Electric Pavilion

Electric Pavilion

Opened: 1910
Closed: 1957
Address: 643 Holloway Road
Demolished: Yes

At the northern end of Holloway Road, close to Archway, once stood a cinema called the Electric Pavilion. It was an attractive looking purpose-built place that was owned by Israel Davis. Davis belonged to a family of cinema developers who operated a large chain of cinemas across London; he managed at least seven of these cinemas including the well-known Ritzy in Brixton, which was also called the Electric Pavilion at that time.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the prospect of a cinema opening up on this part of the Holloway Road, however, and quickly Davis found that his plan was met by strong resistance from others in the area and in particular from the local butcher whose shop was at 645 Holloway Road. It seems the butcher didn’t much like the idea of having a cinema right next door, thinking it would have an adverse effect on trade because of the collection of what he saw as undesirables outside his shop. So concerned was the butcher he instructed his solicitor to submit a letter of objection to County Hall to see what could be done. The letter indicates that his principle complaint was that:

The Electric Pavilion will be the means of collecting all the riff-raff and young children of the Locality and they will constitute a serious nuisance to the Public using the thoroughfare at that particular spot … and, that the – collection of such a crowd would seriously interfere with the butchers business.

If the butcher meant the working class by saying ‘riff-raff’, we can never be sure. But without a doubt cinema was embraced by the urban working class who were perceived as a ready-made audience for the ‘pictures’, as the natural progression from the music halls – a form of entertainment that already had a long history of appealing to the working class. Regardless of what prejudices the butcher may have had it is unsurprising that he and many like him were suspicious of this new form of entertainment and the impact it might have on business, given that before the cinema building boom of the 1910s the idea of ‘cinema’ was not one that always commandeered the notion of respectability. From a world of rundown unlicensed penny-gaffs, travelling fairground bioscopes and rowdy audiences this burgeoning new industry was intent of changing the face of cinema forever and with it came the construction of purpose-built picture-palaces, elaborate decoration and electric signs that would illuminate the night sky – just as the Electric Pavilion did a few years after opening.

Despite the complaints on the 30th April 1910, the Electric Pavilion was ceremonially opened by a high-ranking council official who congratulated Israel Davis for opening such a ‘fine establishment’. The council official went on to say that ‘there was no doubt that entertainment of that type had come to stay and whatever views some people might have, he personally approved of such entertainments, not only for their instructive but artistic and beneficial influence generally on the community at large’. And with that the audience cheered and the cinema was open.

Later on in 1914, Davis sold the cinema and it was taken over by Sidney Bacon’s Pictures, which we presume was not a relative of the butcher next door despite the name! With the new management came a new name, the ‘Highgate Empire’, which was displayed across a 30-foot electrical sign made of individual illuminated letters that shone out on Holloway Road. Some years later in 1932 the cinema changed hands again and became known as the ‘Union Cinema Empire’ for five years, before it was renamed as the ABC in 1937.

Ironically the Electric Pavilion went from an establishment that people feared would attract a ‘low society’ to screening on its final day the blockbusting musical comedy, ‘High Society’. The cinema closed on the 9th February 1957. The building was converted into the Gresham Ballroom a venue for music and dancing that largely attracted Archway’s local Irish community. The ballroom too closed in 1998 and was demolished three years later making room for the supermarket that now stands on the site.


Electric Pavilion. C. 1914

Photographer unknown

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  1. George Goodwin

    I never went to the Electric Pavilion as a cinema, I did have many enjoyable evenings at the Gresham Ballroom which was frequented by mainly the Irish community, girls of course!

    Archway and Camden Town had a lot of the Irish community at the time as I recall. This influx had an effect on the Arsenal players of the time as quite a number were in the Gunners squad because of the Irish manager.
    This has nothing to do with films but a little social history for you.

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