Spaces & Places – Bradford Odeon Cinema

IG Odeon

The Soul of the City – by Damien O’Keeffe

There are some buildings that fulfil an important role in the fabric of people’s lives. Depending on one’s viewpoint and experience, a solid argument could be made for any number of buildings – churches, schools, hospitals, libraries etc. Indeed, architects would certainly argue that all buildings are important else why build them in the first place? However, there are some buildings which hold a more central place in people’s affections; I can’t imagine too much protest over the demolition of the local tax office.

In Bradford one such building is the old Odeon Cinema. Originally built in 1929, the New Victoria theatre was an imposing art deco building that was, at one time, the third largest cinema in the country, boasting a ballroom, restaurant and 3000+ seat auditorium. In the 1950s it became part of the Gaumont circuit, attracting top names from the rock and pop world including Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles. Famously, John Lennon found himself in need of a dentist whilst in Bradford, and nipped up Thotnton Road to attend a local surgery between the matinee and evening shows. A refit in the late 1960s covered up much of the Odeon’s splendour but, thankfully, many of the original fixtures, features and fittings remain behind stud walls and breezeblocks. A detailed history of the building, along with images from its heyday can be found on the Bradford Odeon Rescue Group website.

This was the cinema where I first saw Star Wars, queuing around the block to get in. I saw The Spy Who Loved Me at the Odeon; saw my first ‘A’ rated film – we sneaked in to watch Kramer vs Kramer having paid to see Pete’s Dragon. I was here when a cinema full of skinheads, scooter boys and rude girls moon stomped in the aisles as the film Dance Craze played on the screen. It was here that I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was here that I had my first close encounter of the teenage kind during a showing of Mannequin!

Even when the owners decided to maximise profit by splitting the big auditorium into two, then three smaller screens, the magic continued. When my wife and I first got together, some of our earliest dates were at The Odeon; we took our son to see The Tigger Movie, his first big-screen experience; all milestones in our family’s shared history. These experiences are multiplied across the many tens of thousands of other Bradfordians who used to go to The Odeon.

The beautiful building remains, slowly rotting through neglect whilst around it other construction sites throw up modern glass and steel office blocks and anonymous chain hotels that literally reflect the shabbiness of this once great palace of entertainment. Just a few metres away across the busy dual carriageway that slices through the city centre, the City Park nears completion. This £24m development will give Bradford the largest city centre water feature in Europe. It comprises approximately six acres of paved and landscaped walkways that can be flooded and drained as required. More than a hundred controllable fountains will play, creating dynamic water sculptures, beneath the six, reed-like floodlights that will illuminate the space at night.

Now, I am an optimistic person and can already see some benefits from the City Park development, not least of which is the opening up of the skyline across the Centenary Square. Now it is possible to look from the stunning Italianate City Hall building right across to The Alhambra Theatre. The Sixties brutalist home of The National Media Museum looks down from one side, whilst from the other stares the modern edifice of the Provident Financial building – several eras of architectural style collected together. But slap bang in the middle, like a derelict and decrepit dowager aunt, sits The Odeon. Incongruous, neglected, but stubbornly still there.

The Council have shown a woeful lack of vision regarding the Odeon. Where other cities would have capitalised on the architectural harmony between The Alhambra Theatre and the Odeon, creating a cultural quarter for the city like Sheffield has done, Bradford Council have hesitated and capitulated as property developers and private financiers have paraded one unwanted or unworkable scheme after another through the planning office. As everyone’s attention was drawn to the ill-considered and ultimately ill-fated Westfield development planned for the site of the original Forster Square, the Odeon was quietly sold, only to be left to crumble. Very few Bradfordians actually thought we needed a new shopping centre (the Forster Square Retail Park – as soulless as it sounds – had driven a stake through the heart of the City’s central shopping area already) but pretty much everyone who was asked or who offered their opinions wanted the Odeon to be saved.

So what happens to a city’s collective memories and experiences once such a place is pulled down? And how do those people feel when their opinions are sought only to be ignored? When they have clearly expressed their wishes regarding the future of the building, through letters to the council, representations to English Heritage, and through a large-scale public demonstration of their support for it, and for all of that to be disregarded; what then?

The BORG website can be found at:


  1. A survey of older people in Bradford found there is still huge public support to save the Odeon for all of the reasons you describe. How many back row memories are the council about to snuff out. We have to fight to save what’s left of our heritage not demolish it.

  2. I’ve was born in Bradford and lived here my whole life, apart from a few stints in the US, so I think I can say with some patriotic loyalty…

    Fuck the Odeon.

    It’s not St. Paul’s Cathedral, it’s not the pyramids, or Stonehenge. As a nation, we don’t pine for Wembley’s Twin Towers anymore right? We won a bloody World Cup in *that* place!

    The people of our city have managed pretty well without it for the best part of a decade. Why are we struggling to hold onto a moss-ridden, crumbling quasi-cinematic bundle of fading memories.

    Even Will Alsop’s regeneration concepts only paid a token nod to the site – behind that building is a long valley and the Beck connecting us to the Pennines. How about *that* as a feature?.

    The Odeon is just fuzzy nostalgia now – let it have a dignified death and look to the future, remixing and rebooting the city for a new generation of people and ideas.

    1. Bradford born, bred and resident, too.

      Stand in a certain spot near the Media Museum, and look across the domes of the Alhambra in front of those of the Odeon and you’ll see the most striking skyline.

      The braver, more dignified thing to do is to rescue it, rebuild it and put it to work.

      The valley behind it isn’t much of a feature. It’s shallow and ill-defined and a poor focal point for a cityscape. It’s no feature.

      “Fuck the Odeon”…I don’t think so….that sort of thing has been said too many times about things in and to do with Bradford.

      About time it stopped.

      1. Good luck.

        I prefer for Bradfordian’s to define the future rather than quixotically resurrect the dead. And yes the Odeon is dead. A relic of a bygone era, superseded by the wonderful Media Museum.

        I produced the TEDxBradford conference ( this year specifically to provide a platform for the city’s most interesting minds. Elsewhere, the museum’s new Life Online gallery promises to create an experience and curation of the internet that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet.

        I believe it’s healthier to celebrate, develop and nurture our future rather rather than hang on to fading fantasies.

        The admirers of the Odeon haven’t been able to gain traction for a decade or more.

        Time to move on and make *new* memories for our city; or get your shit together and buy the place 😉

        1. I’m not suggesting that Bradfordians shouldn’t look to the future. Of course we should, and there’s much to come that’ll be worth nurturing and celebrating, but it’s important for a city like Bradford, with it’s rich history coursing through the very fabric of the place, to remember where it came from and build on that.

          Don’t forget the foundations, whether they’re social, cultural or architectural…can there be a future without a past?

          There’s no reason at all that the Odeon can’t be part of the new Bradford…we shouldn’t let it go the same way as the Swan Arcade, should we? 😉

  3. Lovely blog and lovely building, that’s decaying at a horribly fast pace. Pictures from the BORG site seem to show many deco details are still intact – it’s oozing history and development potential. It’s such a shame the people with vision and passion campaigning to save this place aren’t matched by backers with bucks.

  4. My two pence worth, primarily directed at Imran Ali because I disagree strongly with some of his points:

    I also have fond childhood memories of the Odeon (and the neighbouring Alhambra), not as a local resident but as a visitor with my Grandparents who live in Haworth. Putting aside the nostalgia trip I still think it should be saved.

    I agree that it’s healthier to celebrate, develop and nurture the future, but why does that have to mean demolishing the building?

    When a building has significant cultural value to a community (as well as some architectural merit) why not try to save it, refurbish it, and put it to good use? Given the location next to the Alhambra and the Media museum it’s clearly ripe for some sort of cultural use. Surely a sensitive redevelopment would celebrate and nurture the future but not at the expense of the past. I don’t see how knocking it down and building something brand new for a similar purpose would be in any way better. And knocking it down and building nothing in the space would be plain daft. Bradford has enough void space in its central area as it is.

    The Wembley stadium analogy doesn’t really work either. The Twin Towers did indeed have cultural value, but it wasn’t viable to build the new stadium and keep them. They could have been dismantled then re-assembled as part of the new Wembley, but would have been an anachronism out of sync with the shiny new stadium. This doesn’t really apply to the Odeon because there is no good reason that the existing building is not viable.

    1. Go for it.

      Writing blogs and agitating councillors has clearly done Odeon fetishists no good. Go find investors, raise money, commission designs, purchase the site and reboot it.

      Too hard? Not your job? Meh.

      Go and read about how residents of Manhattan purchased and repurposed the High Line (, turning a rusting overhead rail route into an urban park.

      Is the Odeon Bradford’s High Line?

      So relevant, beloved and viable? Find the money, the support and make it live again.

      1. I guess the honest answer on a personal level is yes, it’s too hard and not a job for me. I didn’t express a personal interest in activism for the building, more a general opinion on what could be its future. I’m sure many of us have opinions on matters in which we have no direct involvement.

        The key point is what will end up in the space if it’s demolished. Either void space for an indefinite period of time, or if the plans come to fruition a mixed use development primarily comprised of small flats, and almost certainly designed with the sole intention of maximising the return for the developer. I don’t see how either of these outcomes will benefit Bradford or nurture its future in any significant way.

        I think the New York High Line is a wonderful thing by the way, I’m just not sure of its relevance to the Odeon in Bradford.

  5. Great blog, and comments. This raises quite a few questions that I come across all the time.

    There are plenty of people who like to reminisce, remember and recall – mostly – childhood experiences, these are formative, powerful and lasting. Only the most coldhearted would seek to diminish these memories.

    And buildings/organisations/shops etc can be strong mnemonics – I wandered around my old school a few years ago, bristling with emotion, dimly recalled faces, voices, smells, bringing unforgettable experiences crashing back…

    But, the world cannot simply become a museum, otherwise nothing would ever happen, change would cease – the very change that makes our memories so precious. To be fair, my old school was a shameful decrepit old building, no longer fit for purpose. Should I expect kids today to put up with this just so I can feel nostalgic?

    A good example is Woolworths. A hitherto perennial feature of the Great British High Street, with its plastic toys, records, magazines, posters, and pick’n’mix! When it closed down lots of people said “How sad”, “What a shame!” and “Something should be done!” Nothing was done and the company closed. It was sad – people lost jobs after all. But I didn’t mourn too much, and asked those people “well, when did you last shop there then?” To which the answer usually was “20 years ago…”

    It is easy to say ‘Someone should do something’ – as long as that someone is not you, me the council, big business,etc. and that everyone can agree what that ‘something’ is…

    Sometimes it is better to let go, move on, and make some new memories…

  6. I’m glad that the piece has sparked some debate, as intended. I do not want to stay stuck in the past, and work hard with Bradford’s young people to create the dynamic future that Imran talks of. I am interested more in how the people of the City (those who still live here, work here, create here) react to being over-ridden, discounted and ignored by those who should serve them. How does that affect their ownership and loyalty to the City?
    The Media Museum is a jewel in the City, no doubt, and it illustrates why The Odeon could be saved and put to a cultural use: the new Life On-Line gallery will reflect the ‘now’ of the media but the Kodak gallery reminds us of the pioneers, the innovators who led us here. Cineworld and the new Odeon multiplexes are the ‘now’ of cinema going, but we who prefer not to see films in a garish, nightclub, amusement arcade of mass-cultural bullshit would prefer an alternative. If it were not for Pictureville I doubt I’d fo to the cinema again.
    So, I’m no backward looking Luddite yearning for his teenage fumblings, but I certainly don’t have the energy to “fuck the Odeon”! The City could and should have both an eye on the future but maintain it’s link to the past.

    1. I’ve been deliberately facetious – I wanted to provoke a little and I’m glad it’s surfaced some positions.

      I actually DO want to “Fuck The Odeon”, maybe start a little campaign of my own. Put a big ticking clock on it and give those who wish its survival some urgency and finality to save it, before actually blowing up its fugly rotting carcas.

      Its rotting facade is symbolic of Bradford’s decline, we fetishise the past and can’t imagine a future.

      Delete it and we’ll get a bigger City Park.

      So, snap out of it everybody – spend the weekend imagining Bradford without the Odeon and you’ll find it ain’t so bad.

      In the meantime, I’m going to register 😉

  7. This blog and its comments has made me reassess my own thoughts about the Odeon… you’re right Imran, it’s too late to save it and even if we could keep the building intact what would fill it? Cineworld, St George’s Hall, the Alhambra, the Media Museum, Birstall Showcase and the Thornbury Odeon seem to have film and theatre covered… maybe a music venue comparable to the O2 academy in Leeds? Could it attract enough visitors to fill such a giant space? And would it be capable of attracting big names capable of filling a 3000 capacity venue with such strong competition from Leeds? Plus the Leeds Arena is on the horizon.

    Anyway, the most infuriating aspect of the Odeon is that nothing seems to be happening. It’s an eyesore that I walk past everyday and for me has become an icon of Bradford council indecision. The new City Park will highlight its deterioration even further… Bradford Council need to be brave and make something happen… 11 years is too long to just do nothing.

  8. The outcry over the Bradford Odeon is entirely justified.

    For too many years, we Bradfordians have been told, rather than asked, what we want/need/is good for us – often by people from outside the city.

    The Odeon is the latest in a long line of examples of consultants with little connection to Bradford deciding to do what they want and pressing ahead with it irrespective of the opinions of the people their actions will affect. Rather than being the problem, the Odeon situation is a symptom of this phenomemon occurring once too often. Bradfordians have, perhaps belatedly, decided to take a stand against people riding roughshod over our city.

    Had the process of deciding what to do with the Odeon been conducted fairly, openly and transparently, the same plan of demolition could well have (or not have) been the outcome. If that happened – properly – I think people would have been a lot more accepting of the decision and plan. But the powers-that-be have been determined to press ahead with a plan of demolition from day one, come hell or high water.

    The initial brief told entrants that the buildingh had a useful life only of a further 40 years and that the venue could hold only 300 spectators. Both assertions are false – the original New Vic hold over 3,000 seats!

    It is technically correct that the brief did not “preclude retention as an option”, but hardly surprising given its contents that no contenders chose that option!

    Even with no “retained building” option, the Bradford public were told they could vote for their favourite design. And they did. But their choice didn’t accord with what Yorkshire Forward wanted for the site. So they ignored the undoubtedly very expensive vote in favour of THEIR preferred option. And this is what they call “consultation” on which they justify “public participation” in the whole sordid process (never mind the fact that the design that won the ostensible “design competition” has changed several times since it won).

    In 2004, Maud Marshall wrote a letter to the Telegraph and Argus stating that “virtually nothing remains of it other than a decaying outer shell” – Again false. But made to look true after a burst/cut/otherwise leaking (and easily mended) drain pipe caused vegetation to sprout from the building’s exterior. The weeds were cleared at one point but the root cause of the burst pipe not fixed, so little wonder they still exist.

    She also stated that Bradford Centre Regeneration had no interest in hiding the full extent of the internal dilapidation of the building. But when campaigners to save the building wanted to look inside they were told that it would cost £1,000, each, for a health & safety course. When they offered to pay, the offer was withdrawn. In any case, the councillors who internally inspected the building during the planning application were NOT required to attend such a course, and found a largely intact, undisturbed, as-it-was-when-it-closed, building.

    Yorkshire Forward removed the canopies to the building (without first asking permission from Bradford City MDC despite the building being in a conservation area – a criminal offence) citing “health and safety reasons” as they – wait for it – could have fallen on someone’s head. How they suddenly became so corroded after 70-odd years remains a mystery. THe steel was bright silver in colour when the (out of town) demolition consultants cut through it and the contractor who supplied the steel has said there would be no way the steel would have corroded to such an extent. But the council let it slide.

    At a public meeting at Bradford’s Midland Hotel – incidentally another formerly disused building that most had written off – Jan Anderson stated that the plan was demolition because nobody wanted to save it. She also offered unequivocally to sell the building to any developer willing to retain and refurbish it. Step forward Nirmal Singh MBE with a cheque for £3m. All of a sudden, Jan said she couldn’t sell the building as YF were in a legally binding agreement with Langtree Artisan. She also asserted that her words were quoted out of context. They weren’t. The meeting is available to listen to on YouTube and her offer was unconditional.

    The whole premise on which demolition is proposed is based on deception. This is reason enough to oppose demolition, notwithstanding that the it is an incredible, unique building of great importance and is recognised as such by almost every heritage organisation apart from English Heritage, who had a very suspect change of heart following “negotiations” with the developer.

    If we really must demolish the Odeon, at least let it be for the right reasons and not on the basis of a barrage of deceit.

  9. I have spent the weekend imagining Bradford without The Odeon, as suggested, and, you’re right, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. At least it wouldn’t be so bad if, as Mr Killip asserts, we Bradfordians actually had some genuine say in the matter. If the final decision is to demolish it then so be it. What irks me, and what was the initial impetus behind the original post, is that that proper consultation never happened. How can the Council expect us to get behind any replacement schemes when they show such blatant disregard? Why should we care anymore? Such disengagement will lead us into dangerous waters.
    So with the Odeon gone, what takes its place? More office space left unoccupied? Another hotel? Jury’s Inn, Travelodge, Premier Inn, Etap et al seem to have that sewn up, and if you count The Hilton, The Victoria, and The Midland, we are not likely to run out of rooms in a hurry. So, retail space, then? Just close your eyes to the vacant shops in Bradford City Centre (as many in the regeneration game must surely do) and we could say there was a need for more retail space, except…oh, yes, Westfield.
    Perhaps the site could be occupied by a shiny, new central library? The current one has suddenly become a health and safety risk. Not that libraries are high on anyone’s agenda right now. The University and the College could make use of such a footprint in the City Centre – let’s bring education into the equation.
    So, if the plans for the site are to replace the Odeon with something that will be of genuine import and will enhance the City rather than add to its collection of half empty, half baked schemes, then I’ll get right behind it.
    The thing that has been illustrated by the various sides in this debate is that there is a lot of passion in the City, for the City; with everyone engaged and onside, using their energies together, we could do justice to both the heritage and the future of Bradford.

  10. Bradford is an utter tragedy in so many ways.

    Places like Halifax and Leeds hung on to their building heritage, which is mostly Victorian. With imagination and commitment, retaining such buildings creates a centre worth visiting and on a human scale. Bradford ripped out its guts in the 1950s and 1960s using plans that first saw the light of day just after World War 2. Buildings just went: Swan Arcade; the Mechanics’ Institute; and the jewel that was Kirkgate Market. Ever considered the bottle-neck at Hall Ings? They wanted to demolish St George’s Hall and the T&A building to run the dual carriageway through. At the time I was young and looked on it as progress: bigger; better; cleaner. How wrong I was. Now the 1960s stuff is razed and a vast neglected rubble site sprawls across the centre of the city where grand buildings, of an architectural quality that’ll not be replicated, once stood. The Kirkgate Centre is a characterless hole that could be anywhere.

    So we’re down to the New Victoria/Gaumont/Odeon building. What of the former Co-op on Sunbridge Road? My parents’ generation would weep.

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