For decades, London’s Kensington Kinema hosted red carpet premieres for the stars of stage and film, with the late Princess Diana and Prince William often gracing the venue until its closure.
Now the 1920s art deco building, once the largest cinema in the UK with a 3,000 capacity, is set for a new lease of life and could once again draw the rich and famous, this time as an exclusive £500 million ($625.8m) property redevelopment.
Lodha, the team behind the £1bn redevelopment of the former US Embassy at No.1 Grosvenor Square in London's Mayfair, has unveiled the renewed building as Holland Park Gate — a property on High Street Kensington, consisting of 71 apartments and penthouses offering a 5-star bespoke hotel service to residents.
Overlooking the beautiful formal gardens and wild woodlands of Holland Park, home to the world-renowned open-air opera, the deluxe development has seen its share of famous names scale its steps as Lodha's flagship Grosvenor Square, which was the childhood home of JFK.
Close to Kensington Palace, now home to Prince William and his family, Princess Diana often took the young princes from the palace to premieres, along with Hollywood stars including Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet.
“We love to retain history and the legacy of our buildings,” Tom Clabburn, director of sales at Lodha, told The National.
“But also create a luxurious venue where people can buy into a Lodha lifestyle.”
The cinema's impressive frontage remains after being taken apart brick by brick to be cleaned and restored.
"It has had a rich history," Mr Clabburn said. "During the war, the government renamed it the Majestic Cinema in case German parachutists arriving in London could identify their whereabouts.
"Many films had their first screenings here and we are creating an underground cinema at the complex in recognition of its history."
The new underground cinema will also be open to the public.
Already the development has attracted heavy interest from buyers, with two Middle East families purchasing four of the apartments and 35 per cent of the homes already being sold.
Prices range from £2.4m for a one-bedroom property to £23.5m for four-bedroom apartments.
“The UAE buyers both brought two, one for themselves and a second for family members to use,” Mr Clabburn told The National.
“One has lived in Kensington for 12 years and the other for 35. They saw the development and knew it was for them.”
With a health club and spa, including a 25-metre pool, gym, private treatment rooms, dining room and library, the development will also deliver a restaurant and, of course, an underground boutique cinema.
But for car fans, it will be the Bond-esque underground car park called The Vault that will be most appealing.
Using AI technology, The Vault computer takes your car, parks it and brings it back at the swipe of a card. It is reportedly the largest and fastest automated parking system in the UK, where motorists can drive in, leave their car and the computer does the rest.
"With state-of-the-art automated parking technology, cars can be parked or collected in under three minutes," Gabriel York, co-chief executive of Lodha UK said.
"The Vault is the most intelligent, convenient and secure way to park a vehicle in London. Its capacity to safely store the largest luxury cars in the market makes it one of the most powerful car-parking and collection tools available today."
The developers have also focused on sustainability, with collected rain to water the garden and living wall, solar panels — and even its own bees supplying honey to the residents.
A leafy courtyard at the centre of the property, designed by international landscape architect Andy Sturgeon, has been specially planted to encourage biodiversity, while a living roof carpeted in 24 species of wildflower provides a vital habitat for pollinators.
"The neighbourhoods surrounding Holland Park have been among the most sought-after in London over the past 12 months, as Londoners re-evaluate their priorities after the pandemic,” Mr York said.
“Holland Park Gate has been designed to respond to these shifting priorities and to appeal to people who are seeking a more balanced, healthy and sustainable way of living. The location, design, amenities and services will help residents to strike the perfect balance in their lives, whether it's between city and nature, family and work, tranquillity and vibrancy, or privacy and community.
“We just released sales last month and it has been very successful.”
Residents at Lodha's developments are serviced by its in-house hospitality team, Saint Amand, which is led by Simon Hirst, a former general manager at Raffles in Singapore.
"Saint Amand is our own hospitality brand and it exists to ensure that our customers receive the very best service and experience of living in our developments," Mr York said.
With Mr Hirst at the helm, residents can be assured of all their needs being serviced.
"Nothing phases me," he told The National.
"I've had requests to bring a pony to a room in the past and once I was asked to organise a wedding in just a matter of days. We're here for whatever our clients need."
The jewel in Lodha’s crown has been its No. 1 Grosvenor Square development, which has attracted the world’s leading entrepreneurs.
Residents include scientists, space satellite designers and IT entrepreneurs.
“A lot of our customers spend more time with extended family and we have found people buying more than one apartment so they can be here with their families,” Mr York said.
“No.1 Grosvenor Square is the jewel in our crown, it’s a £1bn project and £500m of the properties have been sold in the past three to four months. About 85 per cent have been sold in total.
“It has special features and appeals to the global market, our clients are extraordinary people who have created their own amazing enterprises and they have been attracted here. The average price for an apartment is £25m.
“The demographic is largely US, British and European people from around the world, including the Middle East. Typically people have been buying a main home and another big trend since the pandemic is people wanting more leisure time. There is a fatigue with hotel life and people are wanting the same services but at their home.
“What defines and separates us is our capacity to work with design studios. It has been very valuable to our customers.
“We are the only property developer with our own hospitality company. Our customers want to buy into a community with a sense of service.”
The history of the former US Embassy has also been an attraction, it even has a replica Oval Office built by JFK’s father, ambassador Joseph P Kennedy, to inspire his children to reach the highest echelons of office.
It now forms the entrance hall for residents.
Those seeking central London luxury will have to hurry, as a change in planning regulations in Westminster and Kensington will restrict the size of homes.
In Westminster, a new planning condition will restrict homes being built to 200 sq m, while Kensington is restricting the creation of supersize homes to ensure more housing is available to more people.
“The policy justification is to optimise all sites, which will help with housing delivery but also to tackle the issue of empty homes, as very large homes tend to be purchased by wealthy investors in the super-prime market and left empty,” a representative for Kensington and Chelsea Council said.
Lodha was granted planning consent before the changes came into force, allowing it to create larger homes.
“It will be impossible to recreate this in the future because there are so many restrictions on building properties in Westminster and Kensington,” Mr York said.
“The lack of supply has prompted people into action. If people want larger homes and more bedrooms, then they need to be quick.”