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History

The Plaza, Paris and Hollywood… in Brussels

The Hotel Le Plaza Brussels is an Art Deco palace built between 1928 and 1931 and designed by Alfred Hoch and Michel Polak, an accomplished Swiss architect also known for the Residence Palace and the Villa Empain. Inspired by the George V hotel in Paris, the Hotel Le Plaza Brussels’ luxury and refinement are a continual source of wonderment. Its exceptional Theatre, originally a movie theatre simply called ‘LePlaza’, has a capacity of 1,300 guests.

The Hotel Le Plaza Brussels has experienced a lot. In 1940, it became the Headquarters for the German Kommandantur of the occupying forces. Upon their escape, the Germans booby-trapped the hotel and the winter garden and the glass roof were destroyed. The Allied Forces took over and the movie theatre was re-baptized ‘the Churchill’ from its famous guest. In the Fifties, the Hotel Le Plaza Brussels welcomed stars such as Brigitte Bardot, Bourvil, Fernandel, Yves Montand and Charles Trenet. Many of them sang at the ‘Varietes’, a movie theatre and music hall venue located on the rue de Malines nearby. After 20 years of dereliction, mostly due to the economic crisis and tough competition, the Hotel Le Plaza Brussels was born again in 1996. It was renovated and returned to its original architectural beauty and refurbished to provide modern comfort.

The movie theatre layout is very unique as it is located within the hotel. The hotel is built in a U-shape, with 3 wings and a rectangular atrium and 7 floors of guests rooms, which was quite new in Europe in 1931. Technical challenges such as sound insulation, easy spectator flow and ventilation, were met while keeping an exceptionally luxurious and refined décor.

The lobby decor with arches, shields, faux wood beams, wrought iron light fixtures, the entry to the balcony and the extravagant fountain, all hint at the exotic atmosphere of the Theatre. It is an extraordinary neo baroque décor, inspired by the Spanish Renaissance, very much in fashion in the US movie theatres at the time. Two fake French windows with pediments decorated with wrought iron and twisted columns surround the stage. Glass and marble create an exotic atmosphere and hide the ventilation system.

The room is set in an armored concrete structure. It has no need for other supports and offers great visibility from the parterre seats as well as from the balcony seats. Acoustically insulated box sections made of light material are set inside the concrete structure without touching it (concrete is a good sound conductor), thus providing soundproofing for the hotel guests. The Hotel Le Plaza’s movie theatre also hosts musical events. The loudspeakers hidden behind the screen are quickly pulled up behind the arches.

The whole area; the entrance hall, lobby, theatre and the elegant Spanish décor has remained unblemished for more than 50 years, from 1931 to 1985, which is most unusual in the city of Brussels. The Theatre then became a convention centre but still kept its original movie theatre décor. Since 1992, the entrance hall and the lobby have been part of the Belgian heritage list for its architecture and décor.

Access our virtual guided tour on…

Isabel Biver,
cinema historian and tour guide,
author of “Cinémas de Bruxelles, portraits et destins”,
Brussels, CFC-Editions, 2009, Isabelbiver@scarlet.be