Urban Ghosts has explored dozens of abandoned theatres and movie palaces, from the spooky Glenroyal Cinema and Matt Lambros’ spectacular series to our historical examination of forgotten Art Deco, Atmospheric and Classic picture palaces. But with the exception of El Ateneo in Buenos Aires (now a stunning bookshop), we haven’t paid much attention to surplus cinemas that have been creatively converted for other uses. Here are 25 great examples of adaptive reuse.
While it’s a long way from the glitz and glamour of the picture palace, many former cinemas have found new life as Bingo halls. Capable of meeting the needs of large and small groups, they may look like forlorn shadows of their former selves but their reuse at least ensures the continuation of buildings with strong community ties. Many also have a story to tell – before Bingo, the former ABC Cinema (bottom) was a music venue, hosting The Beatles on 22 November 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assasinated.
Photographer Ewan-M has catalogued many of suburban London’s former cinemas that live on as licensed pubs, bars and music venues. Chains such as J.D. Wetherspoon have a habit of renovating former public buildings that once served at the heart of the community, such as cinemas, swimming baths, post offices and the like. While their internal charm may have often been lost, such adaptive reuse at least saves the external structure while honouring the building’s original use, such as the Capitol Cinema.
More unusually, abandoned cinemas are turned into houses and luxury apartments. The images above show two such redevelopments – one a large Art Deco picture palace, the other a smaller neighbourhood example designed in the same style.
A more common fate for abandoned cinemas – other than demolition – is conversion to warehousing and storage (like the Don Picture Palace in Sheffield). Their large auditoriums are ideal for warehouse purposes, often meaning they’re completely gutted to allow for as much inventory as possible. Several of these abandoned movie theaters in America have been transformed for storage. Occasionally they are restored (like the Fine Arts Theater in New Orleans, top left), but more often, demolition is the sad but inevitable order of the day.