Uncomfortable Scavenger Hunt
Cowley Road: Location 2
Jeune St, Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1BN
Welcome to the site of Oxford's first purpose built cinema!
The First, Penultimate, and Ultimate Picture Palace
The Penultimate Picture Palace after its 1976 reopening.
Oxford might feature in many films and TV Series, but its own cinema history is also fascinating!
The Ultimate Picture Palace, originally the Oxford Picture Palace, opened over a century ago on 24 February 1911. It was the second theatre in Oxford (after the Electric Theatre on Castle street - now the Old Music Hall).
The Oxford Picture Palace was built in the stable yard of the Elm Tree pub. However it closed its doors in 1917, when the owner, Frank Stuart, was drafted to serve in the First World War.
For almost sixty years, the building was used as a warehouse for furniture. It was bought in 1976 by Bill Heine a BBC Radio Oxford presenter and former student of Balliol College.
It was renamed the Penultimate Picture Palace - as Heine's bank manager declared that his plan of reopening the cinema "not quite the ultimate in bad ideas, but the penultimate."
During those years, the cinema gained a reputation for staying away from mainstream productions and showing an eclectic selection of films. Heine named the toilets of the cinema Pearl and Dean, the silhouettes of which are visible to this day. Yet, the cinema was up for closure again in 1994, the last movie shown being, symbolically, Cinema Paradiso. The ownership of the unused building passed to the Donnington Hospital Trust.
During the summer of 1994, the theatre became the focus of the Oxford Freedom Network - an action group protesting the cost of housing and empty accommodations across Oxford. Members of the network successfully squatted for four consecutive weeks in the theatre. During that time, it was reopened as a movie theatre named Section 6 Cinema - a reference to the sixth section of the 1977 criminal Law Act that protected squatters from illegal evictions.
Call for protests in Oxford in 1994.
Source: Burning Fuse Magazine
Burning Fuse magazine published an account of the occupation by "class struggle anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists." It wrote:
"Oxford has a pressing need for accommodation: rents are pushed through the roof by commuters, rich students and the privileged elite of the university. For young and unemployed people there are few cheap recreational facilities, especially for music or film.
Yet there are currently estimated to be over 900 commercial and residential buildings empty in Oxford, 900 empty shells in the majority of which could be used by the community. This is the reality of capitalism in our workplaces and communities - perfectly good ressources squandered because the rich can’t make a fat profit out of them."
The "Come What May" Cabaret, the last performance of the Section 6 cinema in September 1994.
It was eventually bought by the brothers Saied and Zaid Marham in 1996, and given its current name of Ultimate Picture Palace. It reopened on 4 June 1996 with a screening of Blade Runner.
A Grade II listed building, it still possesses its original 1911 pavement paybox, demonstrating the layout typical of early English cinemas. Since 2019, a committee is investigating the potential for turning the Ultimate Picture Palace into a community-owned cinema, a testimony to its rich history, entrenched in the local life of Oxford.
With friends or family? Discuss the following:
Has access to housing gotten better since the 1990s?
What are some current issues with housing in Oxford?
Learn more about the Ultimate Picture Palace's history at the heart of the local Oxford community.
In 2011, a documentary history of the picture palace, titled The Ultimate Survivor, was released on its centenary (1911-2011)
Watch it for free: https://vimeo.com/20882173
[Hind, Philip., and Ian. Meyrick. The Ultimate Survivor: 100 Years of the Jeune Street Picture Palace. Teddington: Cinema Theatre Association, 2011]
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