20 Amwell End,
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In Ware, Hertfordshire, the Picture Hall opened on 26th December 1911 with 400 seats. It had been built in five weeks for William Skipp on a prominent site between the railway station and the main thoroughfare. Four gas radiators heated the auditorium. A 10hp gas engine provided light and also power for the single hand-cranked projector.
In 1925 new owners installed two projectors and renamed it the Ware Cinema. It was taken over in the late-1930’s by W. H. Reynolds. He planned major alterations, but these were not carried out until 1948, by which time Mr. Reynolds had died and Charles Ballands was in charge. Alterations were to the plans of Hertford based architect J.B. Healing. The roof was raised by 5ft 6ins and the auditorium turned around, with the rake being reversed, to take advantage of 27ft of space at the rear of the building. The screen was now at the front of the building. There were 250 new seats alongside 190 reconditioned seats, and a barrier was built across the auditorium to separate the more expensive seats from the cheaper ones in the front. The foyer was rebuilt at a lower level that eliminated the old entrance steps. It was renamed Astoria Cinema for its gala re-opening on Saturday 23rd October 1948 with “London Belongs to Me” starring Richard Attenborough and Alastair Sim.
A “giant wide screen” was installed in November 1954, the first film being “House of Wax, starring Vincent Price. Late in the 1950’s Mr. Ballands tried to boost attendances with live musical interludes and concerts on the tiny stage, but the best solution appeared to be part-time bingo, which started in October 1963. After Mr. Ballands and his wife died their two married daughters, and a family friend, kept it going, in the hope of selling it as a going concern. Unfortunately this did not prove possible and the cinema closed on Saturday 31st March 1979 after a five day run of "Hooper” starring Burt Reynolds interspersed with two nights of bingo.
By 1985 the building had become the Beckets Walk arcade of fifteen small shops, with a nightclub above. This was initially Beckets then, in 2002, Club Nautica and then Club Sky which closed in June 2009. It re-opened as Billie Jeans in November 2009 which closed in July 2011.
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