157 Charing Cross Road,
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This was a conversion by noted cinema architect Edward A. Stone, of a former Crosse & Blackwell pickle factory. It opened as the Astoria Theatre on 12th January 1927 with Ivor Novello in “Triumph of the Rat”. Projection was in the rear stalls from beneath the single balcony. A Compton 3Manual/8Rank theatre organ was installed that was opened by G.T. Pattman. There was a medium sized stage and dressing rooms. There was a ballroom located in the basement and a cafe in the balcony foyer area.
The Astoria Theatre was the first of a small chain of Astoria theatre’s in and around London built for Arthur Segal. In 1928 it was taken over by General Theatres Corporation, who were taken over 2 months later by Gaumont Theatres. By the late-1930’s it was operating as a weekly-change cinema, screening concurrently with the Metropole Cinema, Victoria or the New Victoria Cinema, Victoria (both Gaumont operated cinemas). The Astoria Theatre was closed at the height of the London Blitz from mid-September to 4th November 1940. By 1948, it was playing weekly releases that were on the ABC cinema chain, concurrent with the Tivoli Cinema on the Strand.
It became a first-run West End cinema from 6th December 1956 sharing screenings of the Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis comedy “Hollywood or Bust” with five other Rank Organision cinemas in the West End. It was modernized in early-1957 and became a Roadshow theatre with seating for 1,357, opening on 2nd July 1957 with “Around the World in 80 Days”, followed by the World Premiere of “Solomon & Sheba” on 27th October 1959 and “The Alamo” from 27th October 1960. Seating was reduced then from 1,650 to 1,121. The 70mm roadshow presentation of “West Side Story” broke all advance ticket sales at the Astoria during January-March 1962. The Astoria Theatre hosted a Royal World Premiere of “Fall of the Roman Empire” on 24th March 1964, and it was redecorated especially for this film in a Roman/Italian Renaisance style. In 1965, 70mm presentations of “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” and “The Agony and the Ecstacy” had Roadshow runs.
On 2nd January 1967 there was a Charity Premiere of “Hawaii”. On 4th April 1967 there was a Gala Premiere for “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. On 16th August the Gala European Premiere of “Divorce American Style” was held, and on 7th August 1967 there was the Premiere of “To Sir, With Love”. The Royal Premiere of “Half a Sixpence” was held here on 21st December 1967 and ran at the Astoria Theatre until it was closed on 2nd October 1968 to enable the interior to be gutted.
The Astoria Theatre reopened on 17th December 1968 with “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang” with a new plain auditorium with seating for 1,121. In 1969, the Astoria Theatre advertised itself as a Cinerama theatre when it played a 70mm print of “Krakatoa-East of Java”. In January 1970 a 70mm print of “Paint Your Wagon” had a long run of over a year, which was followed by “How the West Was Won” in 1971. However the supply of big production films in 70mm eventually dried up and the Rank Organisation began programming the Astoria Theatre with revivals and first run double-bill programmes of inferior films. In 1975, the Rank Organisation were officially publicising the Astoria Theatre as ‘The Luxury House of Adult Movies’ when the first programme of this type to play in a major West End cinema was “Love Play-Swedish Style” – ‘A sizzling sexpot learns the rules of the game’ and “The Loves of a French Pussycat” – ‘Revealing all the bare facts’.
The Astoria Theatre closed as a cinema on 28th February 1976, and was altered again to become a live theater with hit shows such as “Elvis-The Musical” which opened on 28th November 1977, followed by “Beatlemania”, but other shows were not so successful. The Astoria Theatre closed in 1979 and remained ‘dark’ until it was re-opened on 15th June 1982 as a theatre-restaurant venue, the opening show being “Wild, Wild Women”, which proved to be failure. After a period of darkness the next show produced at the Astoria Theatre was in 1984, when Howard Goodall’s musical “The Hired Man”, which was produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, ran for 164 performances(5 months). This was followed by a production of “Lennon” which was not successful. The theatre then became a live music venue which continued for many years.
The former ballroom in the basement became a gay disco known as Bang, and then became G-A-Y, transfering into the main theatre on several nights a week, when it became a nightclub, and live music venue. Over the 15 years that G-A-Y operated, it hosted live performances from artists such as Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Spice Girls, Cyndi Lauper, Enrique Iglesias, Mariah Carey, Bananarama, Christina Aguilera and S Club. The Astoria Theatre building was under threat for many years, scheduled for demolition when a new Tottenham Court Road Underground Station is constructed as part of the CrossRail project.
However, this project was on hold for several years and was only given the go-ahead in October 2007. G-A-Y moved out of the building on 26th July 2008, and transfered itself on 18th October 2008 to Heaven nightclub in Charing Cross. A short lease was taken out at the Astoria Theatre by new operators, as another gay nightclub named OMO, which opened on 1st August 2008.
A Compulsory Purchase Order was served on the Astoria Theatre and surrounding buildings on 17th October 2008. The Astoria Theatre closed on Wednesday 14th January 2009. Demolition commenced in early-June 2009, and was completed in late-July 2009.
In April 2012, it was announced that once the new Crossrail station has been completed, a new 350-500 seat live theatre will be incorporated in the plans for the new building to be erected on the site.
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