On February 15th 1963, firefighter Arne Wold was downright blown out of the building when Colosseum – Scandinavia’s largest movie theater – burned to the ground in Oslo.
- We were not equipped with radios back in 1963. As we walked into the dark and smoky building, somebody was screaming from the outside: Get out, the roof is collapsing!, Wold (76) recalls.
He worked as a smoke diver, and together with a colleague he ran the extinguish work inside the theater when the dreaded message hit their ear.
Without hesitation, he threw away his equipment and ran for his life towards the exit. Wold had almost reached the door when the copper dome hit the ground, creating an inferno of flames.
- The air pressure from the collapse was so powerful that it took the big swing doors off the hinges. I was thrown head first out of the burning building, he recalls from the dangerous situation.
The bruised firefighter landed on his stomach outside the building. In retrospect he can consider himself lucky. Seconds later, the air pressure hits back inside the cinema with tremendous force.
- Had I been standing upright, I probably would have been thrown back into the flames, he says.
In preparation for a press viewing of the blockbuster movie “Mutiny on the Bounty”, the fire alarm at the Colosseum went off. Massive smoke began to seep out of the distinctive green dome.
Firefighters arrived quickly and got control of the situation. Wold and his colleagues were told to begin the difficult and dangerous work inside the ruins:
- At first glance it did not look too bad. The electric system was down and there was a lot of smoke inside the building. We could not see much, but tried as best we could to extinguish the fire. Gradually, burning objects began falling from the ceiling.
The fire started in the scene curtain, and rapidly spread inside the large auditorium. Outside the movie theater, hundreds of spectators had gathered.
Then, the catastrophe occurred. The fire spread and hit a room containing flammable nitrate film which is highly explosive. It became clear that the building could not be saved. Seconds later, former theater director Arnljot Engh and hundreds of shocked viewers witnessed the great dome disappear into the flames.
The fire fighters located on the roof had to run for their lives down the ladders. Fortunately the movie theater was empty and no one was injured. But in a few short hours Scandinavia’s largest movie theater turned into a smoldering pile of rubble.
After the fire it was decided to rebuild the Colosseum. The famous architect Sverre Fehn was commissioned to design a new dome and the new movie theater.
On September 12th 1964, the theater re-opened. International press called it one of the finest cinemas in Europe. The dome was 33 feet (10 meters) higher, with a total diameter of 132 feet (40.2 meters) – the same size as the dome in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The opening night was celebrated with what is referred to as “an amount of glamor beyond Norwegian tradition”. The Norwegian newspaper Nationen described it as follows: “The 1200 guests who got hold of tickets to see “Lawrence of Arabia” in Technicolor and Super Panovision, was met by program and chocolate selling Sheiks and girls in veils. If that did not get them in ‘the mood’, the auditorium which had been beautifully decorated would: A white dizzying dome, a golden scene curtain and comfortable pews in red velvet”.
Translated and modified by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews