Articles · Newcastle and North East

On the Unfortunate Fate of Newcastle’s Old Odeon Cinema

IMG_9910

In lamenting the loss of Newcastle’s historic art-deco Paramount Cinema (also known as the Old Odeon), it is difficult to escape a comparison with the work of T. Dan Smith – that name which still draws anger and exasperation from residents of the city – the engineer of destruction of much of Tyneside’s architectural heritage.* While one could say that T. Dan Smith, as forward-thinking progressive (at least until charges of embezzlement and accepting bribes emerge) arguably wanted the best for the city, in the form of his now notorious ‘Brasilia of the North’ developmental fantasy, it is clear that the Reuben Brothers’ decision to allow the Paramount to rot lacks all the high-minded rhetoric of that former leader of the city council.

Recalling the fate of Old Eldon Square, plans for the demolition of the Paramount and Commercial Union House – its unsightly neighbour and home to many of the artists and bohemians of the city – could revolve around the vision of the East Pilgrim St. Project, a proposal which would join Newcastle’s principal shopping areas – Northumberland St., the redeveloped intu Eldon Square and the area surrounding Grey’s Monument – more or less together. Harvey Nichols and Selfridges were once proposed as possible tenants for the future site, department stores which may one day overlook a rejuvenated, pedestrianised Pilgrim St.

Yet, all the evidence for such a scheme derive from articles written in the Chronicle in 2010, with few revisions in subsequent years. And as information from local news journalism and other sites dedicated to the crumbling building is limited to say the least, all that can surely be said is that the Reuben Brothers’ intentions for the space remain opaque and vague. What we do know, however, is that the Paramount will be demolished in a matter of years, if not months.

***

When I was doing research for this piece, I found that everyone had a different story about the building in its current form. Some suggested that the walls were lined with asbestos, and that this prohibited redevelopment, while others pointed towards the damp visible on the facade of the building – and the sheer mass of water surely sitting in the auditorium – and the hundreds of pigeons who have made the cinema their home. Proposals for its redevelopment were also numerous. Some argued that the cinema could have become an IMAX, a museum, a photographic gallery or a theatre. But in the end, most accepted that nothing could be done about the building now, and that its demolition was inevitable.

As I was too young to visit the cinema in its pre-2002 heyday, all my knowledge of the building is indebted to secondary sources (if any readers have any memories of the cinema they wish to share please leave them as a comment). I have read many descriptions of this huge and luxurious movie palace – which once accommodated 2602 people in its grand auditorium – listened to the recollections of former regulars and studied photographs of the building in its former glory. Yet, all of this archaeological work, ultimately cannot replace direct experience. And this will be the unfortunate fate of the building after demolition. The Paramount will soon be forever consigned to memory, alive only in photographs, history books and the stories of Geordies who once sat in the cinema’s grandiose auditorium, with memories of its existence falling apart just as the building appears to be today.

***

The Paramount was opened in 1931, built in the early days of cinema as an art and entertainment, where films could attract audiences of incredible sizes and crowds were captivated by the power of the stars and stories of Hollywood cinema and not just the warmth of the auditorium. Like the Tyneside Cinema – originally the Newcastle News Theatre and later the Tyneside Film Theatre – the Paramount was designed as an art-deco palace, as a cinema which offered elegance, opulence and the exotic to its audience hungry for the glamorous and unfamiliar worlds outside the reaches of industrial Tyneside. For many years, the Paramount (and as of 1939, the Odeon), overlooked the news theatre opposite, with the latter forever resting in its shadow. Today, however, the tables have turned, the Tyneside and its Bar Cafe are thriving, while the Paramount, sits ruined and ravaged across the street.

The building was Grade II listed for merely ten months (from 5th October 2000 to 7th August 2001), its brief status as a work of considerable architectural heritage cut short at the request of its then owners the London-based private equity firm Cinven (the multi-billionaire Reuben Brothers acquired the cinema and its neighbours in 2007). When the Paramount is long gone, and the space is replaced by yet another drab shopping centre, we will ask why, as we do of Old Eldon Square and John Dobson’s Royal Arcade, why this was allowed to happen.

paramount

interior

* A subsequent blog post entitled ‘Four Visions of T. Dan Smith’ (available here) probes whether we can actually justify this anger and exasperation.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “On the Unfortunate Fate of Newcastle’s Old Odeon Cinema

  1. I remember queuing up to see Independence Day there, that was a big event and got to watch some of the Rocky films when I was younger. It was lavish-looking and had seemed to have absolutely loads of seats in one of the rooms, it was quite steep. They installed some game consoles in the lobby when the Dreamcast came out and that was excellent.

    Shame it’s gone with the Warner Bros. cinema by Manors Metro, that place was even better. It felt more youthful, had some great arcade machines and was a different atmosphere. Now it’s been taken over by fucking students like everywhere else. Fucking students.

  2. Hello son,
    Went to see Dr. Who and the Daleks,Dr. Strangelove and the Pink Panther when I was very young. Like the Photos but don’t remember it quite like that. see you soon,- daddy boy

  3. The aesthetic quality of the building itself is arguable. It’s basically a box. People treasure the memories of activity inside the building instead but the things that made those memories are gone now.

  4. i remember going as a kid i went to see star wars and toy story there. going to the cinema was a big treat for me and my sisters and seeing the art deco interer of this place made you feel rich and proper. there was no rush for the film to come on, as the inside was an important part of the spectical. ive never found a cinema as enthralling as this one.

  5. I saw movies there as a kid but sadly never got to see one in the big screen (former circle). Sadly towards the end of its life it was really apparent there was nothing that could be done to make it compete with venues that were half a century newer, so as a cinema it reached the end of its natural life. In my opinion if it was possible to restore the auditorium It’d still make a fantastic concert venue, The Who and Pink Floyd played there in its heyday, but the arena and o2 sadly have that market covered. I dread to think what the future has in store considering its current condition, but if and when it does go it’ll be a sad day for both Newcastle and Cinema in general.

  6. I just would like to say thanks for the all the responses so far. And that I may find further use for these comments in a possible future project entitled ‘Memories of Newcastle’s Old Odeon’ for this site in the coming months. If you do not wish for your comments to be included please let me know here or via the contact form on the site’s main menu.

  7. I remember going to see some big blockbuster there in the 1990s – can’t remember the film but it had only just come out – and I was surprised to see a row of the best seats on the first balcony level that were unoccupied. About 5 minutes into the film, the lights partially came on and the film was stopped – only to have 7 or 8 Newcastle United players saunter in and take their prime seating before the film was restarted from the beginning!
    I couldn’t imagine that going down well today; but at the time NUFC were challenging for the title; the players were heroes and the audience appeared to just be excited to be watching a film with some Newcaste United stars. I can still remember David Ginola exuding gallic elegance as he strode in with a big bucket of popcorn….

  8. Reblogged this on Would You Like Another Cup Of Tea? and commented:
    This is an informative piece from a like-minded site, great writing from a gentlemen with whom I work – I encourage you to get involved in his site by following and just basically reading some of the fantastic writing.

  9. My husband and I had our first date there, age 16, back in 2001, after which we would religiously go every Thursday night to see whatever the biggest release of the week was. I vividly remember us waiting for a film to start in the main screen one week, wondering if we’d still be spending our Thursday nights there when we were married with kids. Obviously turned out not to be, but we harbour dreams of winning the Euromillions and restoring the building back to its former glories one day!

  10. Remember when Newcastle were challenging for the title they used to play the matches there as you couldn’t get tickets for St James. Remember seeing Star Wars ep1 and many other blockbuster movies. I think the place that made this so special was how grand it was and the beautiful interior. Yes outside it may not have been as visually appealing as some of the other building in Newcastle but the Art Deco inspired interior was a joy to behold. Always felt like it was a special event visiting here, not just for the movie but for the visit to the building itself. Such a shame how it’s been let to rot.

  11. I first visited the old odeon in the sixties to see blazing infurno as a child i remember how beautiful it was i have been loads more times since and was saddened when it finally closed its doors for the last time, sadly i think it’s to far gone now to save it really upsets me to look at the photos of the inside and what it looks like now like so many other buildings so sad .

  12. Venturing into my 40s I’ve found myself feeling incredibly nostalgic for youthful memories. One of my stand out memories as a youngster was the opportunity to see Flash Gordon at the Odeon. It’s a very distant and vague memory but it fills me with happiness to remember how special it felt to be there. I saw The Empire Strikes Back there and have a strange recollection of seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves too. I saw many movies in the Odeon over the years and the one that stood out most for me was Ghostbusters back in the mid 80s. That was a wonderfully exciting experience. I used to watch movies at the Fairworld Cinema in Concord, Washington, too so some young memories may be confused but if I recall correctly, there used to be an intermission in the middle of the movie and there were people patrolling with trays filled with tubs of ice cream, which I would pester my parents for until they would relent and buy me and my brother one. Sadly, I fell victim to the attraction of the up and coming multiplexes in the early 90s and all but forgot about the Odeon. I believe the last movie I saw there was Striking Distance whilst on a date when I was 18 and recall inking at the time that the place no longer compared to the fresher venues. That was the thinking of a young guy without the benefit of life experience. Nowadays I look back and recall that the things that are special the emotional attachments to experiences, the the impressiveness of the place you are visiting. Recollecting the feeling generated in me as a child of the grandiose staircase and the fabulous architecture is just wonderful. The auditorium was vast and awe inspiring. Seeing a movie these days is seeing a movie, back then in a venue like that it was an event. It was something that stays with you forever and a regret is not realising how superb the place was while I still had the opportunity to experience it. I know for sure that if it were restored to its former glory it would attract my custom over any fancy IMAX any day of the week… Not sure I’d still want the intermission though 🙂

    1. That colossal staircase was a genuine thing of beauty, like a carpeted Grand Central atrium filled with the smell of fresh popcorn. With regards to architecture in Newcastle in the 60s, it may have lacked the charm or character of some of it’s Georgian precursors, but had it all actually been correctly maintained and updated I’m sure it would have been considered in a vastly different manner. The vision was brilliant, and definitely something lacking now, just a shame the execution fell some way short.

  13. Old Cinema hall is a large events attach on my life ,i see many films on this cinema .so keep up the work and i am happy to see this blog post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s