Open House Festival

Phoenix Cinema


S. Birdwood, 1910

52 High Road, N2 9PJ

One of the oldest cinemas in the country with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and Art Deco wall reliefs by Mollo and Egan. Grade II listed.

Getting there


East Finchley


King's Cross, Euston


102, 143, 234, 263




History of the Phoenix

The Phoenix was built in 1910 and opened in 1912 as The East Finchley Picturedrome. It has been open as a cinema since and is one of Britain’s oldest cinemas. It was one of the first cinemas in London to introduce sound films in 1929 when it was called The Coliseum.

The cinema has changed owners quite a few times in its history, together with changes to its name and building. A major change took place in 1938, which transformed the overall building to what it is today with its Modernist facade and auditorium with Art Deco details designed by renowned cinema interior designers Mollo and Egan. In addition, the auditorium was turned around, moving the screen from the High Road end. Today's entrance and foyer are therefore on the level of the former stage and orchestra pit. From 1938 to 1975 the cinema was called The Rex.

It has always been independently owned except for a brief spell in the early 1970s when the Granada leisure group bought it. Their attempt at introducing the Granada look and mainstream film programme to it failed in the face of stiff local opposition.

In 1975 Charles Cooper's Contemporary Films bought it as a showcase cinema for their catalogue; they were a ground-breaking independent distribution company who pioneered the exhibition of independent, foreign and specialist films in the UK during the 1960s. They re-opened The Phoenix with Werner Herzog's Kaspar Hauser. When Charles retired in 1985, they decided to sell the cinema. The local community responded to property developers' interest in acquiring the site for redevelopment as an office block with a petition to the council to safeguard the cinema. In its dying days, the Greater London Council gave a grant to a newly founded non-profit making Phoenix Cinema Trust to buy the cinema and continue the Phoenix tradition of showing films.

Today, the cinema continues to be renowned for its varied programme combining the best of Hollywood and world cinema as well as for its repertoire of classics. As a community cinema it regularly organises special events with live presentations, special guests and talks and a wide ranging community outreach and education programme, including the kids club, film education and festival participation.

After being revenue-funded by the London Borough Grants Unit during its first years as a trust, the cinema is currently not grant-maintained at all and completely relies on its own income. It is hence a truly independent cinema.

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