BRIX & MORTAR: The Ritzy

Written by Sophie Gainsley, as part of Brix & Mortar, a celebration of Brixton’s landmarks

Drawing by Sophie Gainsley
Drawing by Sophie Gainsley

The Ritzy Cinema or ‘Electric Pavilion’ as it was first named in 1911, was one of the first purpose built picture houses in England. The cinema was designed for Israel Davis by the architects E. C. Homer and Lucas to seat over 750 people in one auditorium. Davis was from a family of cinema developers who managed a large chain of cinemas across London. Israel Davis alone operated seven cinemas, including the Ritzy.

Since its opening, the Ritzy has changed hands many times and had many names. It was renamed ‘The Pullman’ after the Art Deco architect George Coles installed the cinemascope and later ‘The Classic’ in 1976.  This same year, the cinema fell into disrepair and closed. But this treasure of a picture house was to be saved from demolition.

The Ritzy today. Photo by Alistair Hall.
The Ritzy today. Photo by Alistair Hall.

While Lambeth Council funded repairs, the London Cinema Collective showed enchanting double-bills while serving tasty home-made cakes. Re-invented, re-built and re-stored, the cinema was given the name ‘A Little Bit Ritzy’, which was abbreviated to just ‘The Ritzy’. Despite its many alterations, the cinema is a wonderful example of an early cinema, complete with the proscenium arch (the rectangular frame around the screen) and eight bays embellished with pilasters, panels and swags.

Recent developments by Oasis Cinemas, who brought The Ritzy in 1994, revived the cinema to its former glory, while adding four more screens, a cafe and a bar. It is now the largest arthouse cinema in England. Oasis Cinemas joined City Screen, the parent company of Picturehouse cinemas which is now owned by Cineworld, in 2003.

A diverse mix of film screenings, events, top-notch live music ranging from reggae to vintage swing, comedy gigs and performances ensures The Ritzy remains the well-loved cultural hub and heart of Brixton and a great night out, any day of the week.