I have no memory of the Adelphi Cinema (we are younger than you probably think), but growing up in Dublin I always found the Arnott’s car park entrance a little peculiar, with its appearance giving a hint at some interesting former life. While it has found its place in the folklore of the city for the appearance of The Beatles there in 1963, there is much more to the story of the Adelphi, and a curious reminder of it now sits just across the street.
The birth of the Adelphi:
The doors of the Adelphi opened for the first time on 12 January 1939, with Dublin’s Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne given the honour of cutting the ribbon. The cinema was heralded as embodying “all that is the latest in cinema design and technique. It has a seating capacity for 2,325 people.” The Irish Press proclaimed it a “modern super cinema…designed and equipped in a manner which combines the latest scientific knowledge with the best engineering skill.” In keeping with the ethos of its time,there was great emphasis on the fact that “as far as possible, Irish labour and Irish materials went into its construction and equipment.”
By then, things had certainly come a long way since a certain James Joyce encountered much hostility to the opening of his Volta Cinema nearby in 1909. While newspapers like the Irish Press still printed the occasional denunciation of the cinema industry (normally made from a pulpit), the enthusiasm of the newspaper and others like them for the cinema captured the public mood. As Jim Keenan’s beautiful pictorial history of Dublin cinemas shows, there was a boom in cinema openings in the 1930s, and sometimes well beyond the city centre. Not long after the Adelphi, the Tower Cinema opened in Clondalkin for example.
From Reagan to The Beatles:
Under the stewardship of Harry Lush, who managed the Adelphi from 1943 until the early 1980s, the Adelphi boomed. Lush remembered of the 1940s that “we did colossal business at the Adelphi…we had ninety-one people working in the cinema…Our queues used to go right down Middle Abbey Street and into O’Connell Street where they would get interwoven with the Metropole’s.” As Keenan notes, the cinema was visited by some of the leading cinema talent of the day, including Cary Grant, John Wayne, Ingrid Bergman and even Ronald Reagan.
The Adelphi didn’t only screen the popular films of the day, it hosted a restaurant and a wide number of social events. “Crooning contests” were popular in the late 1930s, with prizes including paid trips to the Isle of Man, exotic at the time if not today! The venue also witnessed some remarkable concerts. As Colm Keane has noted, with the closure of the legendary Theatre Royal in 1962, the Adelphi “had taken over as the city’s premier live music venue…It had a ready-made stage and adequate backstage facilitates.” The visit of The Beatles is well-known and documented, others have been somewhat forgotten. The great Louis Armstrong performed there in 1967, supported by “Dubliner Jim Farley with a 16-piece band”. Armstrong’s two concerts in the Adelphi (on the same night) were heralded as “unforgettable” in the press.
Ernest Hemingway once proclaimed of Marlene Dietrich that “if she nothing more than her voice she could break your heart with it”, and in 1966 it seemed half of Dublin fell for her when she took to the Adelphi stage. “Every song was given the haunting Dietirch interpretation. It is this quality to interpret a song that has made Miss Dietrich a legend in her own lifetime”, the Irish Press said. To list every great act that performed there would be an endless post in itself, but it’s enough to say many memories were created within the walls of the Adelphi.
The Adelphi made it well into the 1990s, only closing in November 1995. For the sake of nostalgia, its final screenings were High Society and Gigi, two classic musicals of decades past. The Art Deco Portland stone facade, at first glance anyway, is all that remains.
Yet an article from August 2016 over on Publin.ie points towards remnants of the Adelphi in some peculiar places. At the Church Bar, parts of the original stage have been incorporated into a walkway, while just across the street from the old cinema, a bar which carries the name ‘Adelphi’ includes seats from the cinema in their smoking area. Sometimes, if the weather is right, they even appear on Middle Abbey Street itself. It’s a nice nod to the car park across the street, which has quite the story to tell.