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Closing down of Pars Theatre, end of Lalehzar

By M.Behnoud

After the closing down of Pars Theatre, Lalehzar Avenue in Tehran lost the last sign of a period which represented the country's cultural and modernity centre. There is no more Lalehzar.

Pars Theatre's closing down had the same destiny as Dehghan and Nasr Theatres, hotels, restaurants, cafes and Lalehzar's big stores which were closed down earlier. According to Tehran's Monday newspapers the closing down of the theatre caused the sorrowful reaction of a group of artists and made several other assemblies to issue a manifesto.

At the time of the Islamic Revolution, Pars Theatre's building was confiscated and handed over to the Islamic Advertising Institution and was struggling to survive for years. This was up until the time that a play called "Labkhand" [Smile] which was directed by Jaffar Razpoush was staged twice in a month but fell into a financial crisis and the show was stopped from the beginning of this week.

When Naser Edin Shah returned from his second trip to Europe, he ordered an avenue to be built in the middle of Khalesi Garden which was connected to Ala Al-Doleh (Ferdowsi) street from west and from east it was connected to the Royal Filkhaneh. By the King's order, benches were installed on both sides of the avenue to resemble Paris Chamse lises   . The avenue was solely built for the necessity of having an avenue and was not named after its different businesses (Soap-Makers, Mortuary, Butchers) or after its residents' name (Amiriyeh, Ehteshamieh, Farmanieh, Amir Bahador Bridge, Amin Hozour, Mirza Mohammad Vazir), but because it had flower-beds full of tulips, it was called "Lalehzar".

After the First World War with electrical tramway running through it, Lalehzar became the ultimate place for the foreigners and modernised residents of Tehran to have fun.

Lalehzar; Tehran's Shanzelise

Grand Hotel and the first European-like stores (Pirayesh, and later General Mode) were built. Cafes which were serving ice cream and coffee, and cinemas were built based on foreign maps on this street for the first time, and also the country's two most equipped theatres were established on the street.

Jaffar Shahri in his book, called The old Tehran has written "Eshghi" and "Aref" performed their best works in Lalehzar's Grand Hotel. Joyful ladies dressed in European clothing and handsome young men were frequent visitors of the place and you could spot the most stylish gentlemen and the most fashionable ladies on this street."

Until the beginning of Reza Shah's reign, Lalehzar was the only modern street throughout the country. The street would end at "Toopkhaneh" square which was a venue for occasional celebrations and fireworks at the time of Qajar's Dynasty. This place was used to hold the Garden Parties and Royal Anniversaries. North of Lalehzar would reach a narrow sand street and would connect the British, the Russian and the Turkish embassies with a tramway to the Baharestan Palace, and beyond that was desert.

At the beginning of Reza Shah's reign and when Bouzar Jomhori was the mayor, Lalehzar was expanded and the New Lalehzar was formed. In the middle of the new street an intersection was built which was called "Monsieur Kent" and had the first chief police officer in Iran. Qajar Lords had big houses in that area. Mozaffar Firouz, the grandson of Farmanfarma, who had returned from studying in Europe built the first European style shopping centre [Passage]. The first equipped open air cinema was also built on the street and soon a number of fashion shops and boutiques selling foreign products were added.

Country's Art and Modernity Centre

After the occupation of the country by allies and the fall of Reza Shah, Lalehzar found the same faith as Paris' Chmse lises and London's Bond Street, in which the crowd showed the increasing number of modern and wealthy class people.

Before, Tehran's only hundred cars were manoeuvring for show off purposes in Lalehzar, whereas Eslambol, Mokhber Al-Doleh and Shah-Abad streets were the usual place for political demonstrations and gatherings. Gradually, politics found its way to Lalehzar through arts.

Abdol Hossein Noushin and his fellow communist artists were performing the unforgettable "Lady Windermere's Fan", "Madam Butterfly" and "The Cherry Garden" on Lalehzar's stages. Ahmad Dehghan with the help of the court and the right wing managed to build his flourishing theatre, and if people like Ahmad Ghavam who would watch the "Veis & Ramin" play in Dehghan's Theatre, the King's sisters would not deprive themselves from watching Noushin's "Rostam & Sohrab". Despite all the anxiety they would go to the theatre to watch Lorta's (Noushine's wife) astonishing performance. In the middle of these two groups of intellectuals, Sadeghpour had a more public influence and was selling more than those serious and intellectual plays at the time.

Although Lalehzar lost its flower-beds and gardens due to the increase of population and cars; but as Rahi Moayeri has said in one of his poems Lalehzar became "Laleh ro zar". For, Ghamar Al Molouk Vaziri, Molouk Zarabi and Lorta were the first women throughout Iran to have performed on the stage and presented their artistic work. The historical and musical plays were on high demand, especially at the time when the food and alcohol consumption was permitted in the boxes.

It was during this period when the religious parties realised that Lalehzar is in the hands of Laeek lefties and rightist parties, and decided to take action. They overtook the Hedayat mosque (endowed by Mokhber Al-Doleh family) between the New and Old Lalehzar and assigned the first modern political clergyman named Mahmoud Taleghani, who gave his famous sermons there. Amongst his listeners were the contemporary political figures like Commander Fakher Hekmat, Mozaffar Baghaei, Hossein Maleki, Mr. Bazargan and Dr. Sahabi. They were indifferent towards the surrounding cafes and Tehran's first cabarets on Lalehzar's "Koucheh Melli", which were closed on Moharram and Safar's mourning days.

Gradually, the big Atabak mansions and the gardens which belonged to the Qajar's aristocratic families were vanished from Lalehzar, apart from the Etehadiyeh's family residence (in which the famous TV series "My Uncle Napoleon" was shot). The stylish tailor shops, famous beauty salons, newspapers' offices, and businesses were situated on the third floor above Lalehzar's shops. A poet Nader Naderpour and his house, which was a meeting place for young artists and political activists, stayed in Lalehzar until the end.

After August the 18 th and the killing of Ahmad Dehghan, Abdol Hossein Noushin, Hossein Kheirkhah and Sadegh Shabaviz along with the heads of the Communist party (Toudeh) sought refuge in Russia. The Chief Imam for the Friday prayers of the Hedayat mosque was sent to prison and the excitements of political freedom were extinguished.

Instead American movies captured the cinema theatres in Lalehzar and Mohammad Karim Arbab became the "Godfather" of Koucheh Melli's cabarets. The city was growing fast and the confinement and exclusiveness of art and modernity were taken from Lalehzar.     

The wave of Iran's Revolution was flowing in Reza Shah Boulevard (Enghelab) and around the University of Tehran. One of Lalehzar's cinema theatres was burnt down and there are no traces left of "Pirayesh" and "General Mode" stores. However, around and about the city tens of similar stores were erected.

The wavelength of the revolutionaries did not even stretch to the streets reaching Baharestan (which was the meeting place before the 18 th of August incident). However, after the Revolution's victory the cabarets were confiscated, most of the cinemas, and theatres were closed down, and were handed over to the Islamic Advertisement Institution. But Ayatollah Taleghani, the Hedayat mosque's Chief Imam of Friday Prayers became Tehran's Chief Imam of Friday Prayers.

The pioneers of Iran's theatre like Ali Nassirian, Ezatollah Entezami and Morteza Ahmadi, who presented their first artistic work at Lalehzar expressed their sorrow towards the closure of Pars Theatre and regret the flourishing days of the art of theatre on that street in which everyone could find something according to their taste.

Babraz Khan's storage and Asghar Bigareh the old miserable photographer's archive who were the old servants of theatre stages contain memories of: the first encounter of the Iranian civil society with the modern art, the days in which hundreds of people were crying for Rostam's sorrow of Sohrab's death, the story of Nader Shah, which was performed by Nosrat Allah Mohtasham and Houshang Sarang, which would make people feel pride towards their history, people laughter at the comedy of Asghar Tafakori, who was called Iran's Oliver Hardy), and their dancing to the Arshin Malalan's rhythm.

Tehran's newspapers have written that Pars Theatre was closed down with "smile", and this is at the time where Lalehzar is overtaken by shops selling electronic products. As if this place is not the same place where Nader Naderpour, who died five years ago in Los Angles, and felt nostalgic for his Lalehzar home, in an autumn day 45 years ago had written:

Every morning, the wet and dry tongue of the leaves

Swelled from the sun's bee's sudden sting,

Tehran like an old worm

Is feeling a hidden pain in her heart.

In her smoky, silky cocoon.