Revealed: haimishe origins of one of London’s hippest cinemas
WHEN CLARA Ludski set up one of Britain’s first cinemas in 1909, women could not vote, nobody had heard of the Titanic and Archduke Franz Ferdinand was alive and well.
Aged 47, Mrs Ludski, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Prussia, start- ed a small “nickelodeon” — a screening room — in the back of her auction shop in Dalston, north-east London.
The Kingsland Palace, as it was known, was so successful that she subsequently bought the properties on either side of the building to develop a single-screen picturehouse. To do this, she commissioned George Coles, one of the most prolific cinema architects.
The picturehouse, which may have screened Yiddish films, has had numerous incarnations since then — including a brief stint as an adult movie theatre in the 1970s — but operates as the Rio today and is one of the oldest surviving independent cinemas in Britain.
Last week, the JC was contacted by Oliver Meek, executive director of the charity-run cinema, who was hoping to trace Mrs Ludski’s descendants.
He said: “The Rio is 102 years old in its current incarnation but it was started in 1909 by Clara Ludski. We don’t know a great deal more than that.”
The 400-seat cinema will soon undergo renovations, including the opening of a smaller auditorium called the Ludski Screen. Mr Meek had hoped to find descendants of Mrs Ludski who may know more about her.
Thanks to the research of Fraser and Fraser, one of the world’s largest
professional genealogists, the JC has discovered that Mrs Ludski was born in Southampton to parents Augusta Phillips and Lipman Goldsmith, a clothing outfitter, and went on to have four children — though she was only survived by two.
When Deborah Goodman embarked on an acting career more than 30 years ago, she believed she was the first in her family to enter the entertainment business.
But thanks to the connection made by the JC and Fraser & Fraser, she has since learned that her great-grandmother was a pioneer of British cinema history.
Though she has run her own successful arts and entertainment PR consultancy for two decades, Ms Goodman started her career as an actress. Her many credits include starring opposite Anthony Sher in The Merchant of Venice and appearing in Yentl.
Meanwhile, as a PR she has represented many well-known clients, among them Richard Curtis, Channel 4 and the UK Jewish Film Festival.
So it came as a pleasant surprise to learn that the arts are in her genes.
“I’m still in shock,” she said.
Speaking from her office in Mill Hill, Ms Goodman added: “It sounds like Clara was a fantastic business- woman and somebody who was passionate about the arts, like me. “She wasn’t a performer but a dynamic business woman in an age before women could vote, which is extraordinary.” Believed to have originally held up to 1,200 people, the cinema passed from the Ludski family after Clara’s death in 1933. Now Grade II listed, the impressive building had a hexagonal tower over the entrance and was decorated in Grecian style. It featured a tea room and gallery, as well as an orchestra enclosure. This week the JC introduced Ms Goodman to Mr Meek, who has invited her and her family to visit the venue. “The Rio has had quite an extraordinary history,” said Mr Meek, who has launched a fundraising campaign called Rio-generation. “I don’t know of many business people that were women at that time, so we’re really keen to know more about Clara, who must have been quite something. “This is not just about developing the cinema for the future but cementing its place in the past.” Ms Goodman added: “It’s very exciting and we hope to find out more about Clara, plus a family reunion at the Rio would be lovely.”
A family reunion at the Rio would be lovely’