dancing about architecture

i have never really held bradford in any real regard. having lived with a couple of guys from that part of the world who had less than complimentary words for the city, i have never really given it a second thought. i had visited the city a couple of times as a child to visit the (as it was then) national museum of photography, film and television; these trips involved getting off the train, walking down the street, going to the museum, then heading back for the station. as a kid i guess my eyes didn’t wander up to the rooftops as often as they do now.

this week i revisited the national media museum, and found myself faced with some striking architecture, some very bland 80s/90s new builds, loads of massive industrial revolution era sandstone numbers, and roadworks. roadworks everywhere. it would appear that the crazy plan to sink chunks of the city centre to create a lake/water feature are actually coming to fruition.

alhambra theatre and bradford odeon

there is no doubt that the two buildings which stood out most. as i exited the museum i was struck by two domed theatres, at very different ends of the regeneration spectrum. the alhambra theatre, which claims to be the north’s premiere touring venue, was almost gleaming with its’ white and green facade. in fact, on such a clear summer day it was quite difficult to look at for long periods as the white of the building reflected the sun. the grade II listed building was built in 1913, and extensively refurbished in 1986. i can’t help but suspect that 1986 wasn’t the last time that this building had funding thrown at it.

my feelings about the theatre varied with each angle i caught of it. the building was striking, with architecture that doesn’t really fit with the period it was built, the great domed roof looking like it would be better suited to marrakesh than bradford. there was also something about the paintwork that i couldn’t quite put my finger on that made me uneasy. there was something too, well, clean about it all. this felt like someone was trying to project 1920s hollywood onto the building.

alhambra (foreground) and odeon (background) domes

it was only as i looked beyond the alhambra that i made sense of this. right next to this immaculately treated theatre building was something which i was far more interested in. a grand art deco building, possibly also a theatre, which was everything that the re-painted alhambra wanted to be. the paint job on the alhambra was mimicking the architecture of its neighbour, yet rather than capture a glory it looked like a pale imitation to me.

here was a building that ticked all my boxes. a grand entertainment palace, the scale of which and architectural stylings dwarfed the apparent star turns adjacent to it. where one building was cover in paint and made up like a cheap starlet, the other bared its’ bricks and colonnades – a real greta garbo, truly beautiful. once i got back to manchester i did a bit of research and discovered that this building started out life in 1930 as the new victoria, before hosting starts of the silver screen and great pop acts during the fifties as the gaumont. the building became the odeon in 1969, before closing its doors in 2000.

projecting this retrospective knowledge onto a building that fascinated me on first sight could only lead to one point. here was a stunning old odeon building, which had been the heart of entertainment in the city for some years, yet now was left to disrepair. back in may i dragged a group of friends out to the odeon on oxford street to celebrate my birthday in the way i saw fit, protesting about the possible demolition of the old odeon cinema. i just don’t understand why these fantastic buildings, which are truly iconic pieces of architecture, which in my opinion could define the areas in which they lay, are (at best) being left to crumble. the bradford odeon has all the tell-tale signs of a building which has been left unloved for too long, crumbling masonry, water marks all over the building, cracked and smashed windows.

yet it would appear that the bradford odeon may have a future. the bradford odeon rescue group appears to be a really well organised campaign, and if their poster below is anything to go of then i like their style. the borg appears to have a lot of public support, which may well see the building saved for future generations. personally i think that the building would be ideal for a mixed media exhibition space, kind of like fact in liverpool. however, taking into account the current trend for stripping away funding from arts and culture, i doubt this could come to fruition at any time soon. at best the odeon will continue to stand, and avoid being converted into expensive flats which i assume bradford city centre needs as much as manchester does. here’s hoping.

as an afterthought, check out this bbc gallery of photos from inside the odeon. faded glamour, it looks terrific. i’d open it back up as it is.

ps – i’ve just found these photos of the odeon too, which are even more breathtaking than the bbc ones.

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2 thoughts on “dancing about architecture

  1. Hey!

    I wandered onto your site after you posted the link on DiS and I was pleased and surprised to see my hometown featured on there.

    I share your opinions on the Odeon in Bradford. When I was a kid it was Bradford’s main cinema, despite only having three screens, and the main screen had huge painted frescos on the ceiling and around the screen itself which you would normally only see in theatres. It’s in a very prominent part of the city centre so it’s a shame to see it in such bad repair whenever I venture back home. Unfortunately I can’t see that changing because similar mixed-media-space ideas normally tend to fall flat because they lose bucket loads of money. There was a similar idea to turn an old cinema in Market Harborough – where I live now – into something like that, but no-one is willing to put up the cash in these austere times.

    Anyway, I’m off to vote for your blog now.

  2. hi michael. thanks for wandering over here, and for your kind words and vote!

    i find this whole subject of unused cinemas really troubling. there is a similar situation, but on a much smaller scale, in my hometown of blackburn. multiplex in, small town centre cinema in beautiful building left to crumble. as you say, mixed-media-space sounds like a good idea, but what does that even mean. and who will use it? who cares? surely there has to be a better solution that a) demolition b) flats or c) trendy (or indeed not so trendy) cocktail bar.

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