Listing success! Historic cinema in London’s West End is celebrated and protected through listing

The beautiful historic Empire CInema on London's Haymarket is now inscribed on the National Heritage List (images: Ian Grundy)

17 October 2018
SAVE Britain’s Heritage is excited to announce the listing of the Empire Cinema on Haymarket in London’s West End. The decision today by Historic England, follows a high profile campaign by SAVE and the Cinemas Theatre Association to save the building from major demolition.
Earlier this year, The Crown Estate, owner of the Empire (former Carlton), submitted an application for a certificate of immunity from listing (COI) which would have permitted the demolition of the cinema to make way for an office led development. SAVE and the Cinema Theatre Association strongly objected to the COI and we are delighted that the building has now been listed.

Our campaign was also backed by Twentieth Century Society, Ancient Monuments Society, World Monuments Fund Britain and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. They signed our letter published in The Times in June which highlighted the demolition threat to the building.
Today's listing decision is particularly significant as the designation of the Empire Cinema was previously refused. However, the recent re-inspection by Historic England brought to light a number of historic features that survived and had been previously overlooked. This new evidence in conjunction with the fact that many other historic cinemas have been lost since the last assessment of the cinema ten years ago has resulted in a fresh review of the significance of the building and a grade II listing.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said: “This is a fantastic result for England’s cinema heritage and we are delighted that the rarity, beauty and historic interest of the interiors have been celebrated by listing, and given the recognition they deserve. This presents an opportunity for the Crown Estate to re-think their plans, and incorporate this historic and very special West End venue into their wider strategy for the Haymarket.”
Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said: "This is a very great day for cinema architecture. At last it has been recognised that behind post war partitions and subdivisions amazing interiors remain undiscovered and await restoration. We call on the Crown Commissioners to support the return of the Empire Cinema to glory”.

Richard Gray, chair of casework for the Cinema Theatre Association, says: "We are more than delighted that after all these years and after several attempts on listing the former Carlton cinema, now Empire, Historic England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have at last given the building rightful recognition and protection. The listing reflects its architectural importance, the surviving decoration and its place in the history of film exhibition in this country, with the many glittering film premiers it has hosted. We hope now that the building will be restored and continue to be a show-place movie destination of the West End."   

Historic England state in the listing description that the building was designated for the following reasons:

Architectural interest
- for its fine, palazzo-style exterior, which includes the Paramount logo and masks of the architects;
- for the high quality of its surviving interior, including the Adam-style plasterwork and elaborate joinery of its foyer, richly decorated auditorium ceiling and first-floor and basement bars;
- for its American-influenced loge-plan, which tough largely masked by later fabric, is evident in elements of its visible fabric.

Historical interest
- as the sole surviving cinema interior designed by Frank Verity, credited with bringing the 'cinema-de-lux' to Britain through his work for Paramount;
- as one of a small handful of London's large, luxurious  West End cinemas from the area's heyday as the city's entertainment centre to survive with an interior reflective of this period. 

Designed by renowned cinema architects Frank Verity and Sam Beverley for Paramount, the building still exudes the drama and glamour of Hollywood. Frank's father Thomas is famous as the architect of many of London’s best loved Victorian and Edwardian theatres. Verity Jr. was an outstanding designer of theatres and cinemas in his own right. Verity Jr served as The Crown Estate’s theatre and cinema consultant at the very time when the Commissioners were rebuilding prime sites along the Haymarket and Regent Street to a new grand scale. Verity was also the architect of the cinemas in Buckingham Palace and Clarence House (listed as part of these buildings).    
Though the stalls at the Empire have been subdivided into two smaller cinemas, the main screen still occupies the major part of the former auditorium. Its historic ceiling is virtually intact and the opulent decoration ingeniously integrates ventilation installations. Together with the highly ornamental frieze and elegant light fittings the space evokes the monumentality of Renaissance interiors. Hollywood film makers loved grandeur and show.  
All the West End picture palaces have been altered in one way or another as, for instance, those surrounding Leicester Square – the Odeon, the original Empire (now Cineworld) and what was the Warner, now Vue, have all been drastically changed. The Odeon West End, the forth cinema in the square has gone completely. Elsewhere, the interior of the Plaza in Lower Regent Street has been totally lost, so too the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus, and the Astoria on Charing Cross Road has been demolished for a new Elizabeth Line station. This therefore makes the Empire all the more special.


Note to editors
1. For more information and images please contact SAVE on 020 7253 3500 or
2. Read our letter in The Times dated 26 June 2018.
3. See our brochure which illustrates the building's architectural and historic significance.
4. Watch our short film by Andy Hylton about our campaign to save the Empire Cinema.