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  /  Architecture   /  Happy Ending for Iconic Geneva Movie Theater

Happy Ending for Iconic Geneva Movie Theater

Happy Ending for Iconic Geneva Movie Theater

In 2019 we may not stop in awe in front of the “Mont-Blanc Centre” commercial building complex, but in the 1950’s this was far from being the case. This metal and glass complex designed by Genevan architect Marc-Joseph Saugey (1908-1971) and built in the international style was considered back in the days truly visionary thanks to its great technical prowess, using for the first time in Geneva, an aluminum frame and curtain walling. Built as part of an urban renovation plan of a dilapidated and un-hygenic area of the city, the transformation was revolutionary and even attracted foreign architects. Surprisingly, the building was even compared to New York’s renowned Lever House skyscraper built around the same period.

Plaza Screen
Photo by Alain Grandchamp / Ville de Genève

The complex did not, however, only consist of an office building. The heart and pulse of this whole project was nestled in its center and was a real bonus for the Genevan population. Saugey, who had already built other movie theaters in the city, included in his project Geneva’s largest movie theater, ‘Le Plaza’, which opened in 1952. A number of boutiques led to the lobby of this iconic hall where, once you passed glass doors, behind a lush red velvet curtain lay 1250 comfortable seats and a massive screen in a beautifully designed modern hall. Thanks to the movie theater, the area was transformed into a vibrant social hub and many remember with nostalgia and excitement a night out at ‘Le Plaza’ with friends and family to see the latest international blockbuster or an old movie classic.

Plaza Proj
Photo by Alain Grandchamp / Ville de Genève

Some twenty years ago, however, to the great dismay of avid movie lovers, ‘Le Plaza’ closed down and was only reopened exceptionally for special events. The threat of demolition loomed over the hall with rumors that it would be converted into a shopping mall, underground parking, student accommodation and offices. Since its closure, various groups including movie lovers, politicians, architects and historians have relentlessly been fighting to have the movie theater classified and ultimately reopened, but to no avail. Ironically, the Mont-Blanc Centre office building was classified in 2004 but not the movie theater.

Plaza Detail
Photo by Gustave Klemm / Ville de Genève

In August 2019, to the great astonishment of all, word got out that ‘Le Plaza’ had been miraculously saved by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, owner of Rolex watches. The Foundation had already previously generously contributed towards, among others, saving the Servette football and hockey clubs, building a bridge over the Arve river and giving a new campus to the HEAD art and design school. The plan for ‘Le Plaza’ is to create a non-profit foundation to be run by Jean-Pierre Greff, director of the HEAD. Its main focus will be on film festivals. To return to its former glory, however, the hall will first need extensive renovations, refurbishments and technical updates, as it has been left unoccupied for decades and has allegedly also been stripped of some of its seats and equipment.

The ‘Le Plaza’ defenders can finally give a sigh of relief. In a time when movie theaters worldwide are closing down, an important battle has been won. ‘Le Plaza’ is preserved as one of the few architectural examples of modern movie theaters built in the early 1950s. Soon movie lovers of all generations will be able to sit back and experience what it is like to watch a movie in an iconic hall… Who said Happy endings only occurred in movies?

Plaza entrance
The cinema entrance – Photo by Vivian Hakkak
Plaza facade
The ‘Plaza’ as it stands today – Photo by Vivian Hakkak

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