Too late for a great London cinema?

THE GRAND old listed building described as the most beautiful cinema in London may be saved – or lost – next month. On Wed 18 May 2011 the planning committee of Waltham Forest council is due to rule on an application by a controversial pentecostal church.

The Universal Church of The Kingdom of God, which is led by rich white Brazilians, wants to use the building for its mission to poor black people.

The church bought the cinema, famed for its art deco interior, in 2003 and since then it has fallen into dereliction, even though the council and English Heritage have taken an interest.

The cinema, a seeming ruin in Hoe Street, Walthamstow, a 2km cycle ride from north Hackney, has allies, notably the 1,000+-member McGuffin Film Society (the title derives from a term used by Walthamstow-born Alfred Hitchcock).

The society’s leader Bill Hodgson has won support from celebrities and musicians, among them Mick Jagger, whose band, the Rolling Stones, played there in the 1960s (it was the Sixties, man; he’s hazy on dates).

Jagger (OK, his press office) says: “Cinemas and live venues are the lifeblood of our cultural history.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear about such a beautiful, important historical building and centre of entertainment being lost to the local community.

“I fully support the campaign to keep it open and provide film, music and arts for generations to come.”

The film society is worried about the church’s stewardship of the building.

Hodgson says: “When I last visited it, I saw first-hand that radiators had been left to leak… the interior was in general disarray.”

Hitchsign: Hitchcock sign at 517 Leytonstone High Rd Lon 28092013 ©
Hitchcock plaque at 517 Leytonstone High Road, London E11 4PG, now a service station

An illegal rave held in the building in 2003 is blamed by the church for damage to the interior.

The church says it uses the building as a help centre and therefore has no incentive to let the building deteriorate further.

It adds: “We are concerned at the vandalism and criminal damage that threatens the ability to reinstate the building.”

The church’s founder, Bishop Edir Macedo, was said by The Times this month April 2011 to be a billionaire and one of the richest men of Brazil, where he faces questions about money-laundering. The church has claimed more than £7 million in gift aid from the UK tax authority. The Charity Commission has no plans to investigate.

The council made no comment.

David Altheer 120411

Hitch©DA13:© Hitchcock’s East End "year-long "return of a cinema to Leyton, Waltham Forest, in 2014" photocall 28092013
Industrial: what would Hitchcock think of this council tribute near Leytonstone overground station?

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