As a Bradfordian, nearly nothing can cause more frustration than the stalled restoration of the city centre. Facing the new City Park however, is a building which has caused more consternation than most, alerting along the way the nation’s press and a whole host of celebrity supporters in recent years…
On the 2nd July 2000, the Bradford Odeon cinema closed its doors to the public. Above the door it read in bold letters, “THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES”. Memories which, over the last thirteen years have taken on an added poignancy as the residual overgrowth and disrepair shroud the building.
To many, the New Victoria (as it was originally named) is one of the last reminders of a city once bustling; a glittering star of glamour in a Northern mill town prospering under the grey cloud of industry. Designed by Bradford architect William Illingworth in 1929, it is one of the last surviving art deco super cinemas in the country and heralded the new age of the silver screen to West Yorkshire. The ballroom and restaurant (still in surprisingly good condition), toasted the city. And as the 1950s and 1960s beckoned, stars such as Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles graced its stage under the new name, the Gaumont.
Bradford has examples of successful restorations in its recent past, one of which being Sir Titus Salt’s mill in Saltaire. It seems almost outrageous to think how in the 1970s, Saltaire’s biggest tourism draw (not to mention, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) faced the same potentially dark future as the Bradford Odeon does today. Furthermore, with Bradford being named the first UNESCO City of Film, can Bradford Council really justify the destruction of a beautiful building which helped to establish the city as a hub of film heritage? The National Media Museum, arguably the nucleus of the City of Film campaign, mournfully overlooks the Bradford Odeon from its huge glass façade, and one can only imagine the restored view if those who love and respect the building have their way.
The Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG) has worked tirelessly for ten years to put a stop to the attempts from Bradford Council to bulldoze the timestamps of Bradfordian history. Successes such as the City Park next to Centenary Square have been successful simply because they have utilised a space already available and created areas that work for the people, not just the investors. The countless plans for office spaces and hotel complexes which have graced the pages of the local rag, the Telegraph and Argus over the years, lack inspiration and practicality for the state of Bradford today. Bradford is a city once bitten by the empty promises of a redevelopment company and an inept council. The Bradford Odeon is an opportunity to put right what we already have, to accept our past and re-imagine the future. There are numerous fantastic ideas for the building, all of which seem entirely plausible, especially after inspections have announced the Bradford Odeon to be structurally sound, as well the original Italian Renaissance designs remaining remarkably intact.
Its surviving sister, The Alhambra Theatre, continues to glitter. Perhaps one day the Bradford Odeon will again too.