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16 October 2014
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A history of the Curzon Cinema

Belfast's cinematic history, with a special look back on the Curzon Cinema.
By James Gracey .

ML 1030

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A Brief History of the Curzon

Situated on the Ormeau Road the Curzon Cinema was built under the direction of John Gaston. It was opened on Saturday December 12th 1936 - the same day as the Ritz and Broadway - by George B. Hanna. The entire proceeds gained in that evening were donated to the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children. The main feature that evening was Queen of Hearts starring Gracie Fields and the second feature was 1,000 Dollars a Minute starring Roger Pryor.

The role of Managing Director was carried out by Mr Gaston and he retained this responsibility as well as possession of The Curzon until his death in 1973. He was succeeded by his two sons - John and Leslie - who became Managing Directors.

During the war The Curzon experienced some trying times - as of course did all other cinemas. However, despite frequent air-raid warnings The Curzon avoided having to close its doors to the public until the death of King George VI on February 6th 1952.

Another notable exception when The Curzon had to close in the early days of its existence was March 14th 1956 when Belfast experienced a massive electricity strike.

Imposing Curzon Cinema Front The Curzon in Lights
The Curzon Cinema around 1991
The Curzon in all its glory at night

Financial Pressure
Due to the increasing numbers of Multiplexes appearing throughout the country The Curzon -as an independent cinema - faced strong competition. However, in its favour were a management team not afraid to face up to competition. As a result the RCA Synchro Screen was installed - a screen with 'wings' on either side and flaps at the top and bottom to create a box shape and 3D effect - the first of it's kind in Ireland.

Not long after this the Wide-Screen was installed in November, 1954 and the first film to be screened on it was The Glen Millar Story starring James Stewart.

Video Clips courtesy of Jim McKeown

video clip of projection room
video clip of cinema
video clip of projector

Read about Jim McKeown's time as a projectionist at the Curzon

Curzon's Childrens Club
While The Curzon seemed to be able to compete with other cinemas - one thing it could not compete with was television. Cinema audiences plummeted with the increasing popularity of television. One of the things that suffered most was The Curzon Cinema Children's Club. The
club was established in the early fifties - initially called The Roy Rogers Riders Club named after The King of the Cowboys who was a popular star of the time. Saturday morning kid's TV had the children in its clutches and eventually the Club had to come to an end.

In 1977 after battling with declining audiences, competition from television and multiplexes and still managing to - The Curzon was ravaged by fire caused by incendiaries. It closed for three months and in December 1977 had a grand re-opening with George Lucas's epic Star Wars - which for a while was the most popular film to have played at The Curzon.

Ahead of the rest
In the early eighties The Curzon reinvented itself yet again by transforming into a three screen complex. While the size and grandeur of the original cinema was lost, the obvious benefit was that now more films could be offered to the audiences and could be shown for longer providing more opportunity for people to watch them. The old stalls were split in two while the old Circle was left intact to create a third screen. While changing with the times in order to survive, The Curzon also remained a trend-setter. In 1983 it became the first cinema in Northern Ireland to offer Dolby Stereo sound which was featured with the screening of Walt Disney's Fantasia.

Curzon Projector Running The Curzon Projector
The Projector Playing a Film
The Projector between shows


The presentation of a film is one of those things that most of us take for granted - unless it goes wrong. This brings to our attention that in fact someone is responsible for projecting the film onto the screen and it doesn't just appear there magically.

The Curzon was blessed with having a very loyal and skilled projectionist - Mr William "Chief" Wilson who worked as a film projectionist at the Curzon for over fifty years. He began working there in when it opened in 1936 as Assistant Operator and was promoted to Chief Operator in 1951.

On to Belfast's Cinematic History>>

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