Our History

Our History

The Rio has a rich history stretching back over 100 years.

The original building was an auctioneer's shop owned by a pioneering business woman called Clara Ludski. She converted it into one of London's very first cinemas in 1909, and called it the Kingsland Palace. The venture was so successful that Ludski bought up the properties on each side of the building, and commissioned the architect George Coles to design a new, bigger single-screen picturehouse.

Construction began in 1913, and the Kingsland Empire opened in 1915. There was a two-level tea room, domed tower, and an elaborate auditorium with stalls and a steep circle, featuring five side arches and a proscenium with double columns either side, topped by a frieze and lifesized statues. It was a lot more theatrical than most cinemas of that date.

With the arrival of sound in the 1930s, the cinema changed hands. In 1933 it was bought and managed by London & Southern Cinemas Ltd, then in 1936 was taken over by Capital & Provincial News Theatres, who realised that the configuration of the Empire was looking dated and unsuitable for modern audiences. It was they who commissioned the cult architect FE Bromige to refurbish the cinema in Art Deco style in 1937. Bromige is noted for his outlandish and remarkable designs in several North London cinemas (many of which survive to this day). Here, he created a new auditorium within the shell of the earlier cinema. English Heritage say this is highly unusual. Through a secret door on the Rio's roof, we can still peer into the 'void' and see the ghostly remains of the Kingsland Empire - the ceiling and upper walls of the original 1915 auditorium. So when you sit in the Rio to watch a film, you are actually sitting inside two nested auditoriums.

Since 1937, Bromige's wonderful Art Deco interiro and exterior has remained almost unchanged. The parapet was reduced in 1944, but otherwise the cinema has remained as you see it today.

In the 1950s and 1960s the building became part of the Classic chain, and then in the early 1970s it took on yet another guise as a Tatler Cinema Club showing 'adult' films.

Luckily, in April 1976 things changed yet again, and the Rio as we know it today was born. An independent cooperative took over, and since 1979 it has been run as a not-for-profit registered charity with an elected board of local people who act as volunteer trustees.

The blue and pink Art Deco interior was restored in 1997, remaining faithful to Bromige's design, and the building became Grade II listed by English Heritage in 1999.

In 2012, Board member Laurian Davies led a petition of thousands of people to ask Transport for London to recognise the Rio as a major local landmark, and TfL changed the name of the bus stop outside the building to 'Rio Cinema'.

In 2013, local people were warned to 'use it or lose it' as the cinema was in financial crisis. Over £4000 was raised, and the board brought in a new director, Olly Meek. Olly is working with staff and local people to restore and reinvent the cinema to keep it safe for the next century and beyond.