When the New Victoria Cinema, Bradford opened in September 1930 it was the third largest cinema in the UK, seating 3,318 patrons. Designed by the Bradford architect William Illingworth, its exterior is punctuated by two domed entrance towers. The fan-shaped auditorium, elaborately decorated with classical pilasters and friezes, is surmounted by a 70-foot diameter dome. There was a tea lounge, a 200-cover restaurant and a high-ceilinged ballroom with its own separate entrance.
The proscenium was 50 feet wide by 35 feet high; the stage, 70 feet by 45 feet, was equipped with a full grid and ten dressing-rooms, because in 1930 live shows were a requirement and there was no guarantee that the fashion for new-fangled, technically unreliable talkies would last.
The original Wurlitzer survived a 1946 flood, because someone had the presence of mind to park the console at the top of its lift: it now resides in the deliberately named New Victoria Centre, Howden-le-Wear, Co Durham.
The New Victoria became the Gaumont in 1950. At the end of the 1950s decline set in: the ballroom closed in 1961 and the Wurlitzer was removed when the building was subdivided in 1968. Illingworth’s auditorium was so vast that, instead of the usual practice of dropping a wall from the balcony end to create additional screens in the rear stalls, the balcony itself was divided into two screens by a vertical partition and a floor across to the proscenium, and the stalls area became a 1,000-seater Mecca bingo hall. The twinned cinema reopened as the Odeon in August 1969. In 1988 a third screen was opened within the otherwise unused ballroom.
After the bingo-club closed in 1997 and the multiplex cinema followed in 2000 the building stood empty. It was sold first to a developer and later to Yorkshire Forward: both planned to demolish the Odeon completely, and repeated redevelopment schemes excited vociferous opposition led by the Bradford Odeon Rescue Group [BORG], who in 2007 arranged for a thousand people to link hands and hug the entire building.
Public-sector bodies such as Yorkshire Forward and Bradford Centre Regeneration [BCR] claimed that the building had no historical value and is deteriorating, which it might well be after a decade without active maintenance. English Heritage has remained unconvinced that it is worth listing, and interested groups such as the Twentieth Century Society and the Cinema Theatre Association have had difficulty gaining access to prove otherwise.
In the end, it fell to urban explorers, those curious obsessive aficionados of dereliction, to provide incontrovertible evidence that the original decorative scheme remains. The 1968-9 conversion proved to be a shell built within the original space, and the ballroom conversion simply involved installing a suspended ceiling; Odeon Cinema, Bradford – Whatevers Left.
To see some of what remains, check –
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTZ6cmoURRU&feature=related. It’s an eye-opener.
In September 2012 the agreement with the developer who intended to demolish it fell through, prompting a fresh search for an economic solution: http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/9941717._All_viable_options_open__after_Odeon_deal_collapses and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-20097997.
The Homes & Communities Agency, to which the building had devolved, proposed to sell it to Bradford City Council for £1, and to provide £4.1 million to secure the building. A structural survey revealed that, after all, the building was in better condition than had previously been suggested.
Irna Qureshi’s article in The Guardian (September 21st 2012) surveys the fall and rise of the New Victoria Cinema’s fortunes: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/the-northerner/2012/sep/21/bradford-georgegalloway.
A 2014 film by Mark Nicholson and Vicky Leith shows how the building revealed itself as the 1970s accretions were stripped away: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0Eidel-etU.
An urban-explorer report, presumably dating from early 2017, shows the extent of the cavernous spaces inside the New Victoria waiting to be restored: http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/15377618.23_PICTURES_____Urban_explorer____photographer_gets_a_rare_glimpse_inside_Bradford_s_Odeon_building/#gallery0.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Fun Palaces: the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.