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Heritage groups campaign for listing of 1920s West End cinema

Haymarket empire june 2018 copyright richard waite wider
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Heritage groups have launched a campaign to protect the Empire Cinema Haymarket – a ‘grand Hollywood film palace’ in London’s West End

SAVE Britain’s Heritage and The Cinema Theatre Association – with backing from The Twentieth Century Society – are battling to secure listed status for the venue, which was designed in 1926 by Frank T Verity in partnership with Samuel Beverley.

The campaigners say the Empire, formerly called The Carlton, is the only remaining major cinema of the inter-war years still in use. Also a popular theatre, it is currently host to a production of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter

The building’s owner, The Crown Estate, has applied to Historic England for an official Certificate of Immunity (COI), a document that guarantees that a building will not be statutorily listed.

The certificates are valid for five years, during which time no other listing applications for the site can be considered.

Campaigners fear the COI could pave the way for the destruction of the cinema’s interior, which boasts plush decor and a large foyer running along the width of the whole building.

SAVE executive president Marcus Binney said: ‘The Crown Estate should cherish their own heritage. In the immediate post-war years, the Crown Commissioners proposed to demolish Nash’s magnificent Regency terraces around Regent’s Park and were only prevented from doing so by public outcry.

‘We are determined to convince The Crown Estate that this unique palace of entertainment, built in the 1920s, should escape a similar fate and be protected by listing.’

Twentieth Century Society senior conservation adviser Clare Price said: ‘We consider the Carlton Cinema to be of architectural and historic interest and support its listing. We believe that the interior has more surviving features than have been previously recognised, and merits protection.’

The Crown Estate, which has not yet put forward any proposals for works to the building, said the certificate sought to ‘formalise’ an earlier decision by Historic England not to list the building.

A spokesperson added: ‘In line with our strong track record for careful and sensitive regeneration of this part of the West End, were we to progress any future proposals affecting this site we would continue to work closely with local community and conservation groups to retain the building’s historic façade and make provision of cinema within the site.’

The Empire has been the venue for major film premières, including Top Hat in 1935 with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Henry V with Laurence Olivier in 1944.

Historic England said it was currently considering an application for the listing of the building.

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