Historic Tartu cinema may be placed under heritage protection

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The now-shuttered Ekraan cinema building in Tartu. Source: Joakim Klementi / ERR

The National Heritage Board (Muinsuskaitseamet) is weighing up placing an iconic Tartu cinema under protection. The cinema, operated by the Forum Group since 1998, closed last week, due to falling attendance numbers even ahead of the pandemic. The process of placing the cinema under protection is quite lengthy, however, and may not even be necessary in order to save it.

The Ekraan ("Screen") cinema opened in 1961, the same year that Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space and while Estonia was in the depths of the Soviet occupation, and has remained a functioning movie theater ever since.

As reported by ERR News, Forum recently sold the site, on Riia street in Estonia's second city, to KEK Arendus, a company belonging to the Estiko Group investment company, for an undisclosed sum.

While the building's future is unclear, ERR's culture portal reports, a detailed plan already in force precludes its demolition even if the heritage board does not put it under protection.

Inga Raudvassar, adviser to the National Heritage Board's Tartu County branch, told ERR Tuesday that the body has received several inquiries of interest on the site's future.

"The National Heritage Board will consider the situation and evaluate the building itself, and then a decision will be made whether to declare the building a monument or not," she said. 

"I can't say anything specific about the deadline at the moment. The subject is still quite new and the proceedings are still in the early stages," Raudvassar went on.

The detailed plan which lists the building as one which must be preserved dates back to 1999; the process of declaring a building a monument of national interest can on the other hand be quite prolonged, while each case is different, Raudvassar told ERR.

While temporary protection would also be possible, Raudvassar said the pre-existence of the detailed plan renders this unnecessary.

National Heritage Board protection would also mean special permission would be required for any significant alterations to the building.

Estiko Group tentatively said the building might be used as a conference center, in theory, without committing to anything.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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