93-107 Shaftesbury Avenue,
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Built on the site of the Shaftesbury Pavilion/Gaumont News Theatre which was destroyed by German bombs during World War II. This cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue at the corner of Frith Street in London’s West End opened on 4th February 1959 as the Columbia Cinema. It was leased to Columbia Pictures as an outlet for that studio’s films, although the opening film was “Gigi”– an MGM film, which played here for 7-months before transferring to the MGM-Loew’s Ritz Cinema on Leicester Square. It was followed by the Columbia film “Anatomy of a Murder”. Another big hit was Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl”. James Mason in “Lolita” had a Gala Premiere here in 1962.
The Columbia Cinema was sunk into the basement of a large office block and had 734 seats, and a huge curved screen for 70mm and Todd-AO presentations. The auditorium seating was on a single floor and there were (strangely) supporting pillars – although these were down the sides of the auditorium and did not interfere with sightlines. There were two sets of curtains in front of the screen. At ground level and basement level there are very generous sized foyers. The British Premiere of “King Rat” was held at the Columbia Cinema on 1st December 1965. In June 1981 a Royal Charity Premiere of “The Competition” starring Richard Dreyfuss & Amy Irving was attended by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Classic Cinemas chain took over the lease and after some improvements and the installation of Dolby stereo it reopened as the Classic Cinema on 19th August 1982 with “The Last American Virgin”. Classic/Cannon could not make the cinema pay, and it became the Premiere Cinema with an art-house policy in 1984, but this was short lived and it was closed for refurbishment on 29th November 1984. It was operated by Curzon who again renamed it Curzon West End when it re-opened on 8th March 1985. They made a big success of the cinema.
Eventually in 1998 it was deemed too large and closed on 11th June 1998 with “Live Flesh”. It was sub-divided into a three screen complex. This was expensively done, to the plans of architectural firm Panter Hudspith Architects and the resulting cinemas – screen 1 with 249 seats uses the original proscenium, with screen 2 (120 seats) and screen 3 (133 seats) side-by side in the rear of the former auditorium. It re-opened as the Curzon Soho on 16th October 1998. It remains a popular West End cinema and continues to present a wide choice of Independent films. The street entrance now also serves as a café, while the main foyer downstairs also serves as a licence bar.
In December 2014 it was announced that the building was under threat to be demolished for a new entrance for the planned Cross Rail 2 scheme and a campaign to save it was backed by actors Stephen Fry & Benedict Cumberbatch.
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