Graham of Anywhere

Graham's blog: politics, poetry, and introspection

Odeon Clerk Street

So, this week saw the announcement that the re-development of Edinburgh's old Odeon cinema on South Clerk Street will go ahead. The Planning Committee passed the verdict by majority vote. Most of the cinema will be demolished excepting the facade and, I think, parts of the main auditorium.

This was a cinema that I loved. This was a cinema that many people in Edinburgh loved. I grew-up with it as the primary place to watch films, even though it wasn't my closest cinema. I even worked there for a while. I worked its closing night, and a sad night that was. It was somehow a very magical environment. OK, so I was good at burning popcorn and bad at cleaning it up afterwards, and I really didn't have a good summer that year, but nothing was going to affect my love for the building.

Built in the 1930s in an Art Deco style, it was opened as The New Victoria. In the latter third of its life, it was divided, subdivided and extended from one screen to five, resulting in a very bizarre layout. Operationally, it was a bit of a nightmare -- for the projectionists at least. I'm too young to remember the site with any less than 5 screens, but for me the place still had immense character. Something entirely missing from our multiplexes of today.

Indeed, the Odeon was the most prestigious cinema in the city with the biggest and most impressive main auditorium, despite being a tad run-down. Oh, and it did have a small problem with mice. Structurally however, the building was sound. Had it been saved and re-opened by a different organisation, it would have needed significant investment, a new business model, and very probably an updated layout. All of those things were achievable.

Duddingston House Properties (DHP), who bought the building from Odeon, seemed quite intent on using the space for whatever would make the most money. Student flats and a nightclub were two ideas that were ultimately dropped because of massive opposition from local residents. The planning application that has just been approved will see the cinema turned into a concept hotel named 'Zed'. The design of the hotel, including the Odeon's facade, does look interesting and I always like to see old redundant buildings fused with new, useable solutions.

Nonetheless, I cannot support this. The building was not in use, but it wasn't redundant or without a viable future as a cinematic venue. The vision was there. The people were there. The backing was there. In the end, however, Duddingston's appreciation of this cultural treasure and it's desire to see it put to use were non-existent. Profit before people, and to hell with the community. Furthermore, not enough was done to save it; we didn't do enough. Big famous names expressed dismay and disappointment at the Odeon's closure, but no-one helped.

We lost the Odeon. And Edinburgh lost its most important surviving cinema. May we all mourn its passing.
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merlin   That is so sad, I have an Art Deco cinema near where I live and the thought of loosing it is not a nice one. :( In this day and age people should respect the need to preserve old buildings of significance.
Enigma   The old Odeon on Oxford Street in Manchester City Centre closed in September 2004. It was quaint, the curtains parted to reveal the screen. The last time I went there I saw Spider-Man and Murder by Numbers on a date in 2002.

In February 2007 Manchester City Council Planning accepted an application to demolish the building, which will be replaced with office blocks (Application Reference 081627/CC/2006/C2). It's a Conservation Area, and they gave Conservation Area Consent!!

Longford Cinema at least is a Grade II listed building. It's just a few minutes' walk from where I live. I wonder if ever some use will be made of it.
Joe5150   There was a theatre called The Lynwood in Grundy that was built toward the end of the 1930s. The theatre closed in 1977, after a disastrous flood left it severely damaged. It flooded for the second time in ’84 and the building—along with countless other Depression-era storehouses of nostalgia—was condemned.

The theatre was full of precious relics of the history of cinema, and of a town determined to keep its hopes up in a time when everything seemed to be running right down the drain. It was a place where people could go and lose themselves in fiction, and escape the wretched tedium of living in the Middle of Nowhere, a dying town at the end of the coal boom. It’s a slice of history, a small thread in the fabric of my small town, and a fondness in the memories of those, like my grandparents, who were around during its operating years.

It will be demolished in a few months as part of the $196 million, highly criticised project to relocate the entirety of Grundy outside the floodplain of the Levisa River. Our own little Bridge to Nowhere.


Sometimes I wonder why people talk about the death of small-town America…
grum   Indeed. Progress is important, sure, and I don't necessarily believe in making old gas towers and car factories Grade A listed buildings, but the things that really are special shouldn't be razed and replaced with buildings that can't interact with the community.

Although old Odeons up and down the UK are closing, I can't really blame the company. They have the oldest estate in the country and it's very expensive to maintain. By contrast, I work for Odeon's biggest rival and our estate is one of the newest in the country; it's much cheaper and easier to operate. Odeon, therefore, are building more and more multiplexes like ours, usually in out-of-town retail parks, and closing the "old-fashioned" city centre sites. Makes commercial sense, admittedly, but they're destroying a part of these communities in the process because there's not enough people with vision (and money) to re-instate the old cinemas.

Edinburgh City Centre is full of cinemas, including the new Odeon concept miniplex on Lothian Road, which, incidentally feels like a hotel when you walk in. The Clerk Street cinema however should have been saved. It could easily have become the leading independent/art house cinema in the city.

It does annoy me when progress and capitalism destroy the very best of our history.
Joe5150   Too true, that.
You are right, though, that it would have been economically imprudent to try to restore the theatre after the damage of three major floods (there was another in 2002) and decades of abandonment. It would have been even more difficult to preserve the theatre after the plans to build the new one were confirmed, considering the limited number of people in this region who are interested in art house cinema and independent film, which could have been shown in the old auditorium.
And yes, I doubt anyone is interesting in undertaking the burden of renovating the space, and then investing a lot of money in trying to make it succeed as an alternative to viewing the major commercial pictures in the new theatre. It still shocks me, though, that nobody who lives here even tried to stand up against the town leaders and preserve at least a fraction of what is being destroyed.
The building was cleared out in preparation for demolition. All of the “garbage”, such things as antique film projectors, old movie posters (some of which were not damaged by the water), beautiful art deco–style fixtures and more, went to a landfill.

It just seems like they’re debasing our history, and trying to replace it with the shiny bread-and-circus conveniences of modern society. People don’t even realise when they are being deprived and stripped of their own culture and past. Nor do they care, I suppose.

Maybe we’re just a dying, nostalgic breed, Graham.


[EDIT: The most disgusting part (to me, at any rate), however, is not the abhorrent waste and genuine indifference of the townspeople, and their seeming lack of interest in retaining at least some history and culture, but indeed it is the fact that the first item on the list for “New Grundy” is a Wal-Mart.]
sudo   It's horrible to see governments demolish abandoned buildings of historical importance just because they can't afford to maintain them anymore or to make place for new buildings.

We have two picturesque little movie theaters here - both from the previous century, and I swear I'd cry if they'd be removed :(

Oh, and while this might not be the main subject of discussion, I do think that "old gas towers and car factories" should become Grade A listed buildings, the industrial heritage of a city should be preserved for future generations to admire, and for us to study the economic system of these times to see what we can make better.

Abandoned industrial complexes are so fascinating.
grum   But I mean, if they're eyesores...? Old decaying industrial sites that have been vacant for many years can be interesting, and can carry a beautiful sense of history, but they no-longer add to their surroundings. If they can't be reused, I'd vote for using the space for something new, especially if we're talking about inner-city brownfield sites.
sudo   image=http://www.billrybak.com/graphics/chimney.jpg
That's subjective - and aesthetics are overrated.
What about those superficial people who are against social housing (or slums...) because they say that it makes cities look uglier? What else do you wanna do with all the poor people who live in there? Kill'em?

I'd be happy to go with my children to the industrial park one day and tell them long, detailed, stories about them factories and about the companies and workers behind them like my father did when I was a young boy.
He said that a city's wounds are like the wrinkles of an old person, the person/city shouldn't be ashamed of them wounds/wrinkles: xe/it should be proud of them and show them because they prove that that city/person has had a happy, long, eventful, life.
But I'd have to adopt for that, and nobody can adopt in Algeria.


And what about old decaying ruins from prehistory or the Classical Ages, should they be removed, too? No. They bring tourists, and tourists bring money.

Well, I guess I'm the only person who's equally pleased by seeing a tall red chimney or a Byzantine arch...
grum   The people who live in the slums rarely want to live there, surely? The old people who still live in such housing schemes will say that back in the day, when it was all new, there was a brilliant sense of community spirit. Now they're run down ghettos. In Britain they're slowly pulling down all the 1960's and 70's high-rise housing blocks and relocating the tenants to new, higher quality accommodation. That's progress all-round. We shouldn't have opted to save those tower blocks simply because they were a part of our history.

Classical Ruins of course cannot have the same rule applied.

Industry is an interesting one. I too find beauty in such structures. The massive cooling towers of decommissioned power plants. The huge cranes of defunct shipbuilders' yards. The lifting machinery left over from old collieries. Sometimes they're incorporated into museums and they'll be looked after for future generations to appreciate. That's brilliant.

Sometimes it's just not possible, and decaying remnants will be boarded up and left to crumble as nature takes over. In these circumstances, you've got to put sentimentality aside and think about the benefits of regeneration.
sudo   You're right - but I wasn't talking about huge megacities sprawling over thousands of square kilometers where brownfield sites can become very valuable and where ruins can cause discomfort for the nearby population.

I was talking about small cities with only a few factories, like in my city, we can afford maintaining them (we actually pay people to take care of our industrial park) and space is not really a problem here.

And I know. That ancient ruins comparison was stupid.
Enigma   You can now see the aforementioned Longford Cinema in Google's Street View:
http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&sll=59.888937,-57.304687&sspn=95.954606,314.648438&gl=uk&ie=UTF8&layer=c&cbll=53.44653,-2.306282&panoid=PadhXITONGxSZBw03MNkkw&cbp=12,170.76328830322942,,0,-19.423529411764708&ll=53.446532,-2.306281&spn=0.001438,0.013679&z=17&iwloc=addr

And the old Odeon on Oxford Street, Manchester City Centre, which is set to be demolished and replaced with office blocks:
http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&q=oxford+street,+m1&ie=UTF8&split=0&gl=uk&ei=0kXFSdnaOtSzjAeH7dSsCw&ll=53.476769,-2.243078&spn=0.003199,0.009602&z=17&layer=c&cbll=53.476985,-2.243161&panoid=ED686GJawKKv9CvYvZymJA&cbp=12,97.34428191708818,,0,-9.983240223463683

Thinking about it, the last time I was there wasn't just any date, it was my first date too.
sudo   They could've simply rehabilitated it...
And, I can't believe you resurrected this blog entry!
Jesus Christ!