however, undoubtedly making a specific reference to Dr John MacIntyre’s experiments in what is now called medical imaging and specifically to Dr John MacIntyre’s X-Ray Film (1896, 1909), which includes early cineradiography of the stomach. Despite being a medical doctor and pioneer of radiography, MacIntyre could also see that X-rays were a spectacular visual technology, of interest far beyond the medical community (Cartwright 22). As such, he had something in common with the showmen who in the late 1890s exploited the entertainment possibilities of X-rays in theatres and fairgrounds, including in Ireland (Condon). This occurred at precisely the same time as the first projected moving pictures were being exhibited. Unlike moving pictures, however, the entertainment career of X-rays was short. For a start, the danger of radiation burns from prolonged exposure to the rays soon became obvious. As well as this, once audiences had seen the bones of their hands or the contents of a locked wooden box, the novelty value of X-rays was exhausted, but they retained a strong imaginative fascination. By contrast, moving pictures were inexhaustible in the potential subjects they could show, from X-ray images of such interior spaces to the exterior spaces of the historical world and the imagined spaces of fiction.

Moving pictures has also prompted the creation of the new social spaces of the picture houses, which were becoming increasingly ubiquitous on the Irish streetscape in April 1915. Although the Grand in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, had opened in autumn 1914, it garnered attention beyond local audiences when it was reviewed in glowing terms by the Bioscope’s “Jottings from Ulster” columnist on 1 April 1915. “Situate on the main street and approached through a spacious and ornate foyer,” the Grand held about 1,000 patrons who were stratified by their ability to pay 3d., 6d. or 1s. This was not, then, a utopian space of horizontal social relations. Although a stepped floor ensured that all patrons had a good view of the screen, “the patrons of the highest priced seats are comfortably and exclusively catered for in a handsome balcony abreast of the operating chamber, nest-o’spring seats and deep framed backs being provided in this section” (“Jottings,” 1 Apr.). Jottings favoured a programme that combined films with live acts, expressing strong approval of the fact that H. G. Austin, who managed the Grand for proprietor Sam Hewitt, had introduced varieties acts into the programme. As a result of this combination of entertainments, Jottings concluded: “I would not be surprised to find the magnificent tapestry with which the walls are decorated, being removed to make room for the appreciative crowds.” However, like other Irish towns with a similar population (12,553), Lurgan had more than one picture house. At the longer-established Picture House in Carnegie Street, manager Clarke embodied Jotting’s favoured combination of variety and cinema, having been part of the variety duo Clarke and Clare (“Jotings,” 22 Apr.).

Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 1.

Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 1.

If the Lurgan Grand was in many ways typical of the picture houses opening in mid-sized Irish towns at this time, Dublin’s Coliseum Theatre, which opened on Easter Monday, 5 April 1915, was exceptional. With a seating capacity of 3,000, it was Ireland biggest entertainment venue, and its stage was “one of the largest in the kingdom, being not less than 80 ft. wide and 40 ft. deep, capable of staging the largest spectacular scenes” ([Editorial Item]). In its initial stage of development, the Coliseum had been planned as a large picture house called the Premier Picture Palace, but its promoters had decided that another Dublin variety theatre would be more lucrative than a cinema. Nevertheless, given that film projection had become a stable part of variety programmes, a projection booth had been incorporated into the plans for the building and not as an unsightly supplementary structure within the auditorium, as was the case in older theatres. Praising the features of the Coliseum in advance of its opening, the Evening Herald noted that the “biograph chamber is so designed that it will beautify not mar the general scheme” (“Dublin’s New Theatre”).

Despite a general acknowledgment of the quality of the construction and the beauty of the finished theatre, controversy dogged both the building and the opening of the Coliseum. As noted in an earlier post, although other Dublin theatre owners had objected at an August 1914 hearing to the granting of a patent to this new venue, architect, diarist and theatregoer Joseph Holloway had spoken in favour of the new theatre because it offered the prospect of more drama in the city. The most immediate drama came offstage, from such craftspeople as local fibrous-plaster companies and furniture makers who were denied contracts for work in favour of cheaper British firms. In Dublin, the support of local industries was not only a way of creating good will among potential theatregoers but also of mollifying nationalist Anglophobia. With an ill-tempered public correspondence between the theatre and contractors conducted through the newspapers, the negative publicity for the theatre continued over months, causing Holloway to change his mind about its promise and “wish the new theatre a speedy failure under the circumstances. There is no hope ahead for us poor playgoers in Dublin!” (Holloway, 17 Mar. 1915).

Holloway attended the Coliseum’s opening night, and unlike the newspapers’ positive reviews, his diary entries suggest that the management misjudged the Dublin audience. This is noteworthy given that Lorcan Sherlock, the city’s former Lord Mayor, was one of the theatre’s directors. The theatre’s opening bill was headed by the singer Zona Vevey accompanied on organ by Max Erand. Although their act had been going very well and they had been called back for several encores,

the turn that was doing so well was completely spoiled by her singing of a recruiting Jingo song, “Your Country Wants You.” “It does, and we intend to stop it” said a man behind me as she sang. “Give us something Irish” shouted another, and then I knew trouble was brewing for her, and sure enough when she had finished, a stream of hissing and booing broke out and the two artists, retired amid a tornado of ugly sounds. (Holloway, 5 Apr. 1915.)

http://comeheretome.com/2014/05/09/is-it-over-yet-hiding-out-in-the-coliseum-theatre-1916/

Opened in Easter 1915, the Coliseum was destroyed in the fighting of Easter 1916. “The possibility of fire is put almost outside the pale of consideration” (“Dublin’s New Theatre”). Source: http://comeheretome.com/2014/05/09/is-it-over-yet-hiding-out-in-the-coliseum-theatre-1916/

The bioscope pictures – “introducing the Topical Budget of up-to-date current events” – with which the programme concluded appears to have been entirely unremarkable because they received no coverage, but Holloway claims that the opening night ended ignominiously:

A bar of England’s anthem brought the first show to an inglorious end, amid hissing, which cut short the music, as the imported conductor dropped his baton when he saw the way the land lay. This anthem has always been translated, when played in Ireland, into ‘To Hell With The Catholics’, and will always, I fear until we are allowed to govern ourselves. Therefore, it is better omitted from programmes of a general nature. (Ibid.)

Despite Holloway’s misgivings, the Coliseum’s opening was widely reported a success, and its advent tipped the balance of entertainment seats in Dublin city centre firmly back from picture house to theatre. The Evening Herald’s Man About Town was disappointed by the hackneyed nature of some of the opening acts, but he also saw a packed house that included “a few eminent K.C.’s, a land commissioner, several leading medicos, an Abbey Theatre author of distinction, and a trustee of the same concern.” For the Evening Telegraph, among the reasons that the Coliseum “opened its career auspiciously” was that it enjoyed an “advantageously central position […] adjoining the General Post Office and at the tram terminus for all parts of the city and suburbs” (“Coliseum Theatre”).

Those same trams might bring pleasure seekers away from the city centre and to the increasing number of picture houses in the suburbs. The arrival of the picture house had reconfigured entertainment space in the city. Some of the suburban picture houses courted more middle-class patrons in search of higher standard of entertainment in the guise of exclusive films, comfortable surroundings and musical offerings. The Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro – an area on the northern edge of the city well served by two tramlines – was building its reputation as a venue that provided enhanced musical accompaniment. The Bioscope’s Paddy observed that “one of the finest orchestras to be found in any picture outside London – or in London for the matter of that – is that now installed in the Bohemian.” The Bohemian had twelve musicians “and every instrument seems to have been pressed into use, thus affording a musical feast absolutely unapproached by any other house in Ireland” (Paddy, 25 Mar.).

Cinemas also competed for audience by offering more luxurious furnishings. Dublin’s Pillar Picture House had “an immense mirror […] beautifully set in a gilded frame[…] Thick luxurious carpets are on the stairs leading to the balcony, and the general appearance of the entrance leads one to imagine that a fairy palace of some sort was about to be entered” (Paddy, 4 Mar.). Some picture houses offered early evening patrons free tea. “A big feature is now being made of glow-lamp teas at Kinema House, Belfast,” noted Jottings. “Dainty tables with shaded lights are arranged in full view of the screen, and considerable advantage is being taken of the innovation by those who sacrifice their siestas to the pictures in the afternoons” (Jottings, 1 Apr.). This kind of offering seemed to have been designed to appeal largely to middle-class women who had the leisure to visit the picture houses while shopping in cities and towns in the afternoons.

Some religious groups and magistrates saw cinemagoing as an activity to be restricted rather than encouraged among the middle class. One of the main ways in which they sought to do this was through restrictions or a ban on Sunday opening. The ongoing controversy on Sunday opening came to something of a head at the end of March, when the Recorder of Dublin heard applications for music-and-dancing licences for picture houses. The Recorder reiterated his view that Sunday opening should be restricted to working-class areas of the city, where people had little opportunity to attend entertainments during the week. He therefore granted just a six-day music licence to Jacob Elliman’s Blackrock Picture House because it was located in “a residential place, with a very small number of working people” (“Picture Theatres”). And he again refused a Sunday licence to the Dame Street Picture House, which, he argued, was not frequented by working-class people because it was located on a city-centre shopping street similar to Grafton Street and Sackville/O’Connell Street.

Some religious groups and magistrates saw cinemagoing as an activity to be restricted rather than encouraged among the middle class. One of the main ways in which they sought to do this was through restrictions or a ban on Sunday opening. The ongoing controversy on Sunday opening came to something of a head at the end of March, when the Recorder of Dublin heard applications for music-and-dancing licences for picture houses. The Recorder reiterated his view that Sunday opening should be restricted to working-class areas of the city, where people had little opportunity to attend entertainments during the week. He therefore granted just a six-day music licence to Jacob Elliman’s Blackrock Picture House because it was located in “a residential place, with a very small number of working people” (“Picture Theatres”). And he again refused a Sunday licence to the Dame Street Picture House, which, he argued, was not frequented by working-class people because it was located on a city-centre shopping street similar to Grafton Street and Sackville/O’Connell Street.

These cases reveal a curious class, sectarian and even acoustic geography of the city that emerged in relation to its picture houses.

References

Cartwright, Lisa. Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1995.

“Coliseum Theatre: The Opening on Monday.” Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 4.

Condon, Denis. “‘Spleen of a Cabinet Minister at Work’: Exhibiting X-Rays and the Cinematograph in Ireland, 1896.” Film History and National Cinema: Studies in Irish Film 2. Ed. John Hill and Kevin Rockett. Four Courts Press: Dublin, 2005.

“Dublin’s New Theatre: The Opening of the Coliseum on Monday.” Evening Herald 2 Apr. 1915: 5.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 1 Apr. 1915: 33; 15 Apr. 1915: 260.

The Man About Town. “Things Seen and Heard.” Evening Herald 6 Apr. 1915: 4.

“Moving Pictures of the Stomach During Digestion.” Dublin Evening Mail 24 Mar. 1915: 5.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 4 Mar. 1915: 824; 18 Mar. 1915: 1051; 25 Mar. 1915: 1111.

“Picture Theatres: Recorder and Sunday Opening: Many Applications.” Evening Herald 29 Mar. 1915: 5.

“A Really Moving Picture.” Dublin Evening Mail 12 Jul. 1913: 3.

“Sunday Opening in Dublin: Important Cases.” Bioscope 8 Apr. 1915: 155.

Changing the Entertainment Geography of the City: The Bohemian Picture Theatre Opens

Ad for the opening of the Bohemian Picture Theatrre. Dublin Evening Mail, 6 Jun. 1914: 7.

“Glasnevin has fallen into line – it has not merely one Picture House, but two. Handsome buildings they are, both of them,” observed the Evening Herald’s Man About Town at the end of May 1914. He also noted developments in cinema far from Dublin, in the west coast Aran Islands: “Kilronan, Islands of Arran, too, has ‘joined the movement.’ Kilronan people to the number of 400 turned in on Saturday week last to their Picture Palace, and, as our Arran correspondent adds, ‘thoroughly enjoyed the films shown’” (“Thing Seen and Heard”). However accurate may have been his intriguing information on cinemagoing on islands far from the city that was his beat, he was wrong about the location of the two new Dublin picture houses; they were in the north-city district of Phibsborough, a mile from the more remote village of Glasnevin.

Bohemian

Letterhead from 1916 featuring image of Bohemian Picture Theatre. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

On 9 June 1914, the Irish Times somewhat more accurately reported that the “Bohemian Picture House, in Phibsborough road, was opened yesterday afternoon under conditions which promise well for the future success of the entertainment given there” (“Bohemian Cinema”). The location was right here, as the Bohemian – taking its name from the local soccer club – was built on the site of two demolished houses at 154 and 155 Phibsborough Road. However, as the controversy over the recently opened Phibsboro Picture House’s showing of In the Shadow of the Throne continued into the week beginning 8 June, conditions looked a little less auspicious than the writer would have his/her readers believe. The British trade journal Bioscope’s detailed account of the incident only appeared on 11 June, describing it as “A Catholic Protest” that had been counterproductive because it had “evoked a desire in other people to see [the film] and judge for themselves” (“‘In the Shadow of the Throne’).

Two small shops flanked the entrance to the Bohemian.

Two small shops flanked the entrance to the Bohemian, which was approached by a set of steps.

Nevertheless, both the Times and Herald rightly agreed that the Phibsborough picture houses were handsome, well-equipped buildings. The plans for the Bohemian were drawn up by Dublin’s most prominent cinema architect, George L. O’Connor. Having already prepared the plans for the Mary Street Picture House and the Rathmines Picture Palace (opened in March 1913 and soon afterwards named the Princess), O’Connor was said to be making “a speciality of designing cinema theatres” (“Another New Cinema Theatre for Dublin”). His design for the Bohemian resembled that of the Rathmines Picture Palace in incorporating two shops on either side of the entrance, each only a single storey in order not to block the view of the theatre itself (“More Cinema Theatres for Dublin”). The facade was “finished in red brick and chiselled limestone dressings, gables and finials” (“Building News”). Although set back from the street, the picture house announced itself with a canopy that extended between the shops. Patrons entered the auditorium by climbing a set of steps to the lobby. Inside, a wide stairs led to a spacious gallery, while an auditorium 104 feet by 38 feet was furnished with seats and carpets in shades of blue and topped by an elliptical ceiling finished in decorative fibrous plaster (ibid).

While noting the comfortable furnishings and the lighting and ventilation systems, the Irish Times also took an unusual interest in the details of the cinematic equipment. The projection box held two Ernemann Jubilee projectors, in which

the film is entirely enclosed throughout its length, thus giving complete immunity from fire risks. From lens to screen is a distance of 105 feet, and the screen, 20 feet by 15 feet, is slightly inclined from the vertical in order to give a proper view from every part of the house (“Bohemian Cinema”).

“The Bohemian Boy”: Caricature of Bohemian owner Frederick Sparling. Irish Limelight Aug. 1917: 1.

“The Bohemian Boy”: Caricature of Bohemian owner Frederick Sparling. Irish Limelight Aug. 1917: 1.

The 24-year-old Bohemian owner Frederick Arthur Sparling chose to compete with the more experienced proprietors of the Phibsboro Picture House located just 50 yards away with a very similar entertainment. Both venues offered continuous performances from 3 to 10:30, but the Boh’s prices of 3d, 6d and 1s were slightly higher than the Phibsboro’s 3d, 6d and 9d, and on Sundays, the cost of 3d seats increased to 4d. The ad for the Boh’s opening promised “refinement, good music and clear, steady pictures,” with its programme for the first six days headed by the four-reel British racing drama In the Hands of London Crooks (Barker, 1914). On Sunday 14 June, the main film was the two-reel In the Grip of Circumstance (US: Essanay, 1914), followed on Monday, 15 June, by Lieutenant Daring and the Stolen Invention (Britain: British and Colonial Kinematograph, 1914), and on Thursday, 18 June by The Drudge (US: Vitagraph, 1914). Sparling likely left the choice of “exclusive” films to his manager W. O. Ashton, who had recently been working for the Dublin branch of the distribution company Films, Limited (Paddy,18 Jun.). Musical director Percy Carver supervised the accompaniment, which “plays during the whole of the performance” (“Bohemian Picture Theatre”).

Map showing the main picture houses and theatres showing films in 1914. The slightly anomalous clustering of the Bohemian and Phibsboro.

Map showing the main Dublin picture houses and theatres showing films by 1914, with the location of the Bohemian and Phibsboro indicated.

The Times put the number of seats at 900, while other sources estimated 860 (“More Cinema Theatres for Dublin”), 1,000 (“Building News”) and 1,200 (Paddy, 4 Jun.). Taking even the lowest estimates for the two Phibsborough picture theatres (the Phibsboro with 570 and Bohemian with 860), early June 1914 saw this suburb on the northern edge of the city gain more than 1,400 cinema seats in just over two weeks. To ensure healthy profits, the picture houses would have had to have induced patrons to travel to Phibsborough, perhaps on one of the two tram lines that served the area. This was an extraordinary development because it showed the degree to which cinema had changed the entertainment geography of the city by bringing professionally produced theatrical entertainment into the suburbs.

References

“Another New Cinema Theatre for Dublin.” Irish Builder 31 Jan. 1914: 72.

“Bohemian Cinema.” Irish Times 9 Jun. 1914: 5.

“Bohemian Picture Theatre,” Dublin Evening Mail 13 Jun. 1914: 3.

“Building News.” Irish Builder 19 Dec. 1913: 868.

“‘In the Shadow of the Throne’: A Catholic Protest.” Bioscope 11 Jun. 1914: 1106.

“More Cinema Theatres for Dublin.” Irish Builder 16 Aug. 1913: 536.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 4 Jun. 1914: 1069; 18 Jun. 1914: 1261.

“Thing Seen and Heard: Glasnevin.” Evening Herald 25 May 1914: 5.

The Phibsboro Picture House Opens

Announcement of hte opening of the Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

Announcement of the opening of the Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

A century ago, on 23 May 1914, Dublin’s newspapers announced the opening of the Picture House in Phibsborough (or Phibsboro), on the northern edge of the city. The papers are a little vague on the exact day of the opening, but as the 23 May was a Saturday, some of the papers cover the opening in their weekly theatrical column. “The grand opening of the new Picture House situated at Blaquiere Bridge, Phibsborough,” declared the Dublin Evening Mail’s The Play’s the Thing column, “took place this week, with signal success” (“New Picture House in Phibsborough”). That morning’s Irish Times had carried the same article, and a shorter notice in the Evening Herald was clearly working from the same publicity material provided to the Mail and Times. “The promoters deserve every congratulation, not only as regards the excellent film presented, but also in as far as design, furnishing, lighting, ventilation, etc., are concerned,” commented the Herald. “The house is most comfortable, and great crowds have been enjoying both the comfort and excellent fare provided. The architect, Mr. Aubrey V. O’Rourke, C.E., was paid a very high compliment by the directors at the opening ceremony” (“New Phibsborough Picture Palace”).

Phibsboro Picture House

The only known photo of the Phibsboro Picture House was taken after it had closed for demolition in 1953 (http://archiseek.com/2012/1914-phibsborough-picture-house-north-circular-rd-dublin#.U38HxCjiiI8).

Certainly, the only still circulating photograph of the original facade – taken almost 40 years later – shows an attractive addition to the streetscape in this part of the city. Construction work had begun in summer 1913, but even after this had started, alterations were made to the design, probably in order to better compete with the Bohemian Picture Theatre, which was also under construction close by on Phibsborough Road. “It is intended to amend the design and planning generally of the new cinematograph theatre now in the course of construction at Madras Place, Phibsboro’,” revealed the Irish Builder.

The front of the building will be carried out in brickwork and terra cotta dressings, and will present a more handsome and bolder appearance than the original design. It is intended to erect a balcony, and to increase the seating capacity considerably. The emergency passage will be covered in, and the gentlemen’s sanitary accommodation approached from this passage. The machine enclosure, rewinding room, and office will be situated at the back of the balcony, and the generating chamber in the basement. The internal decorations, which are to be of a handsome character, are to be carried out in fibrous plaster.” (“Building News”)

The British cinema trade journal Bioscope offered the first indication of the capacity and ownership of the new picture house:

The theatre is specially designed, and will be an up-to-date hall, accommodating 600. Although a separate company from the Irish Kinematograph Company, Limited, the new company will be worked in conjunction with that Company’s Mary Street House. Messrs. Hibberts will have a controlling interest, and Alderman Farrell is to act as managing director. Mr. Bob O’Russ – the popular manager of the Mary Street house – will take over the duties connected with the secretaryship. (“Our View”)

City councillor and former mayor, John J. Farrell already had interests in the Electric Theatre, Talbot Street, the Mary Street Picture House and the soon-to-be announced Pillar Picture House in O’Connell Street. For the Phibsboro venture, however, Farrell registered the Phibsboro Picture House company on 2 September 1914, in partnership with William King, a farmer and horse breeder of Belcamp, Co. Dublin; and British cinema owners Henry Hibbert and T. Wood (“World of Finance”). Construction on the Phibsboro – and all other Dublin buildings – stopped in September 1913 because of the Lockout (Paddy, 30 Oct. and 11 Dec.), but it resumed with the end of the general strike in early 1914.

Advertisement for the newly opened Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

Advertisement for the newly opened Phibsboro Picture House, Dublin Evening Mail, 23 May 1914.

The first ads for the Phibsboro on 23 May reveal that the performances were continuous from 3 to 10:30 rather than at set times, that the programme changed on Monday and Thursday – initially with no Sunday show, that the pricing was 3d, 6d and 9d, and that there would be an “exclusive” film in every programme. However, they gave little indication of what exactly the first exclusives were. Helpfully, however, the Bioscope’s Paddy reported on 4 June that he

went round the other evening to see the picture theatre in Phibsboro’, and particularly did I admire the “sunrise and sunset” system of lighting, which was concealed round the walls of the building. The building holds, roughly, 600, and the tip-ups are in Rose Barri shade, the carpets being of a darker colour. The harmonizing effect is thus very beautiful. The balcony, to which admission is covered by the nimble shilling, runs in a wide curve, and has a splendid “rake.” (Paddy, 4 Jun.)

The main film Paddy saw that night was Lieutenant Rose and the Sealed Orders (Britain: Clarendon, 1914) “and it was followed with intense interest by a packed house,” as well as the John Bunny comedy Bunny’s Mistake (US: Vitagraph, 1914) and The Vanishing Cracksman (US: Ediston, 1913).

Dublin Evening Mail 30 May 1914: 4.

In the Shadow of the Throne at the Phibsboro; Dublin Evening Mail 30 May 1914: 4.

The first film that the Phibsboro actually advertised was the Danish film I Tronens Skygge, translated as In the Shadow of the Throne (I Tronens Skygge; Denmark: Kinografen, 1914). It was due to run for three days beginning on Monday, 1 June, but its opening had some unintended consequences, many – but not all – unpleasant for the management. The film caused a campaign by members of the Catholic Church’s Vigilance Committee, which had been formed in 1911 to campaign against “evil” literature but which had developed a campaign against theatre shows and films. Part of this campaign involved protests in theatres and cinemas carried out by William Larkin and his twin brother Francis.

The campaign began when P. Donnelly sent a letter to the Freeman’s Journal complaining about the film and asking “How long is Catholic Dublin going to stand this sort of thing?” (“A Cinematograph Show Objected To,” Condon 228). Donnelly objected to the fact that a nun said Mass and that a newly professed nun fell into the arms of a prince. The controversy caused a range of reactions. John J. Farrell responded by retaining the film for the second half of the week, writing a letter to the Freeman contradicting Donnelly’s claims (and perhaps, as alleged in court, threatening legal action if the paper did not print a retraction), and inviting a reporter from the newspaper to give an “objective” assessment of the film. The resulting publicity brought around 600 Dubliners, the seating capacity of the cinema, to subsequent showings of the film. Among these on Friday were William and Francis Larkin, who ended a shouted protest in the auditorium by throwing ink at the screen, splattering the blouse and music of Miss Eager in the orchestra. The Larkins were arrested, found guilty and fined a nominal 5 shillings, a punishment whose leniency suggested – not for the first time – the tacit support of the magistrate for Vigilance Committee activities.

To devote too much attention to the Larkins is to turn away from the story of the cinema, but the newspaper accounts of the case provide details of the working of the Phibsboro that do not survive otherwise. They reveal the name of the attendant Daniel McEvoy, whom William Larkin accused of handling him roughly while removing him, and also two women musicians from the orchestra who would otherwise be anonymous: Miss Eager, the musical director whose blouse was inked, and Miss Duffy, who testified in court. Daniel McEvoy and Miss Eager remain obscure, but Miss Duffy is likely to have been Evelyn Duffy who is listed in the 1911 Census as a 23-year-old professional vocalist living at 106 Phibsboro Road, close to the cinema.

Just three weeks after it opened, the Phibsboro had become a part of the city in several ways. It had become a significant part of the streetscape of north Dublin, a successful business for Farrell and his partners, and a place of employment for McEvoy, Eager and Duffy. Beyond that, it had become central, if only briefly, in one of Ireland’s cultural controversies.

References

“A Cinematograph Show Objected To.” Freeman’s Journal 2 Jun. 1914: 5.

“Building News.” Irish Builder 30 Aug. 1913: 563.

Condon, Denis. Early Irish Cinema, 1895-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic, 2008.

“New Phibsborough Picture Palace.” Evening Herald 23 May 1914: 4.

“New Picture House in Phibsboroough.” Dublin Evening Mail 23 May 1914: 3.

“Opening of the New Picture House in Phibsborough.” Irish Times 23 May1914: 9.

“Our View.” Bioscope 24 Jul.1913: 238.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 30 Oct. 1913: 395; 11 Dec. 1913: 1077; 4 Jun. 1914: 1069.

“World of Finance.” Bioscope 18 Sep. 1913: 933.