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Palace Theatre

alias Theatre ofJiří Grossmann (1991–2006), cinema the Nation (1930–1931), cinema Jalta (1948–1991), cinema Gaumont (1931–1936), cinema Apollo (1936–1938), cinema Amerika (1938)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1928 | construction

The Palace Theatre is located in the former cinema hall in the mall of the Národ palace in the upper section of the Wenceslas Square in Prague. The building, a representative of purist architecture,  was designed in 1928 by Bohdan Bečka. As a component of the building, a cinema hall was located in the basement of the rear section of the building, on the right from the passage that bends to the right around the hall and is connected to the passage from the Opletalova Street.


(detail)07.02.1930 | opening of the cinema

The Národ cinemawas opened on 7th February of 1930. After conversion to sound cinema, it was opened on 15th  September of 1931 under the new name Gaumont. It gradually became one of the most popular cinemas (Jalta) on the Wenceslas Square.


(detail)30.10.2006 | Opening

The Palace Theatre was opened on 4th  April of 2006 with a premier of black light theatre performance Frankenstein. The drama started to be played in the hall since the September of the same year that gradually outweighed in the repertoire of the theatre.


People

Václav Spilka |architect
Bohdan Bečka |architect

History

The Palace Theatre is located in the former cinema hall in the mall of the Národ palace in the upper section of the Wenceslas Square in Prague. The building, a representative of purist architecture,  was designed in 1928 by Bohdan Bečka (1883–1940) for the Prague Press Company. The main part on the project was delivered by Bečka’s office in Smíchov, because he was mainly engaged in politics in the 1920s and apart of being a M.P and senator, he undertook a position of the Minister of Finance. Besides, the name of the palace Národ referred to politics and bind to the Czechoslovakian National Democracy. The investor, the Prague Press Company, was presided by Karel Kramář and Alois Rašín and its seat in Opletalova Street (connected with the Národ palace through the present ČTK arcade) was also a seat of the editor's office of the Národní  listy.
As a component of the building, a cinema hall was located in the basement of the rear section of the building, on the right from the passage that bends to the right around the hall and is connected to the passage from the Opletalova Street. The Národ cinema was opened on 7th February of 1930. After conversion to sound cinema, it was opened on 15th  September of 1931 under the new name Gaumont. It was renamed again to Apollo cinema at the end of 1936. It carried the name Amerika shortly, but it returned to the name Apollo immediately after the occupation. The cinema acquired high prestige not until 1948; it was renamed to Jalta cinema in the July of the same year. It gradually became one of the most popular cinemas on the Wenceslas Square.
The passage in the ground floor was named Vaňhova according to the popular Vaňha’s fish shop in the front section of the building. The fish shop became a salesroom of the Rybena Company after 1951; the functionalistic interior of the shop disappeared in the 1990s. A small neon fish reminds the shop until the present days.
The upper floors of the building served for numerous movie companies and as a workshop of the Czechoslovakian Movie Weekly Periodical up to 1937 among other. Cutting rooms of documentary films were located here after the war and the offices were reconstructed  in the 1950s for the Czechoslovak State Movie Company. Flames flared up on celluloid band in a store room of the Dafa-film company in 1935. Another major fire broke out here after the neighbouring house N. 818 had started to burn during the Prague Spring Uprising. It was followed by detonations in two movie manufactures, which „ coloured the sky blood-red for a long time“ according to the České slovo. The Jalta hotel was later constructed and opened in 1958 in the location of the completely destroyed house.
Consequences of the fire were removed immediately in 1945 with an extension of a new store room for movies and a flat in the 6th  floor; the reconstruction was covered by Živnostenská banka (builder Bečka was its director before 1923). Still in 1950, the authorities were drawing attention to shortcomings in security of  movie storing. A store room was located under the cinema in the second basement as well. 
Major building modifications were carried out in the cinema in 1947. A projection cabin was reconstructed according to the design by Václav Spilka; its enlargement interrupted the existing corridor passing around the hall.
Another major reconstruction in the Jalta cinema was carried out by the national enterprise Prague Building Renovation for the Movie Company of the Main City of Prague in 1970. With insertion of partitions in the basement, a new small cinema hall came into existence from a part of the corridor and a cloak room of the staff, even with an individual foyer from an existing office. A non-stop cinema was opened in the new hall on 4th  March of 1971. Wiring was partially reconstructed during the reconstruction and two operational rooms were inserted into the rear section of the stalls of the main hall. A major protracted reconstruction of wiring was carried out in the entire cinema during 1984–1988.
The Theatre of Jiří  Grossmann was opened in the cinema in September of 1991. A cinema cafe was concurrently opened in the minor cinema hall. Miloslav Šimek, the theatre operator, tried for some time to combine the theatre with projection under the Theatre and Cultural Centre. The Black Theatre of Jiří Srnec performed in the hall for some time as well. The present tenant acquired the hall in 2006. After the final approval for use had been issued, it was necessary to verify the actual condition of the theatre; the survey was elaborated by Vladimír Vild from the STAMPRIN studio. Václav Sedláček from AIRCON firm simultaneously evaluated and designed an air conditioning solution. The Palace Theatre was opened on 4th  April of 2006 with a premier of black light theatre performance Frankenstein. The drama started to be played in the hall since the September of the same year that gradually outweighed in the repertoire of the theatre.
 
The theatre is barrier free since 2007. A new air conditioning engine room and ventilation  device for private rooms of the theatre was constructed in the basement in 2010. No records is available in the building records concerning any major building reconstruction in relation to the theatre operation, although it probably occurred in the beginning of the 1990s, or after 2006.
 
Present state
The building of Národ Palace is located on a narrow plot in the upper section of the Wenceslas  Square. Its simple facade is articulated only by rectangular windows. A narrow arcade  ( labelled Vaňhova before)  leads into the depth of the wing through the centre of the ground floor. Behind the theatre entrance, it meets a perpendicular arcade  leading from the neighbouring Luxor palace on the left  into ČTK arcade  on the right and further into the Opletalova Street (one enters from there into another theatre – of Radek Brzobohatý – in the hall of the former Theatre of Music). The new Jiří Grossmann Arcade from the 1990s branches away from the ČTK Arcade. A bank has its seat in the ground floor of the structure, the upper floors are occupied by the hotel Elysée. 
 
The former cinema hall is located on the right side of the rear section of the arcade, perpendicularly to it by its longitudinal axis. It occupies two storeys, the stalls is located in the basement and the balcony in the ground floor. The entrances into the foyer in the level of the balcony are located in the arcade. Each of two entrances leads only to one side of the hall after the original passing corridor along the rear wall has been interrupted by the extension of a projection cabin.
The main two-flight staircase into the basement leads from the right side of the foyer into the hall to the right. Minor staircases are located on the sides of the front section of the hall. Cloak rooms are inserted along the auditorium in the ground floor and basement as well. The lower foyer spreads along the rear wall of the hall as well.
The walls and ceiling of the rectangular auditorium with rising floor are articulated by frames of reinforced concrete. A balcony that is conceived untraditionally runs around the three sides: horizontal side arms, separately accessible, with six double boxes lies on a parapet of the rising central part by its rear section.
The walls of the hall are harmonized by several shades of red, the adjacent space is dominated by bright yellow in combination with dark wood. The elegant original furnishing has been preserved as for instance the two leaf doors into the hall with characteristic circular windows, cloakroom desks that are graded in height in the foyer, which declines along the both sides of the auditorium, or marble facing of the staircase walls.
The basic capacity of 300 seats can be increased up to 330 seats. The balcony with another 120 seats is used only during large events. The small stage of 40 m2 is equipped apart of the basic facilities with traps and device enabling to move actors not only above the stage but over the entire auditorium as well.
The cinema cafe in the basement for 60 spectators serves as a theatre club as well and it is connected to a separate bar that has been adapted from the foyer of the minor hall.

Sources and literature:


– Úřad městské části Praha 1, archiv Odboru výstavby, spis domu čp. 819/II
– Jiří Hilmera, Stavební historie pražských kinosálů: Část 3. Od dvacátých do sklonku třicátých let, Iluminace 10, 1998, č. 3, s. 93–128, zde s. 106–107
– JiM [Jiřina Muková], heslo čp. 819/II, in Růžena Baťková a kol., Umělecké památky Prahy: Nové Město a Vyšehrad, Praha 1998, s. 459–460
– Jaroslav Čvančara – Miroslav Čvančara, Zaniklý svět stříbrných pláten: Po stopách pražských biografů, Praha 2011, s. 65

 

Tags: basement theatre, Interwar period, Purism

 

Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: Jan Purkert

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