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Essoldo-Rex picture palace where Krays grew up makes art deco comeback at Bethnal Green

PUBLISHED: 10:22 16 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:14 16 October 2017

1938... Reopened art deco Rex cinema in Bethnal Green Road. One of the first films shown is St Louis Blues musical set on a Mississippi River showboat, starring Dorothy Lamour with singer/actor Hoagy Carmichael.

1938... Reopened art deco Rex cinema in Bethnal Green Road. One of the first films shown is St Louis Blues musical set on a Mississippi River showboat, starring Dorothy Lamour with singer/actor Hoagy Carmichael.

Bishopsgate Institute

One of East London’s famous picture palaces once frequented by the Krays which closed half-a-century ago has been given planning go-ahead to reopen with its original art deco façade.

How the new Rex cinema could look when it reopens in Bethnal Green Road in 2020. Picture: City InnovationsHow the new Rex cinema could look when it reopens in Bethnal Green Road in 2020. Picture: City Innovations

Southern Grove developers, new owners of the former Essoldo in Bethnal Green—previously known as the Rex—have been given planning permission by Tower Hamlets Council to reopen as single-screen cinema with rooftop bar, restaurant and a 130-bed boutique hotel.

Filmgoers will sit down to a meal while a classic movie is shown on screen. Its 1930s façade already once restored is being carefully rennovated again.

The heyday of The Rex was during the Great Depression, but the company is banking on succeeding in the face of any latter-day recession.

Inside the refurbished Rex cinema when it reopens in January, 2020. Picture: Southern GroveInside the refurbished Rex cinema when it reopens in January, 2020. Picture: Southern Grove

“We are confident in the depth of the leisure sector, despite the prevailing economic headwinds,” Southern Grove chairman Andrew Southern said. “We aim to become a leader in small, independent hotels in emerging locations.”

The cinema in Bethnal Green Road closed down in 1964 in the face of competition from television.

Its refurbishment was first mooted in 2015 by architect and broadcaster Maxwell Hutchinson, for City Innovations, suggesting a complex of luxury flats while retaining the façade and some art deco features.

City Innovations director Sam Dickson said at the time: “It’s an opportunity to breathe new life into a special building in the heart of Bethnal Green.”

The cinema first opened in 1913 as Smart’s Picture House with an auditorium seating 865 and was later one of the first in Britain to show talking pictures in the late 1920s.

It was rebuilt with an art deco façade by architect George Coles in 1938, becoming the Rex through the War years until 1949 when it was bought by the Essoldo chain.

‘Essoldo’ comes from the first names of company founder Solomon Sheckman’s family—his wife ESther, himself SOLomon and daughter DOrothy.

It became a bingo hall in 1964, then sold to BK Frankle & Sons in 1990 and turned into a fashion trade warehouse. Frankle’s was careful to retain its original grandeur during a 2005 façade renovation.

Work begins on redeveloping the cinema in the New Year to reopen as The Rex by January 2020.

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