Address: 138 Copenhagen Street
Now: Local Authority Housing
The idea of the ‘local’ has always been important to the stretch of Copenhagen Street that was once home to the Copenhagen Cinema and is now where a block of local authority flats stand. The cinema, which was built in 1914 and remained functional until 1940, was a local cinema for people who didn’t want to travel further afield to Upper Street or Holloway Road where the more established and often more luxurious cinemas resided.
The Copenhagen Cinema was a converted shop designed by the architectural firm J. Falkingbridge Parker who built only one other cinema: which was in Queens Road, Peckham until it was bombed during the war. The Copenhagen Cinema had hard bench seating and cramped conditions with something like 280 cinemagoers fitting into a 60ft by 28ft hall. So while it could not be thought of as a fancy place in comparison to many of the other movie-theatres in Islington, it was a friendly place that hosted Sunday charity shows and where audience members would call out to each other to shut the door when trips to the toilet resulted in light streaming in and bleaching out the screen.
The cinema’s final proprietor Elias Cohen, originally from Poland, ran the place continually for the last 15 years of its life, a significant period in the history of moving-image development that saw the move from the silent era into the world of talking pictures. But the coming of sound was an expensive and difficult decision for many small independent cinemas like the Copenhagen. Perhaps it is the words of Elias Cohen himself that create the most illuminating picture of how difficult this was, as he writes to the London County Council in 1931 asking for permission to alter the projection booth so the cinema would be able to screen ‘talking pictures’:
‘I must now do something at the above [Copenhagen Cinema] or go into bankruptcy. I have lasted as long as I possibly could silent, but cannot go on any longer. My bookings go on to the end of this month, and do not know where to get any more. I have repeated my silent stuff so often that cinema has become a laughing stock. I am desirous of putting in a Mihaly Talkie set, because it is the most economical I can afford. My lease has a short time to run and at the end of this, by its terms I must pull down and rebuild a house in its place. I enclose a plan of the present Bro-box [sic] and another of the proposed altered one and trust sincerely that it will meet my case. It would be a kindness if you were to let me know when I can commence. I am, Yours truly, E. Cohen’
Elias Cohen was successful in his application and did screen ‘talkies’ for the next few years, until on the 3rd July 1940, he again wrote to London County Council: ‘Please note that I am closing the cinema down on Sunday night July 14th. It is utterly impossible for me to carry on in this situation. I am, Yours truly E. Cohen’