The “rediscovery” of Cinema National is a strange story.
The venue opened in 1918 shortly after World War 1 in the Lange Beeldekensstraat 152 in Antwerp, Belgium.
Commissioned by a pharmacist, Florimond Holemans, and designed by Adolphe Coppernolle, the original seating plan had 650 places in the stalls and 250 on the balcony.
Soon after the opening, the National was taken over by three brothers Gijles.
They made good money as butcher before the war, and now they want to invest in the world of cinema.
The golden cinema years where just after World War 2, when the American and English movies flooded Europe.
With the growing popularity of television, the venue went bankrupt in 1968.
In the coming years the building had many functions as warehouse, allegedly even a stable, to become a furniture store, the balcony and stage hidden by a false ceiling.
The stage lay dormant until a cold winter night in December 2016.
That night, Stefan De Virgilio, coordinator the movie club next door, climbed the roof the mend a broken gutter.
When he peeked in trough his neighbors roof window, he did the discovery of a lifetime.
Under thick layers of dust he saw the balcony and the big Bordeaux curtains.
Stefan contacted the owner, went on a search for money, and together with a lot of volunteers, started removing false ceilings and walls and clean up the whole building.
Yesterday, the building was shown to the public, to close again for a one year renovation.
The plan is to make it an arthouse cinema, with movies for kids, but also life performances.
My visit made it clear, the stage is built for that to.
Although the stage is not deep, this often is seen in music hall stages.
A big proscenium compensates for the lack of space.
On the front of the Proscenium are the remains of a cover for footlights.
In the middle is a prompter’s box that can be reached from the under stage.
Over the stage is a modest fly tower, with the main curtain track still in place, although that seems of a later date.
On the top is a wooden grid, with on stage left a gallery with cleats, making it possible to install hemp sets.
There is already interest from theatre companies to play there, after the renovation and reopening in 2018.
This will be a cultural anchor point for a neighborhood, which is now culturally disadvantaged.
Hopefully it will also be a chance to tell the story again of the history of the life entertainment in a once lively neighborhood.