Thursday 4 January 2018

Woolwich Odeon - Art Deco survivor in south-east London

Woolwich in south-east London is home to one of the city's most striking art deco buildings. The former Odeon cinema was designed by George Coles for  Oscar Deutsch and opened on October 25th 1937. Deutsch established a total of 285 Odeon cinemas with a flagship in Leicester Square and a presence in most major cities and many smaller towns. Several remain and continue to attract film fans but many have either been lost to demolition or are now used for other purposes. The former Woolwich Odeon now operates as the evangelical New Wine Church. 

A wonderful example of the more streamline style, the cinema's lengthy facade is clad in beige faience and has a central tower over the main entrance, narrow vertical glazing on the stairwell and a raised platform with a vertical light tower. The long sweep of the facade includes a stylish curve where the main body of the building recesses from the entrance with further recessing at the upper level. The original design included neon tubing around the frame which must have been quite a spectacle at night. No doubt the light show attracted customers, 1,178 of whom could be accommodated in the stalls with a further 650 in the balcony. The interior included a backlit floral frieze made from moulded plaster as well as troughs of concealed lighting. Architect Coles designed about 90 cinemas in total including London icons the streamline Muswell Hill Odeon and the more flamboyant former Gaumont State in Kilburn which could seat an amazing 4,004 patrons. Both buildings are Grade II listed and the Muswell Hill Odeon is still a working cinema. 

The first screening at the Woolwich Odeon was of The Gang Show starring Ralph Reader and Gina Malo. In later years ownership passed to the Rank organisation which undertook internally remodelling in 1964, stripping away much of the original decoration. Following a well known pattern, audiences declined in the 1970's and the cinema closed on 17th October 1981. The final screenings were of The Janitor (also known as Eyewitness) starring William Hurt and Rust Never Sleeps, a documentary about musician Neil Young. The building was then unused until 1983 when Panton films, an independent film exhibitor took it on and re-opened as the Coronet with a screening of Return of the Jedi. Further remodelling took place in 1990, to establish a second screen, resulting in an overall reduction in seats.

Sadly, the Coronet years also came to an end in 1999 with a further closure. The building was acquired by the church in 2001 and was renamed as Gateway House. The exterior is in good condition and it appears that the current owners have taken the 1973 Grade II listing seriously. 

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! Sharing it on our Facebook page.

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