old Bournemouth Odeon

John Sullivan’s blog: ‘Rivers of tears for this cinema!’

Old Odeon, Bournemouth
The old Odeon, Bournemouth

| The Odeon Cinema closed this week in Bournemouth and a new, shiny Odeon has opened down the road |

However, the original Odeon has been there for 90 years, serving as the entertainment focal point for generations of families in Bournemouth and its closure has naturally brought back memories for many long term citizens of the City.

An article about the last visit of a lifelong resident – and regular customer of the Odeon since childhood – appeared in the local Bournemouth Echo and has since been shared and retweeted many hundreds of times around the country.

EMD Walthamstow interior
EMD Walthamstow interior

Cinemas built through the 1920s and ’30s in the United Kingdom had grandeur, majesty and style – something that for all the technological superiority of the new wave of cinemas seems to be lost forever. Architecturally, few things are sadder than the demise of these incredible picture palaces.

Perhaps the saddest and most threatened cinema in the UK is the beautiful old EMD Cinema in Walthamstow, built in 1930 with rare and fabulous interiors designed by Theodore Komisarjevsky, currently languishing behind a pop up pub and possibly heading in the same direction as so many others if serious efforts are not made to restore them.

Everyman Muswell Hil

However, time and technology march on and audiences now require a far more immersive experience and the cinemas of today are largely being built as bland but highly functional boxes.

Is it possible that in our stampede to create this functionality we are missing out on the possibility of working with what is already available?

Everyman Cinemas recently rescued and now is in the process of restoring four Odeon cinemas, respectively in Esher, Gerrards Cross, Muswell Hill and Barnet, thereby demonstrating that these buildings do have a future.

Everyman Cinema, Esher
Everyman Cinema, Esher

A more remote reopening is due later this year. The Grade A-listed Picture House in Campbeltown, Argyll was one of Scotland’s first purpose-built cinemas – and is almost 100 miles away from its nearest rival! A range of funders has contributed to the restoration and development (including a second screen). Its history includes being seriously damaged by a real-life air raid in 1940 and until recently still sported bullet holes in the doors!

Picture House, Campbelltown
The Picture House, Campbelltown

My own childhood haunt in far flung Ballarat, Australia was the Regent Cinema. Not only cherished by the town and its citizens, it was restored twenty years ago in a similar process to the one Everyman is now undertaking.

Back in the mid-1990s Stephen and John Anderson opted to restore and adapt their family cinema to contemporary specifications rather than see it rot and crumble or see out its days as a quasi-pub.

The project the Anderson family embarked on was not the brutal carve-up of the architectural heritage that so many cinemas here suffered in the 80s. Instead they created a masterpiece, sensitively adapting the heritage building, keeping the best of the original while creating a high-tech seven-screen cinema.

Regent Cinemas, Ballarat
Regent Cinemas, Ballarat

As a result, unlike the citizens of many cities, I do not need to shed tears for the loss of the cinema of my youth – I still regularly visit the Regent to enjoy films screened in technical excellence, while basking in the opulence of the beautiful 1930s interiors.

Everyman is not the only cinema owner in the UK demonstrating that the restoration of these theatres is not just a sentimental exercise but makes commercial sense: The REX Cinema in Berkhamsted was sensitively restored and reopened in 2004 to consistently full houses, offering a unique dining/cinema alternative.

Clerk St exterior & interior
Clerk Street, exterior & interior

It is hoped that others will follow suit: The G1 Group in Scotland are in the process of a multi-million pound restoration of the famous Clerk Street Odeon due to reopen in 2018 after languishing for almost two decades.

So although we may cry rivers of tears over the loss and destruction of many fine examples of the cinemas of yesteryear, I for one hope that others will follow Everyman, G1, Regent Cinemas and others and bring these fine old theatres back into the use for which they were so superbly designed.

Lament over!

Regent cinema interior
Ballarat Regent, cinema interior

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One Thought to “John Sullivan’s blog: ‘Rivers of tears for this cinema!’”

  1. […] You don’t have to be a cinema history fanatic to appreciate the something is irrevocably lost when many of this buildings vanish – though so many of them have already been turned into bingo halls or just left to rot. OzSeeker – 16 February 2017 […]

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