The Lancashire seaside town of Morecambe is noted for one of Britain's best Modernist buildings, the Midland Hotel. Within the town, however, is another important Modernist building. However, it is one that is somewhat forgotten, partly because of its more glamorous compatriot, but also because its state of repair is poor with the building seemingly unloved and overlooked. The building is the former Odeon Cinema, located on the corner of Thornton Road and Euston Road.
The Odeon company can trace its origins back to 1930 when the firm formed by Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941) opened its first cinema bearing the Odeon name, at Perry Barr in the West Midlands, 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 before the outbreak of the Second World War. Amongst those cinemas was the Odeon Morecambe, which opened in 1937.
As with so many other Odeon cinemas, the company employed the Weedon Partnership, led by Harry Weedon (1887-1970) to design the Morecambe cinema. Working with Calder Robson, with whom Weedon had also designed the Odeon Harrogate, the partnership produced a building in the Streamlined Moderne for Morecambe. The building employs many of the signature architectural elements that have come to characterise buildings of the Odeon cinema chain.
Many of Odeon's cinemas occupy corner plots in Britain's towns and cities, including the Odeon Morecambe. However, the Odeon Morecambe is located away from the town's centre, a factor that played its part in the buildings later decline. The building does though occupy a prominent position at a main road junction into town, where its size compared to neighbouring buildings lends the former cinema an imposing presence.
The dominant feature of the Odeon Morcambe's design is a tall, brown-brick tower, with a curved end wall. Towers were frequently employed by Odeon, in a variety of forms. A tower was a prominent feature, a landmark, where the Odeon name could be displayed in a lofty position; Odeon recognised the marketing value of its cinema's designs. The tower is on the same alignment as Thornton Road, and abuts Euston Road. The building extends along Euston Road with a five-bay, two storey high elevation. The ground-floor is given over to shop units. Above, the facade is clad in brown brick and each bay has Crittal metal-framed windows.
At the corner of the site is the entrance to the building. A curved-corner was a common design feature found at many other Odeon cinemas. Here at Morecambe five double-doors provide access into the foyer. The facade of the ground-floor entrance is clad in black faience with slender horizontal green-bands of faience. The entrance has a projecting canopy roof, with a curved parapet wall above, with five clerestory slit-windows illuminating the entrance foyer. The parapet is clad in biscuit-coloured faience, again with slender horizontal green-bands of faience.
Along Thornton Road there is a three-storey block, clad in black faience at its base, and biscuit-coloured faience above. The Thornton Road elevation is five bays wide, with chamfered corners. The elevation has a slender full-height window to the central bay and slit windows to the outer bays on the third storey. The uppermost faience of the block has three repeating slender horizontal green-bands of faience.
Behind, the auditorium of the cinema rises for four-storeys with a delightful projecting walkway snaking its way from the tower, round the building, above the entrance parapet. The tower has two rows of slit windows, of three-bays, with prominent lintels above. The tower is topped by a projecting lip roof, and carries illuminated 'Odeon' lettering.
The cinema opened in September 1937 with seating capacity for 1,084 patrons in the stalls and 476 in the balcony. The cinema was sold by the Odeon chain after three decades, becoming the Classic cinema. It remained in use as a cinema for another seven years before it closed in February 1976. Since then the cinema has served as a D-I-Y store.
Today, the walkway and windows are boarded or covered over, the canopy has been lost and the entrance walls clad with board. A large structure has been constructed on the roof of the tower and extraneous rendering applied to sections of brickwork. The building's original condition is illustrated at the top of this profile, in stark contrast to the photographs illustrating the building today. Although still recognisably the same building the external condition of the former cinema is in a poor state of repair. The building is not listed.
Posted by Richard Coltman on Thursday, May 1, 2014