„Splendid Palace” cinema through time

„Splendid Palace” cinema through time
Publicity photo / „Splendid Palace” . „Splendid Palace” cinema in 1920s-1930s
Una Griškeviča
20-10-2013 A+ A-
„Splendid Palace” is the most beautiful cinema in Latvia and probably in the whole Northern Europe that has survived various transformations and title changes. Besides, the cinema has preserved its magnificent interior till nowadays and now celebrates the 90th anniversary. The celebration will be held this Friday on 25 October, but next year, many significant events of The European Capital of Culture will be organized at „Splendid Palace”.

Time spared the building

We meet Iveta Krūmiņa, the manager of Event Centres Department and Film project events at „Rīgas nami”, at the cinema lobby where a photo gallery representing world-known Riga residents is available since 2012. Iveta Krūmiņa is gonna be our tour guide at „Splendid”. „Next year, we will exhibit photographies of popular Riga ladies, so it's gonna be the next project after this one ends,” comments I. Krūmiņa. She also says that, formerly, photos and posters were put on the walls from the 1950s. „There were also authentic oak-wood furniture at the lobby, but it got lost during the renovation in 1970s.”


The founders of „Splendid Palace” are Vasilijs Jemeļjanovs, an entrepreneur and director of „ARS”, and his colleague Leonīds Falšteins. „This building is truly a unique place in that sense that nothing else except this cinema has always operated in there. It was called ”Splendid Palace„ until 1952, during the Soviet times. Our previous employees once brought some old pictures and brochures where it's written that this building even got All-Union award as the most beautiful cinema in the USSR. In later years, ”Splendid Palace„ was renamed ”Riga„ which is a good title too. Two years ago on 15 September, 2011, the cinema got back its former ”Splendid„ name.” I. Krūmiņa also adds that Jemeļjanovs once owned „Grand Palace” cinema in Tallinn which was quite similar to „Splendid Palace” built in Riga. „Grand Palace” has been reconstructed: a casino was located earlier, but currently there is a theatre.



Jemeļjanovs' daughter Tatjana has written: „My father did not save his money in a box. He spent all earnings on travelling, good food and clothing, he also loved fine drinks. We did not put our money in foreign bank accounts. My father used to say: ”You take over the cinema after I'm gone."


In June 1941, Jemeļjanovs and his family- wife and daughter- was sent away to Tomsk district. Jemeļjanovs was transferred to Smolensk camp, he died soon after, in 1949."

A glass of „Black Velvet”..

Indeed, walls in the lobby and other rooms were painted over loads of time, that's why restorers had to clean off nine different layers of coloring. Judging by the photos, the Green Hall, for instance, used to be much more motley. Apparently, interior designers wanted some brightness, so, during the Soviet times, the main decoration of the Green Hall were busts of Stalin and Lenin. Meantime, the Large Hall stayed basically the same, though, the number of seats has changed. Some time ago, there were around 1000 seats, but now there are only 600 left, and the balcony loges have been removed. As it's seen at the photos, back then, simple chairs were put in the hall, though, the film was no more than twenty minutes long. That's why the spectators were offered a concert or a performance before the screening, so that the show could last at least an hour. „During the silent film era, the cinema had an excellent orchestra, conducted by Oto Karli. But my grandmother recalls that dance evenings were held in the room where now The Dome Hall is located. So, you could dance and watch a movie by paying one price.”


The cinema was reconstructed two times- the first time in 1970s and then in 2006- 2007:

"On 30 December, 2006, a huge piece of the Large Hall ceiling plaster fell down. Finally, the Hall was closed in order to start renovation works that cost six million lats.

The renovation was finished in 2007, that's when the cinema started to work again. Also „Spartaks” gallery built by the project of architect Marta Staņa is worth to mention. This gallery, where „Klondaika” gambling hall is now operating, covers up „Splendid Palace” facade.

It seems that the basement was renovated most frequently. There used to be a cafe where one could buy delicious curd cakes and „Black Velvet” cocktail, and just sit at the nearest cafe table. Currently, the third hall of the cinema is located at this place where both film screenings and theatre shows are now organized. Before the film screening, you can have a glass of good wine at the nearest restaurant „Tinto”. However, if you fancy a popcorn, this is not the right place for you. It has never been sold at „Splendid Cinema”.

The crowd crashing the doors

I. Krūmiņa reminds that in 1920s when „Splendid Palace” was built, lots of cities had cinemas because, first, it was a good business opportunity, and, second, film screenings came into fashion around the world.

„As cinema became popular in Latvia, Jemeļjanovs and Falšteins decided to take a loan and bought a land in order to build a cinema. In addition to that, their European trip to the most beautiful cinema houses was quite inspirational, so they used some fresh ideas for the upcoming ”Splendid Palace" too.

With its neo-baroque facade and neo-Rococo style interior, „Splendid Palace” designed by architect Fridrihs Karlis Skujins  was opened on 30 December, 1923, after a ten months work. The decors of the Main Hall were created by Rihards Maurs and Jēkabs Legzdins, but Hermanis Grinbergs made the marvelous paintings of the Large Hall’s plafond.

The opening of „Splendid Palace” took place on 30 December, 1923 with „Under Two Flags” film (directed by Tod Browning), but a sound film „The Singing Fool” by Lloyd Bacon was screened at „Splendid Palace” for the first time in the Baltic States.

The film sound was supported by using large vinyl discs, so it was quite hard to get simultaneous translation. Actually, there have been several rather unique moments related to film screenings. For instance, the premiere of „Zvejnieka dēls” („Fisherman’s Son”) in 1940 became the biggest event in „Splendid Palace” history together with the following screenings. There were not enough space for everyone who wanted to watch the film. So the crowd was too big that the police could not handle it, and the entrance doors were crashed.

The similar situation was experienced in 1996 when „101 Dalmatians” was screened, and all tickets were sold out, still, people stood in a row from the box office up to Brīvības Street. But in 2007, when a film by Aigars Grauba and Andrejs Ēķis „Rīgas sargi” („Defenders of Riga”) was presented, an additional screening at 24.00 was organized.

In nowadays, „Splendid Palace” offers a wide range of films- premieres, great European films, film and introducing lecture „Tas, ko tu nedrīksti nezināt” („Things that you can’t afford not to know”), opera and ballet broadcasts from European opera houses, festivals, etc.

„Despite all the changes that time has brought, „Splendid Palace” has always operated as cinema. This is one of the reasons why this building preserves its historical look and is highly valued architectural monument. Former director of „Splendid Palace” Rasma Smilga definitely deserves lots of thanks, it’s particularly her achievement that the restoration was completed in 1970s instead of making a simple repair. It’s the reason why the building gained the status of cultural monument,” reminds Iveta Krūmiņa and her colleague Māra Liepiņa.

One more thing. This week, film posters will be exhibited at the cinema front side. It’s a specific art field that has been developed with the help of artist Kārlis Koknēvičs and his son Artis.

We say many thanks to the representatives of „Rīgas nami” Iveta Krūmiņa and Māra Liepiņa who helped us build this story.



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