Ten Things You Might Not Know About the Strand

The last remaining link back to cinema's golden age in Northern Ireland celebrates its 80th anniversary this week

Monday, December 7, 2015 marks a milestone 80 years since the Strand cinema first opened its doors to the public in East Belfast. Famed for its art deco design, it's the sole survivor of a golden era when over 40 picture palaces operated throughout the city.

Whether functioning as a variety theatre and attracting top acts like The Drifters in the face of declining cinema admissions in the 1980s, or enjoying a new lease of life as a busy arts centre after becoming a not-for-profit charity in 2013, the Strand has found means of adapting with the times. Since 1935 it has provided entertainment, created employment and boosted the local economy.

These days visitors can catch the latest blockbusters as well as classic and cultural cinema, live music, theatre and performing arts or get involved in filmmaking classes and creative workshops.


Strand Arts Centre Chief Executive Mimi Turtle said: 'The Strand has been an integral part of East Belfast for 80 years. To our regulars, thank you for being part of the Strand’s story. Please continue to support your coolest and classiest cinema, and come along to one of our live events. If you’ve never been before, why not pay us a visit?'

Sure enough, there's plenty to keep movie-lovers of all ages queuing up over the festive period, from the long-awaited new Star Wars instalment and the popular Frozen Sing-A-Long to Christmas classics like Home Alone and Elf.

To commemorate the iconic movie house reaching the grand old age, here's a brief history of its life so far summed up in ten facts.

  • The Strand was opened on December 7 1935, built for and operated by the English Union Cinemas Group. It had one screen with stage and 1170 seats. The first film shown was Bright Eyes starring Shirley Temple.
  • It was built on the site of Strandtown House, the home of Gustav Heyn, founder of the Headline Shipping and Belfast Steamship Companies. It is the last of the pre-war Belfast cinemas still in existence.
  • It was designed by John McBride Neill who also designed the Curzon (Ormeau Road), the Majestic (South Belfast), The Tonic (Bangor).
  • The cinema's design was influenced by its proximity to the nearby shipyard of Harland and Wolff, featuring curved walls and a port- holed foyer.

  • One of the features of the decoration inside the auditorium was three rows of port-holes on the splay walls on each side of the proscenium (the rectangular frame 'arch' around the stage). These were back-lit and gave the feel of being inside an ocean liner. The proscenium had a wide plain border surrounding all four sides and had rounded corners. Seating was provided in stalls and circle levels. A café was located on the first floor.
  • In October 1937, Union Cinemas were taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) and they continued to operate it until it was closed in 1983 when rumours began to circulate that the Strand was about to be knocked down, converted to a bingo hall or sold to a supermarket chain.
  • Reopened in 1984 by local businessman Ronnie Rutherford, it operated as a concert and live performance venue on its 14 feet deep stage from 1984-1986. Performers included Little and Large and The Drifters.

  • Converted into a four-screen cinema in April 1988, it reopened for films seating Screen 1: 276, Screen 2: 196, Screen 3: 90 and Screen 4: 80. The most popular film was 3 Men and a Baby, which ran for 26 weeks.
  • The building’s façade was restored emphasising its Art Deco style in 1999, winning an RIBA Architecture Award.
  • In 2013, the Strand ceased trading as a commercial cinema and Strand Arts Centre was established as a not-for-profit charitable venture to ensure the short-term survival of the building. There are longer term plans to completely renovate the Strand.

Check out the Strand Arts Centre's latest listings plus what other events are coming up at www.strandartscentre.com.