10/09/2009 07:29
London's hidden places

Secret London: the Granada cinema/Gala bingo hall



The Gala bingo hall (Image © Jonglez Publishing) (© The Gala bingo hall (Image © Jonglez Publishing))
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Chartres Cathedral meets Liberace

Now, alas, a bingo hall, this was the first cinema in the UK to be listed as grade I - the most rigorous preservation order a building can get. From the outside, the tall, square building doesn’t look all that special; on the inside, it looks like Chartres Cathedral if it had been designed by Liberace.

Opened in 1931, this palace to entertainment was commissioned by Sidney Bernstein, an exiled white Russian, and designed by Fyodor Fyodorovich Kommisarzhevsky, a Russian director and set designer.

The heavily gilded foyer is lined with Gothic mirrors and fake leaded windows, punctuated by a pair of sweeping marble staircases. But all this is relatively restrained: the auditorium – inspired by its namesake, the Alhambra Palace in Granada - is where Kommisarzhevsky went bananas. Under a coffered ceiling are cathedral porches, heraldic symbols, and glass chandeliers, now partly obscured by the bingo lighting and screens.

The decoration intensifies as you approach the stage. All around the auditorium are arches filled with murals of troubadours and wimpled damsels - but underneath all this medieval madness, the bingo fans play on, eyes fixed on the cards. The combination feels like a weird incarnation of a themed Vegas casino deep in South London.

Where 50 Mitcham Road, Tooting, SW17; 020 8672 5717

Open Mon - Sat 10:30am -11pm; Sun noon - 11pm

Admission Members only; membership free to anyone over 18

Transport Tooting Broadway tube

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