It was the most beautiful cinema in Belgium when it opened in 1928. Twenty years ago, a group of Antwerp locals launched an inspired initiative to restore the Kinema Roma in Borgerhout.
The beautiful Art Deco building on the Turnhoutsebaan originally combined a movie theatre with an apartment complex. But those big old Hollywood cinemas were killed off by television in the 1970s. Roma survived a few years longer as a venue for rock concerts. But even Paul McCartney could not save the place, and it closed its doors for the last time in 1982.
The Roma lay empty for many years until Paul Schyvens, the director of Rataplan community theatre, came up with a plan. He 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.
For older people in Borgerhout, the project has brought back memories of a time when the Roma was packed every night. A few people – not too many – can remember watching the first talking movies here. Others remember Singing in the Rain, ice cream, their first kiss, beautiful usherettes in neat black suits.
The organisers like to call Roma a people’s palace. The huge Art Deco auditorium can seat 1,800 people. Its programme covers every form of entertainment including film screenings, rock concerts and comedy nights.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.