De Roma – How One Man Saved the Most Beautiful Cinema in Flanders
Turnhoutsebaan 286, Antwerp
It was the most beautiful cinema in Belgium when Kinema Roma opened in 1928. The beautiful Art Deco building on Antwerp’s busy Turnhoutsebaan originally combined a 2,000-seat movie theatre with an apartment complex. Volunteers turned the old building after restoration into a cultural centre and performance venue in the heart of a multicultural neighbourhood.
Most of those big old Hollywood-style movie theatres were killed off in the 1970s by television. De Roma limped on for a few years as a venue for rock concerts, but even stars like Paul McCartney on the programme could not save the place, and it closed its doors for the last time in 1982.
© Wikimedia Commons
De Roma lay empty for many years until Paul Schyvens, director of Rataplan community theatre, came up with a plan to restore the ruined building in 2002. Described as ‘half hippie, half businessman,’ Schyvens fired up a team of passionate locals, who cleared away the rubble, touched up the gilding and bolted down the seats.
The result is a wonderful, nostalgic place to visit. The lobby decorated with copies of film posters from the golden age of movies hand-painted by students at the local art school.
Entrance hall of De Roma © Wikimedia Commons
For older people in Borgerhout, the project has brought back memories of a time when De Roma was packed every night. A few people can remember watching the first talking movies here. Others remember watching Singing in the Rain, ice cream, their first kiss, beautiful usherettes in neat black suits.
© Facebookpage De Roma
But De Roma doesn’t dwell too much on the past. The organisers like to call it a people’s palace in the heart of multicultural Borgerhout. The huge Art Deco auditorium still seats about 1,800 people. Its programme covers every form of entertainment including film screenings, rock concerts and comedy nights.