Birmingham’s Art Deco Picture Houses

Matt Connelly

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May 30, 2018
In this week’s blog we look at two fantastic examples of picturehouses from the halcyon days of the picture house: Kingstanding and Sutton Coldfield.

There are many examples of fine art deco buildings to be found in and around Birmingham, especially among some of its existing and former picture houses.

In this week’s blog we look at two fantastic examples from the halcyon days of the picture house: Kingstanding and Sutton Coldfield.

One company more than any other in Britain brought Modernist architecture to the attention of towns and cities across the country. The Odeon Theatres chain owned more than 250 cinemas prior to the Second World War. Oscar Deutsch, the man behind Odeon, had commissioned the firm of Weedon Partnership to design a cinema in Perry Barr, Birmingham. The style of that cinema was so loved by Deutsch that this became the signature style for the three hundred cinemas designed by the Weedon Partnership and built across the country.

Perry Bar in Birmingham opened in 1930 and established the brand as not only somewhere to watch films, but somewhere to experience them too. Iconic art deco architecture and the very latest technology became synonymous with Odeon where you didn’t just go to see a film, you went to the cinema.

Odeon Kingstanding, art deco picturehouse

Odeon: Kingstanding
Odeon: Kingstanding

Located in Kingstanding, a district to the north of Birmingham, the Odeon stands on a prominent site at the intersection of several roads. Originally this was planned to be an independent cinema - the Beacon Cinema. However, Oscar Deutsch got involved during its construction and it opened as one of his original Odeon Theatres. It opened on 22nd July 1935 with Gary Cooper in "Lives of a Bengal Lancer".

The exterior of the building is considered a quintessential Art Deco ‘Odeon’ style. There are rounded corners, a central bay which is covered with cream faiance tiles (glazed tiles to you and me!) and a slender vertical fin-tower, which originally had letters on top, spelling out ‘CINEMA’.

According to some commentators, this cinema is one of the best surviving Odeon cinemas in Britain and represents one of the finest works of the Weedon Partnership.

art deco picturehouse

Images of the Odeon likely on its opening night in 1935
Images of the Odeon likely on its opening night in 1935 - courtesy & © of Cinema Treasures

The cinema was closed on 1st December 1962 and converted into a Top Rank Bingo Club. Today the building still serves as a bingo hall, but for the Mecca Bingo company. The cinema was granted Grade-II listed status on 10 October 1980 at a time when the building was less than fifty years old. This demonstrates the significance of the cinema as one of the finest Modernist cinemas in Britain.

Odeon: Sutton Coldfield
Odeon: Sutton Coldfield

Odeon: Sutton Coldfield

Sutton Coldfield Odeon was also built between 1935 and 1936. It’s a cinema that I’ve a particular fondness for as it’s one of the first cinemas I ever went to as a boy and where I saw some of my favourite films on the big screen: Star Wars, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, the Goonies ...the list goes on.

The Odeon Cinema in Harrogate is a virtual copy of the Sutton Coldfield design save a few alterations and if you check out all the other buildings across the country that were once Odeon Theatres, you’ll see the similarity in their design.

Thankfully, this building which still serves as a cinema for the local community, was awarded Grade-II listed status in November 1998 and will be protected for future generations to enjoy.

What’s on at the cinema? You can find out here: https://bit.ly/2uniKC9

How to get there? It’s easy to get to the cinema from Birmingham city centre, simply catch the cross-city line at New Street running from Longbridge to Lichfield Trent Valley and get off at either Wylde Green or Sutton Coldfield station. Google maps will help you the rest of the way on foot!

Matt Connelly

Sales Director of Warm Welcome Homestays - passionate about Birmingham and a long track record of working with students.

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