A store with a story
This facade in the Kipdorpvest now houses a branch of the America Today chain, and even if you are not really looking for a new pair of jeans you should really take a look inside.
The place used to be a theatre in the 1940’s and further on, until television became too popular in the 1960’s, and the place had to close its doors in the early 1970’s.
The theatre was known as the AB, short for Ancienne Belgique (Old Belgium) and it was run by the same management as the AB in Brussels and in Ghent. For some time Bruno Coquatrix, who was to lead the famous Olympia theatre in Paris, used to work as an assistant in the Brussels office of AB.
AB was a vaudeville theatre. Every night a show was performed that contained an orchestra, a ballet, some clowns or comedians, some acrobats, a show with poodles, some local singers, but the top of the bill usually were international stars from France, Germany, Great Britain or the USA. Gilbert Bécaud was here, so was Freddy Quinn, even Louis Armstrong performed in this theatre. Tickets were sold at a reasonable price: the management was confident visitors would spend more on food on drinks that were served throughout the evening.
The building itself dates back to 1902 and originally served as the offices of a newspaper called “La Métropole”. It is a nice example of neo-renaissance building, one of the many styles that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th century in Flanders. It is a style that imitates the way houses were built in the 16th century, incorporating modern techniques. The result usually is much more sober than the eclectic styles and neo-baroque styles that were also popular in the same era.
The architect responsible for the original building is also responsible for the eclectic building on the corner of Leysstraat and Teniersplaats, which practically borders the AB building. A clearer examples of the differences between both styles is hard to find. When the offices were turned into a theater, this was done with respect for the facade and fortunately, when the theater was turned into a shop, the interior has also been respected. So be sure to have a look at this historical place that many older Antwerp people still think of with a lot of melancholy.