Survivors – The Remaining Pre-War ODEON Cinemas.

edit1sm

WESTON-SUPER-MARE (1935) by Thomas Cecil Howett. Photo: Philip Butler 2017

Amongst the wealth of ground-breaking architecture that saw construction across these isles during the 1930s, the cinema must surely be considered to have had the greatest impact. No other type of building could have managed to get away with imposing such outlandish, extravagant and radical exteriors on the average British high street. Whether it was the appeal of the escapism they offered, the allure of the gorgeous charismatic stars projected on the screen, or the fashionable kudos these places bestowed on the locality, they won over both town planners and punters a-like, springing up in their 100s throughout the decade.

Of all the operators, and there were many, ODEON is undoubtedly the chain whose legacy is most enviable. A chain that not only managed to tick all the technical boxes required for a great cinema, but whose founder commissioned some of the most unbelievably modern, daring, and unusual structures ever seen in this country.

The first ODEON opened in 1930 in the Perry Barr area of Birmingham. Designed by Stanley A. Griffiths & Horace G. Bradley, it had a fashionable bright white exterior in a Moorish style, with an elaborate slightly unorthodox interior. Further openings in subsequent years, showed no obvious house style, and arguably little genuine flair, until construction of South Harrow in 1933.

 

south harrow

South Harrow (1933) by A. P. Starkey. Demolished 1972. Image Historic England

 

This bold  multipurpose block clad in buff faience tiles, featured integrated retail units and a recessed front wall, up-lit from the entrance canopy. It perhaps doesn’t look that spectacular in light of later designs, but South Harrow set a new benchmark in British cinema design, and paved the way for the ODEON chain’s modern house style.

Despite this early promise,  it would take the appointment of the Birmingham based Harry Weedon Partnership in 1934 to achieve a more consistent approach to the design of the rapidly expanding circuit. For the remainder of the decade, all designs would go through Weedon in one form or another, ultimately yielding a whole estate of masterpieces.

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the brand of late, and decided to investigate and catalogue a few statistics covering what was built, and what remains in 2017. Below follows a summary of the findings.

Between 1930 & 1939, ODEON opened 258 cinemas (a few early ones didn’t bear the brand name at first, but later adopted it). Of these, 140 were new, purpose built venues, whilst the others consisted of older cinemas and theatres, benefitting from a revamp. From the 140, 83 have been demolished, and a further 7 only have elements remaining; façade, foyer or adjoining café still present, whilst the rest is lost.

That leaves 50 surviving buildings, only 19 of which are still open as cinemas in one capacity or another, the remainder being used as bingo halls, churches, nightclubs, conference centres and retail outlets. It’s also worth noting a further 4 were built, but not opened until after the war (2 survive, 1 as a cinema).

So where are these miraculous survivors I hear you ask? Cue the Led Zeppelin sound bed, here’s the countdown in chronological order, complete with grainy period shots, of all those still functioning as cinemas (images copyright Historic England, but via the excellent Cinema Treasures website).…

Barnet

BARNET (1935) by Edgar J Simmons

wsm

WESTON SUPER MARE (1935) by Thomas Cecil Howett

favesham

FAVERSHAM (1936) by Andrew Mather

scarborough

SCARBOROUGH (1936) by Bullivant, Weedon, Clavering

sutton colefield

SUTTON COLDFIELD (1936) by Harry Weedon & W. Calder Robson

bridgwater

BRIDGWATER (1936) by Thomas Cecil Howett

muswellhill

MUSWELL HILL (1936) by George Coles

bromley

BROMLEY (1936) by George Coles

harrogate

HARROGATE (1936) by Harry Weedon & W. Calder Robson – yes, it’s the same design as Sutton Coldfield

chester

CHESTER (1936) Harry Weedon & Robert Bullivant

stafford

STAFFORD (1936) Roland Satchwell

sittingbourne

SITTINGBOURNE (1937) by F. C. Mitchell

Odeon, Blossom Street, York, Yorkshire

YORK (1937) by Harry Weedon & Robert Bullivant

exeter

 by Harry Weedon & Robert Bullivant

swiss cottage

SWISS COTTAGE (1937) by Basil Herring & Harry Weedon

leicester square

LEICESTER SQUARE (1937) by Andrew Mather & Harry Weedon

bristol

BRISTOL (1938) by Thomas Cecil Howett

barking

BARKING (1938) by Andrew Mather

ayr_odeon_85_pf_1

AYR (1938) by Andrew Mather

Bonus ODEON

worcester

WORCESTER (1939, but didn’t open until 1950) by Robert Bullivant

Use them or lose them folks. Support your local original ODEON cinemas (not all are still run by the chain, but all still show films) while you can. Even if the movie is naff, you can sit back and soak up the history!

The statistics used in this post were compiled using a combination of information from Allen Eyles excellent book ‘Odeon Cinemas 1: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’, the Cinema Treasures website, and Google.

If you appreciate this era of architecture (and live in or are familiar with Worcestershire & the West Midlands), you might well enjoy my new book ‘Streamline Worcestershire’. More information at www.streamlineworcestershire.com

BANNER

 

Advertisements

About Art Deco Magpie

Seasoned Art Deco collector and blogger Philip Butler, aka Art Deco Magpie, has spent many years transforming the interior of his family home into a 1930’s time warp. Furniture, wall coverings, fixtures, fittings and carpets, nothing has been neglected from his quest to obtain near film set perfection. Combining a love of photography and passion for 20th century history, Philip is now working on his debut book; “Streamline Worcestershire – A Journey Through the Inter-War Modernist Architecture in the County“. Philip lives in Great Malvern with his wife and two young daughters. When not immersing himself in all things Art Deco, he can be found tinkering with classic cars, working in the alcoholic drinks trade, practicing writing in the third person, and trying to be a good dad!
This entry was posted in Architecture, Destinations and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Survivors – The Remaining Pre-War ODEON Cinemas.

  1. poshbirdy says:

    Wonderful to see so many stunning pictures of ‘survivors’. The light at night really bring them to life, doesn’t it. They are strongly styled, as is your book (which I have just had time to look at, but am very pleased with). I have only been in Leicester Square and good old Muswell Hill (I saw several films when I lived there, including ‘Spinal Tap’!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you like the book, thanks again for ordering.
    To my shame, from the list I’ve only seen films at Worcester, despite visiting several others. I feel a trip to Bristol could be on the cards though

    Like

  3. Mark R says:

    The Bristol Odeon is now half the size as part of it (the main entrance and foyer) was sold off for retail conversion. For a number of years it was a Boots but is now H&M. The remaining part of the cinema is a couple of doors up Union Street.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Andrew Burr says:

    Our old Odeon in Corby, Northants is now the unbearably grim “A6 Furniture”. Although not old enough to remember it open, seeing pictures of it in it’s prime make you realise what a lovely building it originally was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment. I came across this one while researching the estate, and, sadly It could be in the running for the most depressing former ODEON award. As my wife said, ‘It looks like a Travelodge’. Still, at least it’s still standing, maybe a saviour will step in and perform a miraculous restoration.

      Like

  5. Everyman seem to be the only large chain who see value in properly restoring and running these old places. I’m always pleased to hear of them acquiring another ailing site.

    Like

  6. bodie37 says:

    Really good article. The Muswell Hill ODEON is actually now an Everyman but it should be said that they have done a wonderful job restoring the building to its Art Deco glory.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great article, but btw its Sutton Coldfield not Colefield.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s