Remembering the Fallen – Pre-War ODEONs Continued

 

In my last post, I celebrated the surviving pre-war ODEONs that still operate as cinemas. It therefore seems appropriate, to follow it up with a short tribute to those less fortunate examples of the chain’s rapid 1930s expansion. As mentioned, over 80 of the 140 buildings, commissioned by the ODEON chain have since seen demolition. It would perhaps come as no surprise that many would close, given the onslaught of challenges all early cinemas faced in the second half of the century. The rise of television, video and other forms of home entertainment, combined with new technically superior multiplexes, rendered many pre-war cinemas obsolete by the 1970s. In addition to this, ODEON’s rapid, and at times apparently haphazard expansion, created unnecessary challenges from the word go. The visionary founder Oscar Deutsch was clearly a very astute and unbelievably driven businessman, but appeared to have a weakness for acquiring ‘bargain’ sites for construction. This ultimately led to a raft of ‘super cinemas’ opening in areas, either with an insufficient population to sustain such large enterprises, or where there was a saturation of cinemas already (in a handful of cases, even competing directly with his own!).

Nevertheless, many have been lost, and in the absence of a comprehensive series of blue plaques commemorating their sites (are there any?), it seems fitting to single out a few examples (I’ve chosen 8 personal favourites), give a brief overview, and show you what was built in their place.

Worthing

On opening in March 1934, the Worthing ODEON was one of the largest and most expensive builds the chain had commissioned to date, costing double that of the smaller venues. Its appearance (like South Harrow the previous year), was a leap forward in British cinema design, pairing a prominent modernist tower with a curved streamline café wing, features, that would become regular elements of the ODEON circuit style going forward. The tower itself boasted an illuminated clock, 8ft across, spelling ODEON THEATRE.

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Worthing ODEON (1934) by Whinney, Son & Austin Hall. Image Historic England

Despite stiff competition from three earlier town centre theatres, in addition to the recently opened Plaza, and the nearby Lancing ODEON, Worthing was a huge success for many years. The 1970s saw multiplexing of the auditorium, splitting it into three. Despite sustained popularity, it was closed in 1986 for redevelopment, but was swiftly given grade II listed status by Historic England. A legal battle followed, with the developers eventually claiming victory. The building was demolished in late 1987 and Montague Shopping Centre erected on the site.

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Montague Shopping Centre (1987), Worthing. Image Google Street View

Tolworth

Tolworth was one of several early small venues (or village hall ODEONs as I like to call them), built to modest plans. Designed by Yates, Cook & Darbyshire, the cinema was built on a greenfield site, with no obvious demand for such a development. Allen Eyles’ book on the chain reports that, in these early years there were numerous jokes in circulation, ridiculing Oscar for throwing up cinemas in the most unconventional rural locations.

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Tolworth ODEON (1934) by Yates, Cook & Darbyshire. Image Historic England. 

It only lasted until 1961, when it was demolished and replaced with Tolworth Tower, a 22 storey mixed use tower designed by Richard Seifert (completed in 1964). The area was clearly not so rural by this point!

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Tolworth Tower (1964) by Richard Seifert. Image Google Street View.

Surbiton

The Surbiton ODEON, another example from 1934, was unlike anything else in the chain, and was almost certainly a ‘take over’ project. Built as a theatre, it featured a 12ft deep stage, several dressing rooms, a band room, and lift in the orchestra pit, none of which were standard cinema fare! Both architect, Joseph Hall, and interior designers Mollo & Egan, also had no previous connection with the chain, although they would go on to do further work for Oscar. It was a striking building, both externally and internally, with a curious blend of geometric patterns and semi-abstract vine murals in the foyer. In addition to the tall angular corner windows on either flank of the façade, the canopy sported a huge ODEON sign in a significantly different typeface to the usual octagonal lettering.

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Surbiton ODEON (1934) by Joseph Hall. Image Historic England

Built less than a mile from the Kingston ODEON (1933, also now gone), Surbiton was always going to prove challenging to remain viable in the long-term. Nevertheless, it stayed open until 1975, when it was reborn as a carpet showroom. B&Q took over custodianship in 1977, giving DIYers a dose of Art Deco style with every visit for 20 years. Sadly, in 1998 it was demolished and replaced with a Waitrose supermarket, built in a cinema-esque style. The flats either side, contemporary to the cinema, remain.

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Waitrose Surbiton (1998). Image Google Street View

Chingford

Of the many designs realised in this fruitful period, Andrew Mather’s concept for Chingford is surely one of the most unique. The almost cathedral-like exterior possessed a dramatic vertical emphasis, clad in grey & cream terracotta with stylised detailing. Two carved figures adorned the top of the tower, which for my money, looks to be heavily influenced by the Manhattan architecture of the period. Unfortunately, the interior was less inspiring, and far more ‘old fashioned’ than many of Mather’s other examples for the chain.

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Chingford ODEON (1935) by Andrew Mather. Image Historic England

After being sold to Classic cinemas in 1967, it was ultimately closed in 1972 and demolished to make way for a mixed retail and residential block. Poundstretcher & PetHut currently occupy the site.

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6-8 Cherrydown Avenue, Chingford. Image Google Streetview

Bury

Opening on November 16th 1936, Bury ODEON was the only modern cinema in the Lancashire town, and was the chain’s first entirely new cinema in the Manchester area. Its boxy faience clad exterior may not have had the finesse of examples like Chingford, but its striking minimal nature must have caused quite a stir in this traditional industrial town.

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Bury ODEON (1936) by Harry Weedon & P. J. Price. Image Historic England

After closing in 1981, the building was used as a nightclub for many years, before being left empty. It was eventually demolished in 2013. As of June 2016, the site was still undeveloped, but directly opposite is a new (2010) VUE multiplex and shopping centre, the exterior of which was clearly influenced by its grandparent.

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VUE Multiplex, Bury (2010). Image Google Street View

Penge

Opening on 31st July 1937, just five days after, and 1 ½ miles from South Norwood ODEON, Penge was one of a number in the year to feature large quantities of opaque glass on the frontage. Two illuminated towers capped with flag poles stood at either end, adding a considerable dramatic effect.

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Penge ODEON (1937) by Andrew Mather. Image Historic England

Closing in 1976, it saw out the remainder of the 70s and 80s as a bingo hall before shutting for good in 1990. 1994 saw a Wetherspoon’s pub, ‘The Moon & Stars’ constructed on the site. It’s worth noting that whatever opinions you have of them, the J. D. Wetherspoon group have converted a number of former cinemas into public houses in recent years, serving as welcome custodians to these old hulks. It’s only a shame that this wasn’t the mind-set when Penge met the demolition ball.

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The Moon & Stars Pub, Penge (1994). Image Google Street View 

Canning Town

The Canning Town ODEON has the dubious accolade of having the shortest lifespan of any of the chain’s pre-war constructions. Opening behind schedule in May 1939, Keith P. Roberts’ huge 2240 seater made excellent use of an awkwardly shaped island site, with a curved single height entrance leading to a huge foyer bathed in natural light. The exterior was clad predominantly in cream faience, with a tall ventilation fin capped with a flag pole, towering above the main structure.

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Canning Town ODEON (1939) by Keith P. Roberts. Image Historic England

Situated near the docks, as it was, Canning Town was subjected to a barrage of bombings during the Blitz. The cinema was no exception, being struck on May 11th 1941, and never reopening. The site wasn’t actually fully cleared until 1970, with a block of flats named ODEON Court going up in its place.

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ODEON COURT, Canning Town (1970). Image Google Street View

Hendon

Opening just four days before the country went to war, Hendon was the last new ODEON to be completed until 1950. Designed by Robert Bullivant, the facing was done entirely in brick, a medium put to successful use in Chester & York, but still an unusual choice for the chain (in this case, it was to keep costs down). Smaller than most of the period, featuring a slab tower, curved entrance with splayed fins, and a streamline corner punctured with porthole windows, it was an undeniably pretty building. Unfortunately, the timing of launch was dreadful, with only a fraction of capacity attending the gala launch, buffet and speeches. Five days later, the government approved emergency measures to close every cinema in the country on safety grounds (although this was lifted a short time later).

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Hendon (1939) by Robert Bullivant. Image Historic England

Hendon survived unmodified and un-multiplexed until it closed in 1979. It was demolished in 1981 to make way for sheltered accommodation.

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Hendon, apartments built 1981. Image Google Street View

The information used to write this post was compiled using a combination of sources including Allen Eyles’ indispensable book ‘ODEON Cinemas 1: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’, the excellent Cinema Treasures website, and as always, Google.

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

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Survivors – The Remaining Pre-War ODEON Cinemas.

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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.

 

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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
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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
ayr_odeon_85_pf_1
AYR (1938) by Andrew Mather

east ham
East Ham (1938) by Andrew Mather

Bonus ODEON

 

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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

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Recent English Architecture 1920-1940 – Then & Now

I was recently fortunate enough to pick up a copy of marvellous book entitled ‘Recent English Architecture 1920-1940’. Its a small hard back compendium, published by Country Life in 1947, containing 63 of  images of English architectural highlights from the inter-war years. Selected by the Architecture Club, it served as an epitaph to the groundbreaking design from this era, and heralded the start of a new one in a post-war Britain.img_1035

The photographs show each of the buildings, some iconic, some less well known, at their best. Each freshly completed and free from the ravages of ‘modernisation’ and general weathering. I initially decided to reproduce the book in blog form, simply to share these striking images, then curiosity got the better of me. How many of these structures still exist, and to what extent have they been altered? Below is a selection of my personal highlights from the book, with a modern comparison from various credited sources (if you own the copyright to any of these photos and would like me to remove them, i am happy to do so).

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#7 Town Hall (aka Meridian House), Greenwich by Culpin and Son (1939)
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Image courtesy of Google Streetview
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#8 Town Hall, Dagenham by E. Berry Webber (1937)
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Image courtesy of WIkipedia commons. 
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#9 Arnos Grove Underground Station by Adams, Holden and Pearson (1932)
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Image courtesy of hiddenlondon.com
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London Passenger Transport Board by Adams, Holden & Pearson (1927)
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Grade I listed. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons
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#11 Woodside Ventilation Station, Mersey Tunnel, Liverpool by Herbert J. Rowse (1925-1934)
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Grade II Listed. Image courtesy of Panoramio
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#17 Ramsgate Air Port by A. Pleydell-Bouverie (1935)

Closed in 1968 and demolished at some point during the following decade I’m afraid folks.

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#18 Liverpool Philharmonic Hall by Herbert J. Rowse (1939)
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Photo courtesy of streetsofliverpool.co.uk
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#19 St Dunstan’s Convalescent and Holiday Home, Rottingdean by Francis Lorne (1938) 
19
Photo courtesy of blindveterans.org.uk
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#27 National Provincial Bank, Osterley by W.F.C. Holden (1935)
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Photo courtesy of Pete aka DaveyJones144 – a prolific deco hunter!
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#29 “Comet” Roadhouse, Near Barnet by E.B. Musman (1936)
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Photo courtesy of Mark Amies, his blog post about the roadhouse notified me of the existence of the book.
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#36 Church of St Nicholas, Burnage by Welch, Cachemaille-Day & Lander (1932)
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Photo courtesy of Sarah aka tintrunk via flickr
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#38 Church of St. Saviour, Eltham by Welch, Cachemaille-Day & Lander (1934)
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Photo courtesy of Stephen Craven via Geograph
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#45 Bedford Girls Modern School by Oswald P. Milne (1938)
45
Photo courtesy of Britainfromabove.org.uk
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#48 Greenford County Secondary Grammar School, Middlesex by H. W. Burchett (1939)

While the school still thrives as Greenford High School, it appears that the original building has either been replaced or modified beyond recognition.

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#58 House at fawley, Bucks by Christopher Nicholson
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‘Kits Close’, the house was used in the Poirot episode ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. Photo couresty of Chimi Wiki

This is obviously only a selection of the images featured in the book. There are some interior shots, and some more well known buildings such as Battersea Power Station and The University of London, and others that showcase some more traditional constructions of the era. Should you wish to track down your own copy they seem to be fairly obtainable. Mine only cost a mere 83p + P&P from Abebooks!