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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

The Mystery of the Arcadia Nightclub

 

By Priscilla Adum

 

 

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In Search of the Arcadia

Several articles in Arabic mention the Arcadia Nightclub in Cairo which was purportedly owned by Safiya Helmi, a business woman who began her career as a dancer at Badia Masabni's club. Safiya Helmi owned several popular Cairo clubs, including:

  • The Cubana, which was located just walking distance from the Casino Opera in Mustafa Kamel Square, and
  • El Gandoul, which was only recently demolished after the 2011 revolution
  • The Casino Opera, after buying it from Beba Ezz el-Din's heirs.

I decided to uncover the history of the Arcadia club, and came across more than one article in Arabic which drew a parallel between Cairo's very modern Arcadia Mall and the Arcadia Nightclub. One article, for example, says that just as the Arcadia Casino had been torched during the Cairo Fires of 1952, the Arcadia Mall had also been set ablaze after the 2011 revolution in much the same manner.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo shows the Casino Opera as it looked during the years that Badia Masabni owned it, in the 1940's. Click on it to see more detail.

Interestingly, though, I was unable to find The Arcadia among the clubs that Safiya Helmi owned. In fact, I was unable to find any advertisements or flyers for a club called the Arcadia in Cairo, ever. That in itself was odd, because all the major clubs placed ads in the newspaper in those days, and Safiya's nightclubs were highly popular. In addition to this, there was no shortage of of advertisements for her other clubs.

Casino Opera Front 1940s

To deepen the mystery even further, there are several pictures of a large Cairo nightclub with a huge sign on the roof that actually said ARCADIA in both English and Arabic. There is even a photograph that shows the building with the sign ablaze during the 1952 Cairo fires. An Egyptian friend and I painstakingly searched for a couple of years in the archives of several newspapers and magazines, but there was simply no mention of this mysterious and obviously very large club whose photos showed up often in old articles.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The arrow shows the Arcadia sign on top of the Casino Opera. Click on the photo to see more detail.

Casino Opera

Upon closer inspection of several photographs, we discovered that the building with the Arcadia sign on the rooftop was actually none other than the Casino Opera which had belonged to Badia Masabni! However, we couldn't find any pictures suggesting that the sign existed when Badia owned it. The only sign that Badia featured on her rooftop was the one that said Casino Opera. The new Arcadia sign appears to have been erected after Badia sold the club.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo shows the Casino Opera on fire in 1952, and clearly shows the ARCADIA sign on top. Click on it to see more detail.

However, this still presented a mystery, because during the year that Beba Ezz el-Din owned the club prior to her untimely death, it continued to be advertised as The Casino Opera, and all the advertisements in newspapers and magazines referred to it as such. To confuse matters further, there are photographs that show both signs on the building at the same time.

Casino Opera on Fire

Thank goodness for my Egyptian friend's excellent memory, because during our search for the Arcadia Club, and after enlarging several photos to get a good look at the sign, he remembered something that would eventually solve the mystery. In the photos next to the large Arcadia sign, there is also a sign that says TELL. We had assumed it was an abbreviation for "telephone" even though no numbers appeared. But then we noticed that right in the middle of both words, there is the huge face of a wristwatch. My friend remembered that as a teen, his first wristwatch had been a Swiss made TELL watch. They were sold everywhere in Egypt.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo shows a watch that is the TELL brand name. Click on the photo to see more detail.

TELL Watch

He also remembered that Arcadia was the name of a popular watch brand sold in Egypt as well. We realized that the wristwatch image and the words TELL and ARCADIA in huge letters were nothing but rooftop advertisements for these two brands of watches! It wasn't the name of the club at all!

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo shows a watch that is the ARCADIA brand name. Click on the photo to see more detail.

Fast forward to 1953 when Safiya Helmi purchased the Casino Opera. The grand opening under Safiya's ownership was published in the newspaper with great fanfare. It was still advertised as The Casino Opera, and it soon became known as Safiya's Casino Opera. The club came to be just as popular under Safiya as when it had been under Badia Masabni's ownership. There are advertisements in Al Ahram newspaper from 1953 onward for both the Cubana Club and the Casino Opera, both under Safiya Helmi's management. The name of the club didn't change until 1957 when the Casino Opera became The Granada Casino. 

Arcadia Watch

Many of Cairo's tall building rooftops rented out space for advertisements for a number of products, and it seems that the Casino Opera was no exception. Apparently, even Egyptians who saw the signs on the roof eventually came to think that "Arcadia" was the name of the club.... but it never was.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This is a vintage advertisement for Arcadia watches. As you can see, the logo and the shape of the letters is identical to the letters on top of the Casino Opera as seen in the above photo of it burning, which proves that the Arcadia sign was indeed an ad for this watch company and not the name of the club.

Arcadia Ad

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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