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The former Capitol cinema building – a classicist work of art

In 1890, the retail building at Mannerheimintie 16 was completed. Some 35 years later, the largest and most modern cinema of its day, the Capitol, opened its doors in the building. It was here that a talking motion picture was shown in Finland for the first time.

The retail building was initially designed by August Nordberg. Several smaller buildings and extensions had already been constructed in the courtyard, which housed a printing press in the 1880s.  The plot was owned by Weilin Göös until 1917.

In 1925, Wäinö Palmqvist designed more buildings and the expansion of old courtyard structures for a new cinema. Architect Hilding Ekelund was charged with designing the cinema’s interior, and some of the most famous artists of the time were invited to create the decorations. Toivo Vikstredt painted the theatre’s ceiling frescos, and Gunnar Finne, Höran Hongell and Gunnar Forsström designed the relief medallions.

Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo / Eric Sundström

In his article in the Monographs of the Museum of Finnish Architecture, professor Wilhelm Helander states that the Capitol was one of the most sophisticated interior designs of its era and the most important work of Ekelund’s career.

A pioneer in cinemas

The Capitol was opened to the public in October 1926. Its theatre had 938 seats, a third of them in the galleries. In terms of movie technology, the cinema was the best in the country. Gustaf and Larissa Molin owned the establishment until 1946.

Gustaf Molin was a mogul of the movie business in his time, and the Capitol was the flagship of his company, Kosmos-Filmi.

It was in the Capitol cinema that moviegoers could listen to the first sound film or “talkie”, Sonny Boy, in the autumn of 1929. A full-page advert in the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti announced Sonny Boy’s arrival to the only sound film cinema in the land: the Capitol.

Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo / Olof Sundström.

In the 1930s, Kosmos-Filmi focused on introducing Finns to European movies. Gustaf Molin died in 1938, and the company was left to his wife Larissa. During the war years, imported movies consisted of German pieces.

After the war, the Capitol would serve as a stage to show Soviet cinema in Finland. Ownership of the Capitol was passed to Soviet hands as part of the peace terms of the Second World War. As Larissa had wed Friedrich Köhler, a German, near the end of the war, the company Kosmos-Filmi and its cinemas were thus also German property. The terms of peace decreed that all German possessions in Finland must be transferred to the Soviet Union.

Helsinki was the only city in Western Europe where Sovexportfilm, the export agency of Soviet movies, had both a cinema and an office. It operated in the Capitol until 1982.

In 1966, the Capitol received a new, lighter colouring, and its equipment was modernised. Most of the decorations and old lightings were removed. The audio system was improved to stereo sound, and an enormous new screen was installed.

Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo / Ritva Katajisto

An ill-fated renovation

The cinema underwent renovations between 1982 and 1985. The theatre dome and its frescos were damaged by fire during the project, but reconstructed during the repair work. The Capitol’s facilities became part of the new Forum cinema.

Forum was the first multi-theatre cinema in Finland. It was named Forum 7 due to its seven theatres, one of them being the Capitol theatre.

Bio Capitol is considered to be a comprehensive artwork in the 1920s classicist style. The Capitol is one of very few cinemas to have survived the rampant dismantling and demolishing of the 1980s. The interior of the Capitol is extremely valuable architecturally, and has partial listed status.  When the Forum cinema closed down in 2006, the venue had served in its function, nearly uninterrupted, for 80 years.

Renovations began the following year to transform the facilities into a theatre restaurant and night club. The designs needed to take into account the protected status of the premises. This meant, for example, that the bars and fixture installation floors must be lightweight structures. The theatre needed to be easily restored to its previous state. Decorations or decorative paintings may not be damaged.

The former cinema now hosts a night club and a restaurant. The property’s side facing Yrjönkatu was completed in 1908 and represents the neo-renaissance of the early 1900s.

The Forum Block itself is one of the busiest thoroughfares in Helsinki. An underground walkway connects it to other parts of the city centre. In the future, Forum will also have an entrance to the new commuter train line, City Rail Loop.

Basic information:

  • Address: Mannerheimintie 16
  • Year of construction: 1890
  • Architects: August Nordberg and Wäinö Palmqvist
  • Style: classicism
  • ​City block: Kukko

Published 6.7.2017