The Hampstead Everyman definitely doesn't qualify as a "picture palace"; no classical columns, no garish posters, no escapist B-picture double-bills. Hampstead Drill Hall, which is what it was originally called, seems to capture the essence of the place much more accurately. It was built in 1888 as a kind of community centre to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee. It opened as the Everyman Theatre in 1920, performing avant-garde plays of the time. Noel Coward once performed there. The theatre failed in 1933 and was reopened as the Hampstead Cinema Theatre by a local solicitor, James Fairfax-Jones, who managed it until his death in 1974.
The adaptation from theatre to cinema was done by cinema architect Alistair MacDonald, son of the famous Prime Minister, though anyone who has sat in the Everyman's rather bleak auditorium could be forgiven for wondering quite where the architecture came into it. Right from the start the cinema operated as an art house/repertory cinema, often importing films from abroad. The first film shown was René Clair's Le Million, which I saw at the Everyman on a (much!) later occasion. The cinema closed in 1940 as a result of World War 2 but reopened in 1943 under the temporary management of Vincent Beecham. After the war Fairfax-Jones returned to the cinema and, ten years later, the cinema was refurbished and adapted for Cinemascope.
At the beginning of the Sixties the cinema did a roaring business. I lived not far away and frequently joined the long queue of other wannabee intellectuals which snaked all the way up one side of Holly Bush Vale and back down the other, waiting for the previous house to finish. There was a foyer with a cafe and a gallery featuring the work of local artists, where Fairfax-Jones could often be seen wandering through.
Like many another cinema, by the late Sixties and early Seventies the Everyman began to lose audiences. Margaret O'Brien, who had previously managed the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, took over as General Manager and in 1986 the cinema was again refurbished, with the aid of various grants. The auditorium was redecorated and Dolby stereo sound installed. In 1993 the Fairfax-Jones family sold the lease to a former Olympic athlete, June Paul. Today, the Everyman operates as a cinema club, continuing to offer the best of foreign and specialist films to its members.