The Capitol Cinema opened on 5 April 1947. It stood on the site of the former Grant's furniture and clothes shop which was destroyed by fire in March 1942. The new cinema had seating for 1,300. Monsieur Beaucaire, a comedy starring Bob Hope, was the first film shown there. The prices for admission ranged from one shilling to two shillings and sixpence.
In 1974 the space formerly occupied by the restaurant in the cinema was converted to a 105-seater cinema called the Mini Capitol. On 21 January 1989 the Capitol closed for refurbishment and it reopened as the Capitol Cineplex on 11 August 1989 with six cinemas. The smallest cinema in the complex had 120 seats; the largest had 470.
The Capitol Cineplex had its final screenings for the public on 1 December 2005. The main attraction was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. On 2 December 2005, management of the cinema hosted a reception for staff and invited guests, and this concluded with a showing of the classic film Casablanca to mark the closing of one of Cork's most popular cinemas.
Grant's shop in the 1900s. (© Irish Examiner)
Grant's clothing and furniture shop stood on the Grand Parade, on the site of the future Capitol cinema, from the mid-1860s until 11 March 1942 when the store was destroyed by fire. The fire was the worst fire in Cork since the burning of the city centre by the Black and Tans in December 1920. The Cork Examiner of 12 March 1942 reported: 'The fire was first noticed in the premises of Messrs Alexander Grant & Co., Grand Parade, and before it was under control, not alone was Grant's, one of the largest emporiums in Cork completely burnt out, but several other buildings, both on the Grand Parade and in Market Lane (which runs from St Patrick Street by the reare of Grant's premises into the Meat Market) were gutted. Fortunately, the St Patrick Street premises of Messrs Grant's escaped with nothing worse than water damage and some broken windows. Yesterday being a half-holiday there was nobody on the premises at the time of the outbreak.'
Capitol and Allied Cinemas bought the site sometime after the fire for the construction of a new cinema.
Grant's on fire on 11 March 1942 (© Irish Examiner)
The Capitol Cinema was officially opened on 5 April 1947, the first cinema to open in Cork since the Ritz in 1939. It was opened formally by the Very Rev. T O'Keeffe, the Administrator of the North Cathedral. The management of the new cinema gave the proceeds of the first two performances to the building fund for St Augustine's church.
On the opening day, the Cork Examiner reported: "Cork's latest cinema, the Capitol, erected on the site on the Grand Parade occupied by Messrs Grant's premises which were destroyed by fire on March 11, 1942, will be opened formally this afternoon at 3 pm. All day yesterday workmen were putting the finishing touches to the cinema and restaurant in preparation for today's function, but it would appear that some work will remain to be done after the official opening. The new cinema seats 1,300, about a quarter of this accommodation being in the balcony. It is luxuriously fitted throughout and should be a valuable addition to Cork's amenities. A new restaurant is attached to the cinema."
The cinema quickly became a favourite with the cinema-going public in Cork. Among the many films shown there were the classic western Shane, the biblical epic The Ten Commandments, the Exorcist and Papillon.
In 1954, the management installed a new sound system to give a more realistic sound for the newly released CinemaScope film The King of the Khyber Rifles, with speakers at each side of the screen and along the walls of the auditorium.
The most popular film ever shown in the Capitol was The Sound of Music which ran for three months in 1967.
The restaurant in the Capitol was never as popular as the restaurants in the Savoy and the Pavilion, two other Cork cinemas. In the 1950s it served for a time as the press office for the Cork Film Festival and in November 1974 the restaurant was converted to a 105-seater cinema named the Mini Capitol. This smaller cinema later became part of the Capitol Cineplex.
The 1980s were not good times for cinemas. The increasing popularity of television and videos led to a fall in the numbers attending cinemas. Some of the cinemas in Cork closed during this period. Ward Anderson, the owners of the Capitol, decided to convert it to a multiplex cinema, the first of its kind in Ireland outside Dublin. The Capitol closed for the reconstruction of its interior on 21 January 1989 and reopened as the Capitol Cineplex on 11 August 1989. The new complex incorporated six cinemas with 1,100 seats in all. The smallest cinema could seat 120 patrons while the largest could cater for 470. Peter Murphy was the architect in charge of the reconstruction and great care was taken to soundproof each cinema. All of them were equipped with the then state-of-the-art Dolby Sound System.
On the opening night of the Capitol Cineplex the films on offer were Batman, Licence to Kill, Karate Kid III, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Cocoon II and Return of the Musketeers.
In 2005 Ward Anderson, the owners of the Capitol, opened the Mahon Point Omniplex cinema and announced that the Capitol would close in December of that year. John Costello and Paul O'Brien bought the site from Ward Anderson and planned to build an office and retail complex on the site. The site was later acquired by Joe O'Donovan of Padlake Ltd who also acquired nearby premises on the Grand Parade and Market Lane. Mr O'Donovan's plans to redevelop the site were granted planning permission in March 2009 and work is expected to begin on the site sometime in 2010. The finished project on the Grand Parade / Market Lane / St Patrick Street will include offices, retail units, bars and restaurants.
The last public screenings in the Capitol were held on 1 December 2005. The films showing on that night were Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Flight Plan, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, In Her Shoes, Kinky Boots and The Constant Gardener. On 2 December there was a reception for invited guest followed by a screening of the Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman film Casablanca. The Capitol was then closed after more than 58 years as a cinema. The general manager Patrick O'Brien said before the closing: 'It will be a sad moment for the people of Cork when the Capitol closes its doors. The staff have known this was coming for some time, and they will be well looked after. The cinema has been a constant presence in the life of the city. People have been meeting outside its doors for decades.'