Standing on the corner of East Parade and Station Avenue in the North Yorkshire town of Harrogate is arguably one of Britain's finest Modernist cinema buildings. Today, the building survives as part of the Odeon cinema chain after eight decades of continuous use as a working cinema.
The Odeon company traces its history back to 1930 when the firm established by Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941) opened its first cinema bearing the Odeon name, at Perry Barr in Birmingham, on 4 August 1930. The company saw its greatest period of expansion during the 1930s, as the increasing popularity of cinema-going allowed Deutsch to open in excess of 250 cinemas prior to the Second World War.
Like the majority of Odeon's cinemas, the Odeon Harrogate was built in the Streamlined Moderne style and was a product of the Weedon Partnership. Harry Weedon (1887-1970) became involved with the Odeon chain in 1934 and his company produced designs for some of the finest buildings of the period.
Although the majority of pre-war Odeon cinemas are in the Streamlined Moderne style, it is curious that Odeon didn't opt for a standardised design of cinema. Today, out-of-town superstores, supermarkets and fast-food restaurants tend to adopt 'identi-kit' designs, with apparent cost-savings in design, construction and operation. However, with very few exceptions, each Odeon cinema was different from the next. Certain design elements and overall schemes were re-used, but each cinema was unique. Many cinemas were designed to fit the plot land they were built upon, or the population they were designed to serve, all which would have influenced the overall scheme, but not the design. That Odeon allowed for such varying schemes has left an outstanding legacy of Modernist buildings. Sadly, many have been demolished, but those that remain are exceptional examples of British architecture and design.
At Warley, Weston-super-Mare, Bridgwater and Clacton, for example, each cinema incorporated a square tower with a slab roof supported by squat, cylindrical columns. Elsewhere at Scarborough, Newport, Sutton Coldfield and Harrogate the design incorporated a central 'fin' tower with a curved canopy and corner forming the entrance to the building.
Of all the Odeon cinemas, it is the designs at Sutton Coldfield and Harrogate that are the most similar. Interestingly, it is also one of Weedon's most successful designs for the Odeon chain. Additionally, we are fortunate today that both cinemas still survive, largely intact, and still operating as cinemas (the Odeon Sutton Coldfield is operated independently as the Empire Sutton Coldfield).
The dominant feature of the Odeon Harrogate's design is a central brown-brick tower, with a projecting, taller 'fin' clad in biscuit-coloured faience tiles. At the top of the fin 'cinema' is spelt out in slender, sans-serif lettering. The tower is set in front of the main auditorium, of which the uppermost section is visible behind the tower. The top section is broken with projecting bands of darker brown brick, and the bands continue down the face of the tower on its southern face.
The northern range of the cinema (to the left when viewed face-on) comprises a five-bay, four-storey block clad in the same biscuit-coloured faience, save for the base of the building, which is clad in black faience. The faience tiles are rectangular and are set in pairs horizontally, with thin joints between the paired tiles, and thicker, more prominent horizontal joints between the pairs.
Tall windows extend through both the ground-floor and first-floor storeys, with shorter windows to the second storey. The windows on the uppermost third storey are single-pane slit windows. The windows are metal-framed Crittall-style windows, painted white. The panes of glass are rectangular, mirroring the shape of the faience tiles.
The uppermost part of the frontage is bisected by three narrow bands of green faience. Beneath, the Odeon name is carried in large, red lettering that is illuminated at night by neon edging.
The southern range comprises a projecting 'wing' with a 180-degree curve to its end, set behind a 90-degree curved corner entrance, with a projecting-curved canopy above and a further curved parapet behind. Four sets of double-doors form the entrance to the cinema and are set between black faience-clad piers. Above, the canopy edge carries illuminated signage displaying the latest films showing. Above that, the curved parapet is clad is square biscuit-coloured faience tiles, bisected by three narrow bands of green faience.
The southern wing is clad with the same paired-rectangular faience as its northern counterpart. The uppermost rows of tiles form a green band, beneath which further 'Odeon' lettering is spelt out in red, neon-highlighted lettering. The curved end to the wing contains a staircase, which is illuminated by a narrow, continuous slit window.
The cinema, as illustrated, carries its original signage. Today's signage is a modern replacement and the font is different, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs.
Inside the auditorium seating was originally divided into stalls and balcony seating, with 1,647 seats in total. The cinema was 'tripled' in 1972, that is to say the a floor installed to separate the balcony and stalls, and the space beneath sub-divided to create two smaller cinemas. Tripling allowed a cinema more flexibility to show a greater number of films, but it meant compromising the internal space by forcing cinema screens into small internal spaces.
The building was awarded Grade-II listed status on 24 May 1988.
Posted by Richard Coltman on Tuesday, November 12, 2013