Film fans' farewell to theater

By Jonathan Yeung (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-06-01 06:52

GUANGZHOU: People from across the city have been flocking to En'ning Street lately to bid their final farewells to the Grand Theater.

The movie theatre-cum-city landmark is to be demolished after more than 70 years.

"It is much more than just a movie theater to most of us it carries the memories of our childhoods," Sun Haidi who lives in the city, said.

Jiang Mingyin, a former resident of En'ning Street, agreed: "Every time I think of the Grand Theater, I think of all of those great movies it played and the joy it brought me and my family it will be hard for us all when it is no longer part of our lives."

Built in 1932 and formally opened in 1934, the Grand Theater is one of the three oldest in Guangzhou. However, as part of a plan to renovate the city, it was decided the building would have to be demolished.

An officer with the Liwan District's old building reconstruction office confirmed the Grand Theater "will be torn down".

"However, En'ning Street will still need cultural facilities after the reconstruction, so Liwan district might poll public opinion and possibly advise the municipal government to rebuild the theater later," the official said.

Zhang Huaqiang, vice-manager of the Guangzhou acting company, which owns the theater, said his company will cooperate fully with the municipal government's reconstruction plan.

"But we will do our best to keep our golden signage until the day it can be raised once more in a new location," Zhang said.

Researchers involved in assessing the cultural heritage of En'ning Street said it will be "a shame" if the Grand Theater is lost forever.

"Theaters with 75 years' history are becoming rare in this city," one said.

"Although it is not on the cultural relic protection list, we will suggest to both the Liwan cultural relic protection department and the municipal cultural bureau that the golden signage is protected until the theatre is rebuilt."

With a huge number of fans, especially from the older generations, thanks to its elegant and comfortable design, the Grand Theater enjoyed its golden years in 1978 and 1979 when it had an average occupancy rate of more than 82 per cent per show.

"In 1979 alone the theater generated a net revenue of about 200,000 yuan ($25,000), which was very impressive at that time," Zheng Shanqi, the theater's party committee secretary said.

However, the theater saw its popularity start to slump at the start of the 1990s.

Lao Chen, the theater's projectionist, said: "With the advent of more modern cinemas and TVs, as well as VCDs and DVDs, fewer people came to the Grand Theater. It soon lost its place as the city's most popular cinema."

Despite its pending demise, the Grand Theater is firmly fixed in the hearts of many local people.

A man surnamed Feng said: "My wife and I got married not long after we watched a movie together in the Grand Theater we had our happiest date there."

Another man, surnamed Hong, said: "I very much enjoyed watching movies at the Grand Theater, it was one of the first cinemas to play widescreen movies and it was air conditioned with a sweet fragrance blowing to make the audiences feel comfortable."

(China Daily 06/01/2007 page5)

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