OXFORD’S Phoenix Picturehouse will celebrate its 100th birthday in March, determined to stay true to its arthouse roots.

The North Oxford Kinema, as it was first called, opened in Walton Street in March 1913.

While it has undergone many name changes, re-styles and now a buy-out by cinema giant Cineworld, it continues to delight audiences with its programme of independent films.

The building was designed by local architect Gilbert T Gardner, and its ownership changed regularly in its early years.

In 1920, under Poole’s, it became The Scala and briefly the New Scala under Ben Jay in 1925. Then in 1930, the lease was bought by J R Poyntz, who installed sound equipment and screened subtitled films for language students.

The cinema remained in the Poyntz family for 40 years, during which time it became one of the country’s most important arthouse venues outside London.

In 1970 it was taken over by Star Entertainments Ltd and converted into Studios One and Two and, for a time, its Studio X showed adult films.

It was renamed again in 1977, this time as the Phoenix Cinema, and in 1989 it became the first cinema to be owned and run by the newly-formed City Screen Ltd which installed a roof-top bar in the 1990s.

The independent Picturehouse chain was founded when it bought the Phoenix in 1989 and went on to own 21 cinemas, all of which were bought by the Cineworld stable in November last year for £47.3m.

And while The Ultimate Picture Palace in Jeune Street, off Cowley Road, is now the only independent cinema left in the city, Picturehouse co-founder and managing director Lyn Goleby, says the Phoenix but will stay true to its roots as it enters its second century.

She said: “People have spent their formative years here, enjoyed first dates here and, while I like to think we are merely the ‘custodians’ of this iconic building, we are committed to looking after it and its unique programme of film for the next generation.

“There are some exciting changes coming however, and also some great centenary celebrations.

“In the coming months we will be giving the cinema a new facelift, with new doors and windows in the entrance, a new roof and also a new colour scheme for the building, maybe a change to the blue, which we hope local residents will give us their thoughts on.

“And there are also a host of great anniversary celebrations including a great deal of oral history which is being collected as we speak.

“We have traced former managers, staff and customers old and new and I think their stories will give a fascinating insight into the building’s history.”

Celebrations for the Phoenix’s centenary will kick off in mid-March and will include a programme of contemporary classics from March to December and a season of films set or shot in Oxford. There will also be a centenary exhibition in the Phoenix Picturehouse bar from mid-March. While a book, due for publication in the autumn, will feature memories of the cinema collected from past and present staff and customers.

A cinematic sequel

EXCITED to be making a ‘comeback performance’ at the Phoenix is former general manager Stuart Jarvis, 58, from Abingdon, who was the first City Screen Ltd manager in 1989.

The father-of-one said: “I was delighted to be invited back to take on the role of acting manager of the Phoenix. I suppose you could say I am making a sequel! But it feels extremely comfortable and nice to be home.”
Mr Jarvis ran the Phoenix from 1989 to 1997. He left to open a cinema in Stratford-upon-Avon.

He added: “I’m now retired, but at the Phoenix for the foreseeable future, and it has been great seeing so many familiar faces. The assistant manager Matt Taylor and the chief projectionist Mike Warner are among a number of staff I took on who are still here.

“And Alastair Oatey was at university when he started here tearing people’s tickets – and now he’s the company’s personnel and operations manager – my boss. But that sums up the Phoenix. It’s a community cinema that people love to visit and work at – and keep coming back to.”