The theatre has long since closed – it is now home to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God – but an exhibition celebrating the history of the iconic venue has just opened at Islington Museum.
Originally known as the Astoria Cinema, the building housed one of the largest auditoriums in London when it opened in Seven Sisters Road in September 1930.
The films on opening night were Condemned, starring Oscar-winning British actor Ronald Colman, and Kiss the Girls, with Hollywood screen icon Greta Garbo.
By the 1960s, music acts were beginning to perform at the venue, which soon became the centre of youth rebellion and hippy flower power.
It was there in 1967 that Jimi Hendrix first burnt his Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard and Roy Orbison also performed there.
In 1971, it reopened as The Rainbow, with Queen, The Who, Eric Clapton, David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, Genesis and Deep Purple as regular visitors.
The final concert, in 1981, was headlined by Elvis Costello.
The theatre lay abandoned for 14 years, occasionally being used to stage unlicensed boxing matches, before becoming headquarters of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which acquired the building in 1995.
To accompany the exhibition, there will be an exclusive talk on life behind the scenes with Rick Burton, The Rainbow’s manager from 1977 to 1982, on Friday, May 17, at Islington Museum.
From Colman to Costello: A history of Astoria Cinema and Rainbow Theatre is at the Local History Centre, Finsbury Library, 245 St John Street, until May 24. It is part of the Word 2013 festival, which runs throughout May.
by Anne-Marie Moses