East End Memories



The Essoldo, Bethnal Green Road was one of my very favourite cinemas since it was here that I saw many films of importance and distinction and where I was introduced to the glory of CinemaScope. The cinema was built by an unknown architect for George Smart and named Smart’s Picture House when it opened in April 1913. According to Cinema Treasures, the auditorium seated 865, which was separated from a small stage reaching back 7 feet 6 inches by a 24 feet wide proscenium. The building was closed in 1938 and remodeled by the architect George Coles. The original tower and front were demolished and replaced by an Art Deco façade, which survives today.

The cinema reopened in 1938 as the Rex and was immediately notable for its new exterior, which remains impressive and quite grand. The façade is decorative, but without being overly ornate. From each end of the façade, an attractive arcing sweep of alternate brown and cream pseudo pillars in recess meets at the foot of a tall, slender fin-like central tower. At one time, the name of the cinema was displayed in neon at its peak. The auditorium was also restyled in Art Deco style with distinctive murals on the side walls and a stepped ceiling together with a long light fitting running down the centre towards the screen.

Foyer & Box Office Auditorium - Proscenium Auditorium - Rear

On 26th December, 1949, the cinema was taken over by the Essoldo chain of cinemas and renamed after the operators. The Essoldo chain was once the largest independent cinema chain at one time and was founded in 1930 by Solomon Sheckman as S.S. Blyth Kinemas, Newcastle. The company was very much a family concern and the name Essoldo came from the first names of his wife, ESther, himself, SOLomon and his daughter, DOrothy. After Mr. Sheckman's death in the late 1960's, the circuit was controlled by his brother Captain Mark Sheckman. Most Essoldo cinemas were named for the chain, but with an occasional variation, as was the case with the Empress in Hackney.

Solomon Sheckman & The Essoldo, Newcastle

The Essoldo Bethnal Green closed as a cinema in 1964, but soon reopened as a Bingo Hall. I never saw it in this incarnation as I was busy at college and visiting other places other than the East End at that time. It is said that Mr. Sheckman was very much against Bingo and no doubt would have been horrified had he been alive to see what was to become of his cinema empire. The building remained a Bingo Hall until 1990 whereupon it closed and was sold.

The building is currently owned by B.K. Frankle & Sons, Ltd., which employ the trading name of Frankle Trimmings and is used as a place of business and as a warehouse. The company was established in 1910 as a wholesale retailer of trimmings to the fashion industry and now supplies their products to companies in the U.K. and worldwide. The company offers first class service and their customers announce their appreciation by saying If Frankle Trimmings do not sell it, then it does not exist. The owners have maintained the building extremely well since its closure as a cinema-Bingo Hall and have been careful to retain as many aspects as possible of its original grandeur during the renovation of the façade in 2005. I feel that they should be commended for their efforts.

Out of necessity, the building’s entrance, foyer and box office have either gone or else changed to fit the needs of the current owners. The front of the building is no longer decorated with large glass fronted boxes once filled with photographic stills of the current presentation to tempt the passing patron to come in and escape his or her troubles and woes for a few hours. The enormous studio still of Marilyn Monroe that hung in the box office is gone too. I always liked that portrait of her. It showed her in somewhat tormenting and defiant pose, but nonetheless alluring and provocative. The photograph showed her with head tossed back in classic pose and with her mouth open along with her bright red lips formed into a somewhat mocking smile. I remember that her eyes sparkled and her teeth were perfect. She wore a red dress cut low to reveal a lot of cleavage. It was hard not to like her. The foyer area no longer displays photographs and advertisements to inform the patrons of coming attractions.

The auditorium is now used as a warehouse where the company products are stored and as an office. What is interesting about the warehouse/offices is that a number of features of the cinema remain. Parts of the proscenium are still in place, as are some features of the central lighting attachment. However, it is the façade that still reflects the grandeur and splendour of this one-time theatre, and if truth-be-told, those that knew the cinema in its final days, like myself, will be quick to point out that it is both grander and more splendid now, and this is thanks to the concern and consideration of Frankle Trimmings.

I would like to thank Mr. Brian Hall and Mr. Kevin Wheelan for their kindness in allowing many of their pictures to be reproduced here.


I would like to thank Mr. Howard Cohen, Mr. Harvey Frankle and Mr. Dave Furzer for their kindness in allowing me to visit Frankle Trimmings and to photograph the building.  I would also like to thank them for their consideration and time given to me during my visit.

Converted Entrance and Foyer

Reminders of the Proscenium

Reminders of the Central Light Fixture

Reminders of the Ceiling and Wall Decorations

Support found in the Projection Room, now office, and part of a cinema seat

I am grateful to Mr. Harvey Frankle for providing the pictures used in this collage

Dave Furzer

Continue to Part Two - Early Dealings

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Copyright© 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins