Dreamland Cinema – 89 years since its grand opening day

The listed Dreamland Cinema Image courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

Source Dreamland Heritage Trust and Cinema Treasures

It is 89 years since the Dreamland Cinema opened its doors on March 22, 1935.

Built on the site of the 900 seat Dreamland Variety Theatre of 1923, (later re-named Dreamland Cinema), John Henry Ilse invested more than £500,000 into the Dreamland site between 1920 and 1935, constantly adding new rides and facilities, and culminating in the construction of the Dreamland cinema complex in 1934.

The project was overseen by Iles’s son, John Bird Iles, in partnership with the established architects, Leathart & Granger and was strongly influenced by German cinema design, with no expense spared on the project.

Images courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

The spectacular art deco expressionist-influenced brick idiom frontage of the cinema was the first of its kind in Britain. The huge art deco cinema fin tower gave the building prominence from a great distance along the shoreline and was to prove influential on the subsequent design of the Odeon chain of cinemas.

Images courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

The Dreamland Cinema and Ballroom building was completed in the early part of 1935 and opened its doors to the public on Friday 22nd March 1935 with screenings of Greta Garbo in “The Painted Veil” and  Laurel & Hardy in “Them Thar Hills”.

Images courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

Inside the auditorium seating was provided for 1,328 in the stalls and 722 in the balcony. The interior design was by John Bird-Iles and sculptures of sea nymphs set into recesses each side of the auditorium were the work of Eric Aumonier.

The cinema had a fully equipped stage and has a 40ft wide proscenium. It was equipped with a Western Electric(WE) sound system.

Images courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

The cinema was closed from 1940 due to the war and didn’t re-open until 1st July 1946.

The Dreamland Cinema was then twinned and re-opened on 22nd April 1973 with two cinemas in the former balcony which seated 378 and 376. The former stalls area became a live theatre but this was not a success and closed on 11th January 1975 and was converted into a bingo hall.

Photo Frank Leppard

A third screen seating 60 persons and using video projection was created in what had previously been the balcony bar area. This opened on 10th May 1981 and continued until closing in 1993 when the Dutch firm Bembom Brothers took over the running of the cinema and amusement park.

Empire of Light on screen in Dreamland Cinema Photo Frank Leppard

The two cinemas remained open in the former circle area and were operated by the small Independent chain Reeltime Cinemas. Sadly they were closed on 1st November 2007 following closure of the bingo club operation in the former stalls area earlier in the year.

Restoration of the exterior began in February 2011 and repairs to the building followed in June 2011. Restoration of the exterior was completed in summer of 2017 and yellow neon has been installed to highlight the building.

Photo Carl Hudson

In 1992, Dreamland Cinema was designated a Grade II Listed building by English Heritage. In early-May 2008, the building was upgraded to Grade II* Listed.

In March 2022 planning permission was granted to remove the original ‘Dreamland’ signage from the exterior of the building for it to be temporarily replaced by the name ‘Empire’. This was due to the building being featured as a location for the filming of “Empire of Light” directed by Sam Mendes. Some scenes were also filmed in the interior where other small temporary changes were made. Filming was completed on 15th May 2022 and all original fittings and signage were fully re-installed.

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The cinema had been earmarked for £4million under the £22.2m Margate Town Deal fund but in February new Dreamland majority owners LN_Gaiety announced they would not be accepting the funding and would carry out their own plans for the site.

The £4m has now been reallocated to the Margate Winter Gardens project.

Book celebrates more than 100 years of Dreamland Margate

13 Comments

  1. I wonder if we will ever see the cinema open again?.Spent many happy times in the cinema And as for the missing hotel,no doubt the hole will be there for many years to come,and the Arlington arcade/ shops fiasco .Dreamland ,full time music place now shame

    • all those boarded up shops around near the arlington site could be bought back and the council could encourge small business’s to open which would be good for the area..when
      i was young there was even an auction room there…now everything is boarded up and spray painted…which looks an eyesore !!! i also wish we could have another pier with a built
      in sea life center and have the life boat launched from the pier which would save much time and effort…all these things would encourage tourism.

  2. It’s such an awesome and iconic building. I hope it’s brought back to life and I get to experience movies on its silver screen in my lifetime.

    • it would be nice to have the cinema restored by i feel the council maybe only interested in the turner centre which i think was a total waste of money and could have been spent on lots of things to bring life back into margate.

      • £1.8m was spend refurbishing the roof and replacing the windows a decade or so ago – and yet the building still sits empty and unused.

  3. Saturday morning cinema at Dreamland was very much a part of my childhood in the 1960s. Margate was such a great place to grow up back then.

    • I remember Saturday morning pictures,used to go up on stage, If it was your birthday ,very often to get free ice lolly, must have had at least ten birthdays a year ,great times.In those days if you were good and bad a bit of cunning ,pay once stay all day watching the same film,can’t do that now

    • i am 65 years old and i use to go to dreamland cinema when i was a teenager and also the old fun park with all the old rides and other attractions and they were far better days.

  4. And look at it now! Other towns have done some amazing renovations of their iconic buildings, but not ours. Could never understand why we couldn’t have got some funding from Sam Mendes? Just got some fairy lights that turned out to be for inside use. Why couldn’t they have left the sound stage on the seafront open for just a year for tours? Would have bought some revenue in. The town is in such disrepair now, no investors are interested.

  5. Quote ‘no expense spared on the project’ yet its been left to fall into disrepair? It’s a beautiful building inside and out and should be preserved and utilised. I do hope that Live Nation (LN Gaiety are going to renovate it and use it after rejecting the £4m. I would love to know what their plans are 🤔

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