Cathay Theatre

870 Huaihai Road,

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Additional Info

Architects: Charles Henry Gonda

Functions: Movies (First Run)

Styles: Art Deco

Previous Names: Cathay Grand Theatre, People's Cinema, Cathay Cinema

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 86215.404.2095
Manager: 0215.404.0415

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Cathay Theatre

Located on Huaihai Road at the corner of Maoming S Road. The Cathay Theatre is one of the few historic 1930’s Art Deco style cinemas that is still open in Shanghai. It opened as the Cathay Grand Theatre on January 1, 1932 with Norma Shearer in “A Free Soul”. It had 1,080 seats, all on one main floor. For a while, it was part of millionaire Victor Sassoon’s holdings. In the early-1990’s, it was granted municipal preservation status.

In 2003, the auditorium was triplexed, with no original internal décor remaining visible. The Cathay Theatre continues as a first-run cinema, screening a mix of Chinese and Western films.

Contributed by KenRoe

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

RobertBurger on December 11, 2005 at 2:06 am

The Cathay cinema was built during 1930 and 1931, and opened on January 1, 1932, with an american movie called ‘Free Soul’. Until 1949 it played mainly English and American Films, using Chinese subtitles and earphones for spoken translation to Chinese. The original technical outfit from the US (‘Simplex’?) was used until 1964.

Originally the Cathay had 1080 seats, placed in ca. 30 rows in a flat, rectangle hall without balcony. Ceiling structure and lights were squares – I don’t remember to spot anything round in that room. In the early ninetees it looked as if nothing had changed for 60 years; only seating had been reduced to 978.

In 1986, 1997 and 1999 there was an upgrade of the speaker system, the last one adding surround sound and DTS, earning the Cathay an official ‘four star’ cinema status.

A remarkable oddity of the Cathay is the entrance opening to the center of the intersection of Huai Hai Lu and Mao Ming Lu – it made some headlines in architectural magazines of the thirties. Maybe this contributed to its municipal preservation status in the early nineties – which apparently only applied to the outside of the building, as its protected status did not prevent the splitting of the screening hall: The original one was cut into three smaller rooms, which reopened on June 28, 2005, with 225, 236 and 123 seats. The new floor plans look quite unattractive, with long and narrow screening tubes. No trace of the original decoration remains visible.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on January 17, 2006 at 11:33 am

Another exterior night shot:
View link

50sSNIPES on March 15, 2024 at 8:41 am

The Cathay Theatre had several name changes over the years. When it opened on January 1, 1932 with Lionel Barrymore in “A Free Soul” (unknown if any extra short subjects were added), it first went under the name “Cathay Grand Theatre”. The Grand part of the name was dropped soon after. It originally housed 1,080 seats featuring a special ear-phoning system for Chinese audio translation over American first-run features. Without those special earphones are just normal English audio with Chinese subtitles below on-screen.

In 1966, the Cathay Theatre’s name was changed to “People’s Cinema”, but in 1979, the Cathay name was restored and was renamed the “Cathay Cinema”. The Cathay Cinema originally used projection equipment from Simplex until 1964 when it switched on over to Sempres, and it would later install Dolby optical stereo sound in 1986, followed by DTS surround digital stereo in 1997 and reinstallations in 1999. During the early-1990s, the seating capacity was downgraded from 1,080 to 978 seats.

The Cathay Theatre was tripled in 2003 after reconstruction, downgrading its total capacity to 584 seats. At the same time, a 150-square-meter lounge was added as well. Inside all three screens goes as follows: Screen #1 has a capacity of 225 seats with red dipping. Screen #2 has 236 seats with blue dipping, and Screen 3 accommodates 123 people with gray dipping.

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