The Granada Cinema, Carshalton Road, Sutton, Surrey - Now London
Formerly - The Plaza Theatre
Above - The Exterior of the Granada Sutton, formerly the Plaza - From the 21st Anniversary edition of the Cinema Organ Society Journal 1973
The Granada Cinema in Sutton, Surrey, that some people may still remember today, was built for Lou Morris, and designed by the respected Theatre Architect, Robert Cromie, and originally opened as the Plaza Theatre on the 8th of September, 1934 with the films 'Catherine the Great' and 'Oliver the Eighth'. (Sutton was in Surrey in those days but since 1965 it has been part of Greater London).
Right - A Programme for the Granada, Sutton in 1955 - Click to see the whole programme.
The Plaza Theatre was built as a cinema but also had a fully equipped stage and several dressing rooms, and although from the start it was home to all the major film releases, it was also often home to Pantomimes at Christmas. (This Site has much information on the Granada Chain's Pantomime history.) The Plaza auditorium, with decorations by Mollo & Egan, was on two levels and could accommodate some 2,390 people, and the Theatre had its own Compton 3Manual/10Ranks organ with an illuminated console. There was also a large cafe / ballroom over the foyer and a car park at the rear of the Theatre.
Although the Theatre was built for Lou Morris, on its opening it was taken over by Granada Theatres Ltd, although it wouldn't actually be renamed Granada until April 1942.
The Granada suffered some bomb damage during the war and was closed for a month during September and October 1940. An application to convert the Theatre for Bingo in 1974 was refused and the Theatre then suffered a fire at its stage end and was closed for good after its final showing of 'The Wilby Conspiracy' and 'Mixed Company' on the 28th of August 1975. The Granada was then demolished and an office building called Sutton Park House was erected in its place.
Right - A Google Streetview image of the site of the former Plaza Theatre / Granada Cinema, Sutton today - Click to Interact.
I lived in Sutton myself in my formative years and remember regularly visiting the Granada Cinema for Saturday morning kids matinees where we would see cartoons, B Movies and a main feature, supplemented by goodie bags which were usually not that interesting but great to be given anyway, most of the contents being used as projectiles throughout the programme. I also used to visit the Cinema in the evenings when I was older and still remember coming out of the Granada, Sutton having seen 'West Side Story' with two of my sisters, and then singing the songs and clicking our fingers to 'When you're a Jet' all the way home.
Some of the above information was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures website, and also the article, which is transcribed below, from the 21st Anniversary edition of the Cinema Organ Society Journal of 1973.
"The Wonder Theatre of Surrey"
by lan R. McIver
Above - A Postcard showing several views of Sutton,
Surrey, including the Plaza Theatre, later the Granada Cinema.
It is Saturday evening, 8th September, 1934. For seven months the town of Sutton has been echoing with the sounds of massive construction work. At the height of the golden age of the cult of the motion picture a new shrine dedicated to celluloid entertainment is about to be inaugurated.
Building work on the Plaza Theatre had started on 15th February, 1934, and from then until a few hours before the opening performance 450 workmen were kept busy turning a gargantuan shopping list into a cinema:
Above - The Interior of the Granada Sutton, formerly the Plaza Theatre as originally built. The lighting was bright enough for Saturday evening patrons to check their football pools against the newspaper results while waiting for the programme to start - From the 21st Anniversary edition of the Cinema Organ Society Journal 1973
The cinema was designed inside and out by one of Britain's most famous theatre architects, Robert Cromie, and the building was the subject of much favourable comment in the architectural and "lay" press.
"Two-inch multicoloured facing bricks with artificial Portland stone dressing have been used, with most successful results. The secret of the charm of this elevation lies in the patterning of the stonework to the great central window feature against a broad unfretted field of brickwork. The extreme simplicity of the design enhances its effects and it is an elegant example of a stonedressed brick cinema facade." (2)
The interior also received praise and acclaim: " Here is an example in which the organ grille. proscenium and reflecting ceiling have been designed as an ensemble." (2) " Eugene Molle and Michael Egan, two brilliant designers who, although still in their twenties, have already won national acclaim, are responsible for the Plaza's interior decorations." (1) "The walls and ceiling have a golden granular surface, shaded in parts of the building with rose. The lighting of the auditorium is in amber and much of it is from lights concealed in the decorative scheme of the ceiling. There will be coloured lighting effects on the stage and the console of the Compton organ, the latest of its kind, will be illuminated in changing colours. Every seat is of the armchair type, and they are arranged so that everybody has a full view of the screen. . ." (3)
These, then, were the sights which greeted the first patrons on that Saturday night as they queued and waited for the show to begin. And what a show it was! "The band of the Scots Guards played the audience in and trumpeters, ranked on either side of the stage, heralded the start of the programme with a fanfare." (3) This was followed by "A Screen Novelty," the News in Sound, "The Private Life of Oliver the Eighth" (Laurel and Hardy) and an organ recital "Organs of Yesterday and Today." "The chief surprise in an evening packed full of novelty was the appearance at the organ or Leo Webber whose name is a household word in America and who mace a dash by liner and airplane to get there in time. His appearance that night was his first in England. He was given a wonderful ovation, encore alter encore being demanded." (3) After this excitement the audience settled down to enjoy the feature item "Catherine the Great, ' starring Elizabeth Bergner, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr., Flora Robson and Gerald du Maurier.
At the time of opening the admission prices ranged from 9d to 2/6d. The cinema was equipped with a cafe - "open daily from 10 a.m. to 10-30 p.m. Lunch, tea, dinner or supper - at prices to suit everybody."
The cinema was built for Lou Morris' circuit, and business was very brisk. During the theatre's second birthday week the following statistics were published:
2,283,549 patrons admitted
Above - The Interior of the Granada Sutton, formerly the Plaza Theatre prior to its redcoration in the 1970s - From the 21st Anniversary edition of the Cinema Organ Society Journal 1973
From the week of October 10th, 1938 the familiar Granada figure appeared in the Plaza's advertisements, but it was not for some years that the theatre was renamed "Granada."
In August 1939, the manager of the Plaza, as did every cinema manager in the country, received a Home Office (A.R.P. Department) memorandum: For the Guidance of Owners and Occupiers of Places of Entertainment.
"In view of the great danger involved in the assembly of large numbers of persons in places where it is not feasible to provide adequate protection against the effect of bombs, it has been decided that during the initial stages of a war all theatres, music halls, cinemas and other places of entertainment shall be closed throughout the country. Owners and managers must accordingly be prepared, if an emergency arises, to close them down at short notice on receipt of instructions from the police . . ."
Thus, when war was declared, all cinemas closed, and Plaza staff were put to work as instructed in Head Office Memo No. 10 to spring-clean the theatre. Fortunately, the closure was of short duration, as cinemas in the Outer London ring were allowed to re-open on 9th September, 1939, a programme was hastily prepared, and down came the "Sorry, we're closed" notice on the canopy. Business then continued for about a year, when it was abruptly terminated on "The Night the Bomb Fell."
Right - The Compton 3/10 No. A 202 Organ Console in the Granada Sutton, formerly the Plaza Theatre - From the 21st Anniversary edition of the Cinema Organ Society Journal 1973
"On September 20th (1940), Granada, Sutton became the next casualty. The warning had been sounded before the end of the main feature, "It's a Date," and the audience had left with the exception of six people who were asleep in the back stalls and were allowed to stay. Foreman Charles Groves and Assistant foreman Andrews were on night-watch, and an A.R.P. fireman was dozing on a chair inside one of the padlocked side-exits. Andrews tells the story: 'I took cover and waited, and just as I got up an oil bomb hit us. It came through the roof, but hit a girder and exploded in the auditorium. All I could see was a sheet of flame up to the ceiling completely blocking out the stage. Apart from a loud crack, there was very little noise.'
"'The blast blew the front doors flat and bent the iron bars and padlocks like hairpins. The A.R.P. man found himself with a padlock and chain round his neck outside the cinema against the wall, with the exit doors closed behind him. The six customers just vanished into the night over the flattened front doors.'
"Andrews managed to couple a hydrant and extinguish the flames before the fire brigade arrived. As soon as he had put the flames out, he found himself in pitch darkness, for the bomb had severed the lighting circuit.
"The next day, while Chief Operator Nash and his staff were on the roof sorting out wires round the hole, Foreman Groves began chipping with a hammer at what he thought to be a piece of bomb-casing embedded in the theatre floor. An A.R.P. warden pronounced it to be an unexploded bomb, with somewhat precipitate effect on all concerned.
"The restaurant cleared itself in record time, so did the fire station and its married quarters, which adjoin the back of the theatre; the High Street was cordoned off and the "death or glory" squad was sumoned. For thirty-six hours the centre of Sutton was deserted - but it was a false alarm, not a buried bomb, but the cap of the oil-bomb embedded in the concrete of the floor.
"This incident cost the Granada, Sutton, 350 new seats and a month's closure. Foreman Groves and Assistant Foreman Andrews, whose prompt action and sterling work had saved the theatre, both received inscribed cigarette cases and cheques from Head Office." (4)
The theatre re-opened on 21st October 1940 for "Business as usual" and all was then relatively quiet until the advent of the flying bombs in 1943, which brought at least one close shave:
"At Granada, Sutton, on the southern run in to London, Manager Thurburn counted as many as nine flying bombs in the air at the same time, and a total of 175 were logged passing within a quarter of a mile of the theatre. A strong wind would divert their course right over the theatre, and one morning Thurburn had to duck hurriedly on his roof when one cleared the stage end by 5 or 6 feet." (4)
Above - The Compton 3/10 No. A 202 Organ Console risen to stage level at the Granada Sutton, formerly the Plaza Theatre - From the 21st Anniversary edition of the Cinema Organ Society Journal 1973
Thus the theatre survived the hazards of war, but its future was again rendered uncertain by a road redevelopment scheme. A new road was planned to run right through the theatre site, and for some considerable time, while the scheme was being debated, little more than essential maintenance work was done on the building, which seemed doomed for demolition, and it began to assume a melancholy aspect. Fortunately, the road scheme was changed, and the theatre has been redecorated and improved so that it now looks very smart and well cared for.
The theatre originally seated 2500, but over the years the seats have been respaced for greater comfort, and just over 2000 Patrons can now be accommodated. With the present enthusiastic and imaginative management it is not uncommon for the house to be filled, even in these days, particularly for the regular stage shows for which the Granada is justly renowned.
The above article "The Wonder Theatre of Surrey" by lan
R. McIver is from the 21st Anniversary edition of the Cinema Organ Society
Journal December 1973.
References in the article:
1 . Plaza Cinema opening brochure.
2. "Modern Cinernas" - extracts from "Architects' Journal" London, 1936.
3. "Sutton and Cheam Advertiser" or "Sutton Times".
4. "Red Roses Every Night" Guy Morgan. Quality Press, London, 1948.
5. Interview - Florence de Jong/lan Melver - July, 1972.
6. "Church of England Newspaper- -16th November, 1934.
The above article on the Granada Cinema / Plaza Theatre, Sutton is from the 21st Anniversary edition of the Cinema Organ Society Journal 1973.
Sadly The Granada Cinema was demolished in 1975 and an office building called Sutton Park House was erected in its place.