Standing on Blossom Street in York is the former Odeon Cinema, now operated by the Reel Cinema chain as part of its nationwide chain of fifteen cinemas. The building stands away from the main centre of the North Yorkshire city as, in the 1930s, it was only possible to obtain planning permission to build a cinema outside the walls of historic York. Additional constraints on the design of the cinema meant that Odeon's usual house style had to be toned down.
The Odeon cinema chain was founded by Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941). The company opened its first cinema bearing the Odeon name at Perry Barr in Birmingham on 4 August 1930. The increasing popularity of cinema-going amongst the British public allowed the Odeon chain to grow, so much so that by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the company owned around 250 cinemas across the country.
The company almost exclusively built its cinema in an Art Deco style, and although no two cinemas were identical (Harrogate and Sutton Coldfield came very close), the company's house style was bold and innovative. Weedon's designs incorporated soaring towers and fins; dynamic, curved canopies; facades clad in black and buff-coloured faience pierced with horizontal bands of coloured faience; curved and semi-circular wings; and extensive use of neon lighting.
The Odeon at nearby Harrogate is strikingly dissimilar to the Odeon York. Whereas at Harrogate the cinema has a tall tower with a faience-clad facade and curved canopy, the design at York was executed solely in brown brick. The design was the work of Harry Weedon and Robert Bullivant and drew heavily on their design executed a year earlier in Chester. There the local planning authority placed considerable restrictions on the design as they wanted a more harmonious building to blend in to the historic surroundings of Chester.
The design restrictions at York challenged Weedon to come up with a modern design, yet one that met the approval of council planners. Weedon's design has as its main feature a tall, brick-clad tower with prominent brick fins extending upwards from the first floor, with horizontal brick-banding to the upper-most section of the tower. The tower carries the Odeon name, in Roman square capital-style and not the usual Gothic-style.
The western range of the cinema comprises a two storey block terminating at its western extent in semi-circular form. The western range houses a number of shop units with fully glazed frontages. Above the facade is clad in brick with large Crittal-stlye metal framed windows separated by piers set with vertical bands of brickwork in a zig-zag pattern.
The eastern range of the cinema comprises a large block butting up against the tower, set back from the road, terminating in a projecting semi-circular wing. At ground-floor level five sets of double doors form the entrance to the foyer. Above, a deep projecting canopy extends for the full extent of the eastern range. Above the canopy are three tall vertical windows set amongst ornamental brickwork. Above the windwows is the Odeon name set beneath three prominent horizontal brick bands.
The eastern wing is perpendicular to the main body of the cinema, and projects outwards terminating a semi-circular end wall. The patterned brickwork to the first floor mirrors of the western range with vertical, zig-zagging piers. The ground-floor of the wing is fully glazed, with a central plate glass door.
Behind the tower and main block is the cinema auditorium. The auditorium was a single large space with seating in the stalls and balcony (circle). 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.
The building remains open as a working cinema, however it is no longer part of the Odeon chain. The company closed the cinema in August 2006 and it was eventually sold to the Reel Cinema chain, who reopened the cinema in June 2009.
The building was awarded Grade-II listed status on 23 April 1981. The cinema frontage still carries the Odeon lettering as this is included in its listing.
Posted by Richard Coltman on Sunday, June 1, 2014