The former Odeon cinema on Penel Orlieu in Bridgwater, Somerset was designed by British architect Thomas Cecil Howitt (1889 - 1968). Howitt designed a number of cinemas - at Bridgwater, Clacton, Warley,and Weston-super-Mare - for the Odeon chain. Howitt had previously worked in Nottingham city engineer's department and later in private practice in the same city.
His design at Bridgwater aped that at nearby Weston-super-Mare, although the Odeon Bridgwater was a some-what simpler design than that seen at Weston-super-Mare. All four of Howitt's Odeons featured a square tower with a projecting flat slab roof supported by squat, cylindrical columns - the cinema at Bridgwater was the fourth of Howitt's cinema to use the slab tower. The corners or the tower are chamfered, as at Warley and Clacton - only Weston-super-Mare had 'sharp' corners to the tower. The east elevation of the slab tower has two slender full height, slit windows. A curved canopy projects outwards from the slab tower, above three sets of double doors providing access to the street via steps into the foyer.
To the left on Penel Orlieu (when looking towards the building) is the main wing of the building, in front of the auditorium. This comprises five bays and originally housing shops at ground floor level - with a canopy above - and flats on the first and second storeys. The windows on the first and second storeys are Crittall-style metal framed windows, the second and fourth bays feature shutters on the first storey and ornate, metal window box 'holders' on the second storey.
The facade of the building is covered in biscuit-coloured faience, except at street level on Penel Orlieu where the building is clad in black glass 'Vitrolite' panels. The faience above is in basket-weave pattern. Above the second storey is a parapet that descends in steps from right to left, relieved by narrow horizontal bands of scarlet-red faience. At night neon lighting placed in line with the red faience and around the 'Odeon' sign.
To the side of the cinema was a car park - a large sign attached atop the cinema auditorium sign-posted the car park from Penel Orlieu.
In 1967 the cinema was taken over by the Classic Cinema company, and renamed Classic. Inside the original cinema auditorium was spilt - the front section was divided off as a Bingo hall and two smaller screens were created. The cinema closed in March 1983 and re-opened as an independent cinema in December 1983.
The ground floor shops went into dis-use and were crudely converted into flats. In May and November 2009 the flats were damaged in arson attacks. This followed an attempted arson attack in June 2007. Although the cinema remains in use the Penel Orlieu wing is in a poor state of repair and the tower is missing its flat slab roof.
Posted by Richard Coltman on Thursday, August 19, 2010