Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Opening of the Grove Cinema

The Grove Super Cinema is no more.  Last week, the bulldozers were busy pulling down the remains of Athy’s last cinema which had stood on the site on the Dublin road for less than fifty years.  In terms of a buildings life, it’s existence was a short one and as if to prove the point, on Offaly Street, there still stands the building which housed the first cinema opened in the town in the 1920’s.

The Grove Super Cinema opened with a great fanfare of publicity and local goodwill in the Summer of 1957.  It was the brain child of a number of local businessmen who were Directors of the Athy Theatre and Cinema Company, amongst whom were local Solicitor, Bob Osborne and Building Contractor, George Nash.  For the opening night of the Cinema, a Souvenir programme was produced which as you might expect carried a substantial number of local advertisements.  The changes in Athy in the intervening forty seven years are reflected in the those advertisements which carry names no longer to be found in business in the town. 

Jacksons of Athy had a full page advertisement for farm machinery and General Hardware and invited the visit to their “new showrooms and workshops” at Leinster Street.  Duthie Larges, Agricultural and Motor Engineers and Massey-Harris- Ferguson main dealers used the advertisement to extend congratulations to the Cinema Company describing the Grove Cinema as “an acquisition to the town of Athy, the centre of the most progressive farming district in the Country”.

John O’Gorman & Sons of Mount Offaly and also of Crookstown were open for petrol, tyres, genuine “Ford” parts and accessories as well as the sale of new cars, trucks and tractors from 9.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.  every day except Sunday.  Just below O’Gorman’s half page advertisement was an advertisement by J. O’Brien of the Railway Bar described as “Lounge Bar adjacent to the Grove Cinema”.  O’Brien was a Wholesale and Family Grocer as well as a tea, wine and spirit merchant who also had coal, corn and general feeding stuffs on sale.

The Leinster Arms Hotel was another advertiser as it had been in almost every local publication during the previous one hundred and fifty years but this time, forty seven years ago, it was under the management of Miss B. M. Bullock.  Morning coffee, luncheons and teas were available in the “spacious dining room with seating accommodation for eighty”.

The only local advertisers in the Grove Cinema’s souvenir programme which are still in business were Asbestos Cement Limited and Shaws.  The local factory proudly announced “this fine cinema is roofed entirely with asbestos cement, ‘new six inch’ corrugated sheets.  Produced locally in Athy, Asbestos Cement Products are well established with the modern Irish Builder and are renowned for their good quality and excellent finish”.  Shaws of Athy, Suppliers of carpets to the new Cinema reminded the reader that “it pays to shop at Shaws” describing itself as “the house for value”.

The remaining local advertiser was the building contractor, George Nash from Athy who was the main contractor for the new Cinema.  The nature of change in the business make up of the town over the last couple of decades is reflected in the loss of such substantial businesses as Jacksons, Duthie Larges, O’Gormans and Nashs and the change in ownership of the Railway Bar (now McEvoy’s) and the Leinster Arms Hotel (now Gerry Griffin).

The Grove Cinema when it opened in 1957 was the second Cinema in Athy.  The Cinema in Offaly Street, known to my generation as “Bobs” was then still in operation although it closed within a short time of the Grove opening.  It could not hope to compete in terms of comfort or even quality of sound and vision with the new arrival.  This is how the Grove Cinema was described in the souvenir programme of 1957. 

 “The new Cinema is built on the ground known as the Grove from which it gets its name.  It incorporates all the very latest in structural and technical advancements in Cinema design.

All local labour and material were used as far as possible in the construction.  The Cinema is approached through a very spacious entrance foyer off which is the Manager’s Office, Sweet Shop and Ticket Office serving both the balcony, back stalls and front stalls patrons.  The Entrance Hall itself is carried in the most up to date contemporary colour scheme with a centre chandelier, which won first prize in design in London.  The Balcony is approached by a wide spacious staircase.  The beautiful wrought iron balustrade was made locally.

The Auditorium to the house is of the new wide shape suitable for modern cinemascope screen, so that patrons from all parts of the house obtain a clear uninterrupted view of the picture.  The Cinema accommodates approximately 1,000 patrons, one hundred in the front stalls, six hundred in the back stalls and three hundred in the Balcony.  The seats in both the Balcony and Stalls are the very latest in design and luxury.  The carpets are a special weave made exclusively for Cinemas.  The large stage is fully equipped for stage shows and has all the necessary Dressing Rooms and other essential appurtenances.

The Projection Room is equipped with the very latest Projection equipment, including the most up to date safety devices. The screen frame is the very latest in design, capable of being automatically changed in size by push button control, so that the size of the picture can be changed from the normal picture to wide screen in full Cinemascope. The Cinema is set back from the main road with a large Car Park.  The original grove of trees is being retained as a private garden for the use of the patrons.  The whole scheme will add considerably to the amenities of the town, and of which the people of Athy may be justly proud.

The Architect of the scheme was W.M. O’Dwyer, M.R.I.A.I., 21, Clare Street, Dublin, who incidentally was responsible for the design of the luxurious Ambassador Cinema in Dublin. The Main Contractor was Mr. George Nash who carried out the whole job from start to finish in the finest possible manner”. 

With the demolition of the Grove Cinema, the town of Athy which has a population of over six thousand inhabitants is now without a Cinema.  However, it has twenty four or so Public houses and seven places of worship.  If nothing else, the spirits are well catered for!

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