History & Heritage

History

The Gatti Family, founders of Charing Cross & Strand Electricity Supply Company, restauranteurs, dance hall and theatre entrepreneurs.

Sir John Gatti, widely considered the most prominent and influential of the Gatti Family, was born Giovanni Maria Emilio in Switzerland in 1872 and was possibly one of the first family members to feel that his home was in England.

Whilst both his father Agostino and uncle Stefano were active in the cantonal and even federal parliaments in Switzerland, John developed an appetite for British politics.

The Gatti family business empire started with their flagship enterprise The Adelphi 409-410 The Strand which was a restaurant and theatre in the heart of the Strand. As the empire expanded they constantly needed to collaborate with the authorities and this led John to embark on his political career in London. A Westminster councillor from 1906, he was elected Lord Mayor of the borough in 1911.

He went on to serve as chairman of the finance committee of London county council and was responsible for the finances of more people than there were in the whole of Switzerland.

He was knighted in 1928.

Heritage

The Adelphi is an extraordinary complex of several periods. Under various managements, including Madame Céleste, Benjamin Webster, F B Chatterton and the Gatti Brothers, the theatre found popular success throughout the 19th century and was completely re-built with the second building opening in 1858. In the 1830s stage adaptations of Charles Dickens’s novels proved very popular starting with The Pickwick Papers (1836), Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn (1859) and The Shaughraun (1876); the latter two had long runs providing a good idea of the large scale comic dramas that the theatre specialised in.

The Gatti brothers’ major success was The Harbour Lights by George R Sims and Henry Pettitt which ran for 510 performances. They produced a whole string of big melodramas which became known universally as ‘Adelphi Dramas’. With titles such as In the Ranks (1883), The Union Jack (1888) and The English Rose (1890) these dramatic set pieces were the theatre’s mainstay into the early 20th century.

In 1878 Agostino and Stefano Gatti acquired the freehold and in the following year assumed control of the Adelphi. The remainder of the newly acquired Nos. 409– 410 was then reopened by the Gattis as the Adelphi Theatre restaurant. To this day the ground floor retains the form of former restaurant frontage (altered with plate glass) with polished granite pilasters and attached columns carrying entablature.

The 1st and 2nd floors have recessed casement windows with rusticated jambs which are articulated by a Corinthian portico and lunette-windowed. The Doric attic has a balustraded balcony. On the upper floors the elaborate decorative plasterwork and woodwork testify to the quality of the private dining rooms which used to inhabit these spaces as does the interwoven metalwork of the balustrade of the staircase, truncated at first floor level by the party wall, which separated the restaurant space from the theatre when the restaurant closed in 1908.

The first and second floors were fitted out with elaborate hardwood doors featuring carved door cases some incorporating cats’ heads (‘gatti’ = cats, in Italian).

“The existing spaces housed an ornate array of plasterwork and timber detailing, all of which had to be carefully brought back to life”