Over the last two decades there have been  many times that we have heard about a cinema closing its doors.  When this happens, my hope is that their cultural use will be preserved, but this does not always happen. What is the fate of these picture palaces?

For this essay, I will use a few examples from Madrid, where the change of use of the old cinema “Palacio de la Música” (1928) has been in the news recently. These legendary halls were closed in 2008 . This closure was followed very shortly afterwards by the closure of the “Avenida” (1928-2009), another emblematic cinema in a central location just a few meters away, that has ended up being transformed into a clothing store.  Maybe this transformation influenced the decision to choose a different fate for the “Palacio de la Música”: an auditorium and meeting point which would maintain a friendly mix of culture and entertainment. However, this transformation was part of the social work of a bank which suffered financial problems and could not finish the project. The result of this is that the use of these theaters again seems to be related to the world of fashion.

While it is true that the best financial offer tempts the theater owners to transform them into clothing stores, the concern and nostalgia of the citizens who see their city centre with its old cafes and theather halls, gradually being transformed, is clear. That is why owners and authorities sometimes seek to protect the cultural space in different ways, the three most important ones being:

– By preserving certain parts of the old structure, as is the case with the aforementioned cinema “Avenida”:  the clothing store in this place retains many original architectural parts of the old place, such as the arches, doors and names of the chambers.
– By giving the old places a use as theater rooms or music places. For instance, the old cinema “Gran Via”, or the “Rialto” are alive today thanks to the efforts of the owners, and nowadays plays are hosted place.
– In a decision that could be described as fair, another cinema that changed recently was theater “Luna”, which was divided into two different uses:

• On the top floor, a luxury gym at lower prices than normal.
•   On the ground floor a musical theater with seating capacity of 800, and in the basement another one with  capacity of 400.

This case seems to provide a balanced solution to combine the search for greater revenues with the promoting of cultural events.
These previous examples have been used to observe changes in the use of historic cinemas, probably motivated by better bids. However, have all the cinemas been transformed into other places? Sometimes they end up closing for a long time. We can find many examples, like the old cinema “Rex”, closed in 2003, or the “Madrid” in the Plaza del Carmen, now an empty building since 2002, even though the City Council granted a license in 2004 for building  18 new cinema rooms and a parking garage, the construction of which has not even started yet.

The view point of someone who loves art but also listens to the economic side, is that owners, authorities and citizen’s organizations should try to find a balance between economic interests and the history and culture of each place, so that the citizens feel that we are protecting both their tangible and intanglible cultural heritage.

How would you like to transform these historic homes of films?


Jesús Candel López

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