By Vicky Leith
“Knock it down; it’s a bloody eyesore,” is the comment that sharply brought home to me the fact that not everyone viewed the dilapidated former Odeon cinema in quite the way I did.
I’d campaigned to save the building for years but this particular day was a Saturday in 2012. It was quite sunny and a group of optimistic Odeon campaigners, resplendent in our Odeon T-shirts, had descended upon Bradford city centre to ask Bradfordians to show their support in saving our iconic super cinema.
People were pictured with an ‘Odeon Save It’ leaflet which was then tweeted to those involved in the decision making at the time. It was such a success I ran out of phone battery long before I ran out of supporters. The chap who uttered the wake up call was in his later years and someone I assumed would be open to our cause – what a mistake to make!
I often think of this old chap when I’m capturing the latest finds and developments of both the interior and exterior of the former cinema and I wonder if he would be of the same opinion if he knew just what lay hidden behind the neglected façade and scaffolding.
For me, every visit is one of wonder and appreciation as I get to know the building more and more; from learning how she was constructed and who appeared on her stage, to hearing anecdotes from those who were there during her heydays. BORG’s Mark Nicholson is my guide and there’s not much he doesn’t know about the history and layout of the original New Victoria.
The cavernous space of the stalls is where the Bingo Hall was once housed. I first saw this area in 2014 when I was part of the BORG’s working party tasked with retrieving and safeguarding any information we could find before the building was cleared. To me, it was a concrete, non descript area with lurid glittered columns and piles of plastic seats but the workmen have now removed the debris and lower skin of concrete from the ceiling and have exposed what’s left of the original Dress Circle balcony, by hand I might add. The sheer scale of the auditorium begins to dawn on you when you realise that the ceiling above didn’t actually exist until the twin cinemas were formed in 1969, and you see the newly uncovered grid and fly floor situated above the stage.
Odeon 3 was exactly how I remembered it. As a cinema goer, I had no idea what lay behind the false ceilings and blue curtains but to see the true form of the ballroom and adjoining lounge slowly re-appear during the recent works is for me, akin to a phoenix rising from the ashes.
The former restaurant also retains the majority of its former splendour with gilts, reds and greens visible in the highly decorative plasterwork. You can easily imagine yourself enjoying an evening of fine dining followed by a short jaunt up the original stair way into the ballroom above.
The domed towers are also a source of wonderment for me; after forty odd years of seeing them from the outside, being inside is a bit surreal! It is fantastic to see the high level of workmanship that has gone into securing the future of the once thought doomed towers, new ironworks and wood mixing seamlessly with the new and hearing positive comments from the work men about the future of the building.
I personally meet each new discovery with a bitter sweet mix of joy and regret; joy at the discovery of surviving artefacts and regret for what the dreadful past ‘modernisations’ did to the building, although not without a grudging acknowledgement that today, we might not still have the building and some of her treasures, if that modernisation had not taken place.
Being able to document the restoration is a privilege and one that I will never take for granted. I am often asked if the building is spooky or scary and I can honestly say that I’ve never found her to be so. In fact I feel the atmosphere is one of anticipation and watchfulness; almost as if she knows she’s finally loved again and will regain her iconic place in Bradford’s skyline.