The Genesis cinema, 93-95 Mile End Road, London E1 stands on a site used for entertainment purposes for over 150 years.
The first building on the site opened about 1848 as the Eagle public house, a pub cum music hall. This gave way to Lusby's Summer and Winter Garden which was later renamed Lusby's Music Hall.
Lusby's was destroyed by fire in 1884 and its proprietors, Messrs Crowder & Payne, who had owned the theatre since 1878, hired the architect Frank Matcham to design a replacement theatre which was to be called the Paragon Theatre of Varieties.
When the Paragon opened in May 1885, it was advertised as "the best ventilated theatre in London". The air in theatres of the time was stale and unhealthy due to overcrowding, poor ventilation and gas-lamp fumes. Frank Matcham installed an improved air extraction system above the central chandelier and positioned air-intake vents six feet above the ground level. The design was so successful that Matcham became the most popular architect of his time, and he was later responsible for such theatres as the Victoria Palace, the London Palladium, the London Coliseum, the Richmond Theatre and Hackney Empire. Today Matcham is generally regarded as the finest theatre architect of his era.
The top half of the Paragon's frontage was covered with faience tiling. Below this was a balcony carried on modelled trusses and three arched entrance ways. The right-hand entrance lead to the pit and balcony. The central one gave access to the "Paragon Drive" which was situated beneath the main entrance and used as a public house bar.
The entrance on the left-hand side was for patrons using promenade, stalls and boxes. Access to the balcony was via a separate entrance in Eagle Place. There was a large crush room and conservatory at the end of the entrance foyer.
Passing through these, patrons entered the promenade which surrounded the auditorium and afforded a good view of the stage as it was slightly higher than the seats.
The stage and auditorium were united by oriental arches draped in red velvet. The Paragon's beautiful and costly drop-curtain was painted by Mr. Charles Brooke; interior decoration was by the Framemaker's Gilders' and Decorators' Association, the overall colour scheme being cream and pale blue with gold relief. The auditorium accommodated about 1,500 people and was 60ft high, 100ft wide and 100ft long, the entire site covering about an acre. Prices of admission were gallery 4d, balcony 6d, promenade 1/-, stalls 1/6d fauteuils 2/6d, and boxes 10/6d and £1 1s 0d. By 1894 admission prices were from 6d to £2 2s 0d.
Numerous stars appeared at the Paragon including Harry Champion in 1884, Little Tich in 1902, Gertie Gitana in 1909 and Charlie Chaplin who appeared in Fred Karno's "Mumming Birds" before he achieved world wide fame in Hollywood.
In 1912 the theatre was renamed the Mile End Empire. By this time music hall was in decline and the building was being used as a cinema. By 1921 the Empire was owned by A. Goide & Partners who operated several East London cinemas.
In 1928 the newly-formed United Picture Theatre circuit (U.P.T.) purchased the Empire. The U.P.T. circuit comprised eight other cinemas including the Rivoli, Whitechapel. In 1934 U.P.T. went into receivership and the Empire was purchased by the fast expanding ABC circuit.
The Empire had a rear projection system which meant the projection box was at the back of the stage, making it necessary to project the picture back to front in order to make it appear the correct way round to the audience. The screen had to be regularly treated with oil to keep it transparent. One Sunday morning a new man arrived to service the screen. When the Empire opened later that day, the projectionists could see the picture clearly - sadly the audience could not as the engineer had silvered the screen!
ABC operated the Empire for only a few years before they demolished the old theatre and replaced it with a modern purpose built super-cinema. The new Empire opened without ceremony at 12.30 on 12th June 1939, with the films Burn 'Em Up O'Connor, starring Dennis O'Keefe, and Persons In Hiding, with Lynne Overman and Patricia Morrison. The Empire was designed by ABC's chief architect, W.R. Glen F.R.I.A.S. The Theatre was (and still is) typical of his work for the circuit, which includes the Savoy, Stoke Newington, the Rex, Leytonstone, the Ritz, Leyton and the Regals in Hackney and Ilford.
The Empire's small frontage was faced with faience tiling, with a metal and glass canopy, designed and erected by Garton & Thorne Ltd. The auditorium was situated well back from the road, allowing the architect to provide a very spacious entrance foyer, which was decorated in light blue and gold speckle, with gold elliptical columns, and finely moulded edging on the ceiling features.
A small landing effect was created at the end of the foyer where the two stairways to the circle converged. Below this was a small anti-draught lobby which led to the stalls foyer, where the decorative scheme was dark brown with gold stipple. Lighting was provided by two suspended light fittings and both the managers office and the staff room were located off this foyer. The auditorium was decorated in tones of warm red sprayed on pale buff. The ceiling met the proscenium via a series of inverted steps with scalloped edges.
Apart from a decorative band above the proscenium arch there was an absence of applied decorative motifs, the effect being created by two ornamental grilles which flanked the proscenium arch and by features projecting from the walls and ceilings. The Empire was equipped with a small stage and had a couple of dressing rooms. Projection equipment was by Ross with Western Electric sound. The fibrous plaster decoration was by W.J. Wilson & Son.
On 20th September 1954 the Empire presented it's first CinemaScope film The Command starring Guy Madison. The theatre officially became The ABC Mile End in 1960 but continued to advertise itself as the Empire in the local paper until July 1962. The approaches to the theatre were packed when the Royal World Premiere of Sparrows Can't Sing was held at the ABC on 26th February 1963. The premiere was attended by the Earl of Snowdon; Princess Margaret, who was also due to attend, was indisposed. The auditorium had been redecorated for the premiere and a new wide screen had been fitted. Filmed locally, Sparrows Can't Sing starred James Booth, Barbara Windsor, George Sewell, Barabara Ferris, Roy Kinnear, Avis Bunnage and Stephen Lewis who wrote the play on which the film was based. Sparrows was directed by Joan Littlewood who is best known for her work with the Theatre Workshop Company at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.
As well as the cast of the film, numerous stars attended the premiere, including Richard Todd, Stanley Baker, Sylvia Simms, Charlie Drake, Aurthur Askey, Marion Ryan, Carole Lesley and Miriam Karlin. There was a fanfare from the trumpeters of the Household Cavalry and music from the Metropolitan Police Band. The premiere raised over £3,000.
On Sunday 12th May 1985 Sparrows Can't Sing returned for a second charity performance at the ABC in aid of the Associated British Pictures Welfare Fund. There were exhibitions in the foyer and two star guests, Barbara Windsor and Stephen Lewis attended.
Acknowledgements to the authors David Jones and Kevin Wheelan, Publisher Mericer Cinema Society www.merciacinema.org.
The Genesis has 5 auditoria with a seating capacity ranging from 566 seats to 100 seats. The cinema is equipped with DTS Surround Sound.
We have 4 wheelchair accessable screens downstairs.
Food & Drink
The Kiosks are always open and have all your favourite drinks and snacks, from Popcorn to Malteasers, from Coke to Milkshakes... you can even have a cup of tea!
The Genesis Bar is a large and comfortable licensed bar area offering a range of beers and spirits.
STUDENTS: you can apply for a discount card, which entitles you to entry into the bar without buying a cinema ticket - and you will get half-price drinks!
Apart from the 5 theatre screens, we also have a range of arcade games in the foyer to keep you amused while you wait for your film to start.