Selling the Stella: behind doors of an old Dublin institution

Cinema dating to 1923 has period features such as ornate ceiling, proscenium theatre arch

Archive video: Look inside one of Dublin’s oldest cinemas, the Stella in Rathmines. Closed to the public in 2004 and now for sale, it first opened its doors in 1923. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Behind a small and inauspicious shopfront on Rathmines Road, distinguished only by its slightly bizarre brick-effect grated facade, lies what was once Dublin’s, if not Ireland’s, largest cinema.

Opened in 1923, the Stella had the capacity to hold 1,283 cinema-goers. Now being sold, it also boasted a ballroom and was the hub of the social scene in the southeast inner city, as its current custodian Noel Keane explains.

“It is a magnificent cinema, absolutely magnificent. The décor, the furniture the ambience - everything about it for that particular time in 1923 was magnificent.”

Its sense of opulence and glamour were exemplified in one particular feature, Keane says.

‘Fabulous water feature’

“In front of the screen they had a fabulous water feature which was turned on during the interval, and these coloured lights would play onto the water.”

The cinema underwent its first major change in 1981 when the large theatre room was converted into two smaller cinemas, with 280 and 180 seats.

However, while it continued to operate for another two decades, the writing was eventually on the wall for independent cinemas and the Stella closed its doors in 2004.

The cinema retains many of its original details, most impressive of which is its ornate ceiling and proscenium theatre arch.

Quirky elements

The building, which stretches back from Rathmines road to a site of 885 sq m, also houses some quirky features, including the original cast iron boiler in the basement and a suspended projection room, still holding film reels.

The building is now being sold and under current zoning rules could be used for an amusement and leisure complex, bar, nightclub, restaurant, hostel, retail warehouse or a place of worship.

It also still houses a working digital cinema, currently used for private screenings, which could be retained, Keane says.

“I can’t be looking after her forever and God only knows what the new owners may do with it, but she certainly deserves the best treatment that can possibly be given... whether they turn her into a nightclub, a restaurant, a cinema - I wish them well.”