Moscow electric theaters. Where and how they watched movies at the beginning of the 20th century

July 9

The first public movie screening took place in Paris in 1895. ‘Moving pictures’ reached Moscow a year later. The works of the Lumiere brothers, perceived as a curious curiosity, were first shown at the Solodovnikov Theater on Bolshaya Dmitrovka (today the Operetta Theater is located in this building). The first place in Moscow where only movies were shown was the Electric Theater opened in 1897 in the Upper Trading Rows on Red Square and lasted for about a year.

In the first years of the twentieth century, the first cinemas - electric theaters - began to appear in Moscow. Some of them quickly closed, and some survived the transition from silent movies to sound, from black and white to color. Many buildings of the first Moscow electric theaters have survived to this day. The stories of five of them are in the material

The first in everything

Arbatskaya square, house 14

Opened in 1909, the Khudozhestvenny cinema (then - Khudozhestvenny electric theater) became the first stand-alone cinema in Moscow. Before that, the citizens watched movies in uncomfortable rooms with standing places. A presentable building, 400 comfortable seats in the auditorium, a luxurious foyer with a fountain, chandeliers and palm trees in flower tubs set for a special mood. It was proposed to treat cinema here as a separate art form, and not just entertainment.

The one-story Art Nouveau building was built by the architect Nikolai Blagoveshchensky. The cinema was like a palace crowned with a dome, with columns and pilasters on the facade. Four years later, it was rebuilt. The film director and producer Alexander Khanzhonkov, who bought it, decided to expand the auditorium more than twice. The architect Fyodor Schechtel replaced the eclecticism of Art Nouveau with neoclassicism that became fashionable that time. He made the facade of the building flat, with minimal relief, so as not to hinder pedestrians movement along the narrow sidewalk. In order the audience not to crowd round, Schechtel provided two entrances with ticket offices, and for greater comfort of the audience - inside a wardrobe and a buffet.

In Soviet times, the Khudozhestvenny became the main cinema of the capital and had a proud name - the 1st State Cinema Theater. There were ceremonial premieres of important movies: the avant-garde Kinoglaz by Dziga Vertov, the first sound movie A Ticket to Life by Nikolai Ekk, the first widescreen movie Ilya Muromets by Alexander Ptushko. Premieres became real fests. This was the first screening of Sergei Eisenstein's movie Battleship Potemkin. On January 18, 1926, the facade of the cinema was decorated with a huge model of the legendary battleship, and the cinema staff put on a sailor uniform.

In 1941, during the bombing of Moscow, the Khudozhestvenny was severely damaged, but did not stop working. Movies were shown here throughout the Great Patriotic War.

The first wide screen in Moscow was installed in Khudozhestvenny cinema in 1955. At the same time, the portal that framed the screen and the stucco decoration on the main facade were removed. In this form, the cinema existed until the reconstruction, which began in 2019.

In December last year, the restoration of the Khudozhestvenny building was completed. According to Fyodor Shekel’s drawings, the exterior of the main facade, the balcony in the auditorium and the stucco ceiling decor were restored, the marble staircase and a large stained glass window were recreated.

The first cinemas were called the mysterious word ‘electric theater’. This word was also used in Soviet times. For example, in the children's book Egor the Fitter by Nikolai Smirnov (1928), we find the following lines:

"For a long time they still walked around the city, looked at the electricity. Finally, they came to the electric theater.<...> Went in, and there the pictures show. People in the theater - lots, they sit in the darkness. Yegorka began to look; he sees everything running on the wall opposite. People are running, horses are galloping, and then suddenly the river appeared. The river flows, and cows walk along the shore, drink water."

Electric Theater on Tverskaya Street

Tverskaya Street house 23

Fans of modern theater still hear the term ‘electric theater’ today. The Stanislavsky electric theater opened eight years ago on the place of the former Kino-Ars electric theater, pays tribute to history with its name. The second part of the theater's name is also a greeting to the past: after Kino-Ars, the Stanislavsky Drama Theater was located here for more than half a century.

The history of the building (more precisely, the buildings: the theater is located in two adjacent buildings of the XIX century) began much earlier. Both buildings (one of them today houses a stage, an auditorium and a foyer, the second is occupied by administrative offices) were built in the second half of the 19th century by order of Privy Councilor Ivan Shablykin and were used as tenement buildings.

In 1913, the plot passed into the possession of Count Alexey Kapnist, who leased one of the houses to the cinematograph manufacturer Abram Gekhtman. He rebuilt it for the needs of the cinema - there were two foyers, grand staircases, a buffet, a hall for 900 seats and an orchestra pit in front of the screen. The house has also changed from the outside. The new facade in the neoclassical style brought it into harmony with the appearance of the neighboring building of the English Club (today it houses the Museum of Modern History of Russia).

Kino-Ars was opened in 1915. Until 1936, the cinema building housed the Moscow Theater for Children under the direction of Natalia Sats. In 1950, the building was occupied by the Stanislavsky Moscow Drama Theater.

For more than a hundred years, the building was reconstructed several times and even removed deeper into the quarter during the expansion of Gorky Street (now Tverskaya). In 2013, the scattered premises of the building were united into a single space of the Stanislavsky electric theater.

From cinema to theater

Zemlyanoy Val Street, house 76/21

The first free-standing cinemas were most often placed in theater buildings, and with the Vulcan cinema, opened in 1911, it turned out exactly the opposite. Almost immediately after the revolution, a drama theater was opened in a house specially built for a cinema. 

The two-storey building in the neoclassical style was built by the architect Gustav Gelrich on the place of Flour Rows on the Zemlyanoy Val. It could be accessed from the Garden Ring through a tiny lobby. The foyer was located within the walls of the rebuilt former shops, and the movie hall was between them.

In 1922, the building housed a branch of the Maly Theater. And in 1946, a Drama and Comedy Theater was organized here, which in 1964, under the direction of director Yuri Lyubimov, became the Taganka Theater, gained fame as one of the most avant-garde one in the country.

An adherent of non-standard stage solutions, Lyubimov nevertheless respected the architectural heritage. In the 1970s, a large-scale reconstruction was carried out in the theater building, during which the architects tried to preserve the original structure as much as possible - the same pre-revolutionary Vulcan. It was a personal request of the artistic director of the theater.

Stylization of antiquity

Chistoprudny Boulevard, house 19

The Sovremennik building on Chistoprudny Boulevard, familiar to every theater-goer today, was originally also built for showing movies. The Colosseum belonged to the first category of cinemas, movies were shown here on a large screen with dimensions of about 7 by 10 meters, and visitors were greeted by two spacious foyers and an auditorium with 840 seats with dress circle and boxes. The silent movie was accompanied by the playing of not just a piano player, but a whole orchestra. Before the matinees, newsreels were shown, and before the late shows, musicians played in the foyer.

The cinema building in the Art Nouveau and neoclassical styles was erected in 1914. The building project was ordered to the architect Roman Klein. The appearance of the cinema was dictated by the name that came from ancient Roman history - being a master of stylization, Klein successfully used elements of ancient architecture. The semi-rotunda surrounding the entrance area was particularly admired by contemporaries. You can still see it today.

Movie screenings and stage performances replaced each other in the building throughout the 20th century. From 1924 to 1932, the building housed the First Worker’s Theater of the Proletkult (theater of proletarian culture). In 1926, the movies screening was restarted, but only in the morning. In the evening stage performances were played. In 1932, the building was completely handed over to the Moscow Drama Theater named in honor of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, but in 1936 it was closed, and until 1970 the Colosseum again became a cinema. By the way, you can see it in this hypostasis in the movie The Foundling (1939). On Sundays, at nine in the morning, there were matinees for children.

In 1974, after the reconstruction of the building, the Sovremennik Theater moved into it, which is located there to this day.

Electric Theater of Favrikodoros

Bolshaya Ordynka Street, house 69

The history of the building, which today houses a branch of the Maly Theater, begins in the 19th century. The two-story stone mansion was built for the Makarovs merchant family in 1867. In 1913, a native of Greece, Favrikodoros, rented the building (history has preserved only his last name) and arranged an electric theater Kino-Palace in it. The building was significantly expanded, there were 805 seats in the auditorium with 28 boxes on the balcony and five in the stalls.

A year later, the building was rebuilt again for the Cameo Theater by the architect Nikolai Spirin, who had rebuilt the building of the oldest Russian theater - the Volkov Russian State Academic Drama Theater in Yaroslavl. After the revolution, the district theater of the Zamoskvoretsky Council was organized there, in the 1930s the Moscow Lensovet Theater was located here. In 1944, the building became a branch of the Maly Theater. The initiator of its opening was the actor and teacher Konstantin Zubov. On January 1, 1944, the theater, true to its traditions (the Maly is called the Ostrovsky House), showed on the local stage the first performance based on the play by Alexander Ostrovsky ‘Profitable’.

In 1947, the theater building was reconstructed by the architect Alexander Velikanov. His drawings were used by engineers and architects who were engaged in the reconstruction of the building in 2012. A platform and new piles were put under the foundation, the walls were strengthened and engineering systems, spotlights, sound speakers and stage mechanics were replaced.

Today, the branch has become an experimental platform for young actors and directors. And the building, combining elements of Art Nouveau and neoclassicism, delights the eyes of passers-by.


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