The Odeon was built on the corner of Hunter Street and Northgate Street. It was designed by Robert Bullivant from the Harry Weedon practice. Weedon would oversee what other cinema architects were doing with an Odeon building, it was thought that he never designed one himself.
Chester ODEON was constructed by Swinton builders P. Hamer Ltd and opened to both an invited and paying audience on 3rd October 1936 and was first managed by a Mr Harry Yorke, who came from Brighton.
Before building work commenced a professor Robert Newstead conducted a dig, which produced a number of items, which were put on display in a glass case in the upstairs lounge.The opening of the cinema was a glittering affair. People in attendance included Mr and Mrs Oscar Deutsch, Douglas Fairbanks junior and the Jack Payne band.
The opening film was Two’s Company. The second feature called The Harvester was screened from the Monday. The Union Jack was flown whenever a British film was shown. This practice was eventually stopped.
In the operating box two BTH type B projectors were employed with type C carbon arcs. In 1947 the BTH S.U.P.A (single unit projection assembly) projector was introduced and was installed in the Chester cinema. These remained until the Kalee 21 machines from the closed Gaumont were installed in 1962. There was another change in 1966 when Italian Cinemecanica equipment ran the films. This equipment stayed until the cinema’s closure on 14th June 2007.
Following Oscar Deutsch’s death in 1941 Joseph Arthur Rank, who had been a director, took the helm and it became part of the mighty Rank Organisation. Odeon merged with Gaumont British in 1948 and formed Circuits Management Association.
In 2002 the Chester Odeon’s red signage was removed from the tower and new blue signage placed on the canopy and on the back of the tower. Other changes over the years included a new canopy, replacing the original Swanser.
Since the exit of the Rank Organisation, Odeon cinemas have changed hands a few times and are now owned by Terra Firma. The Chester cinema was sold by Terra Firma to a company called Brook Leisure, who later sold out to Chester Council. After being empty for a number of years it will now form part of a new complex called Storyhouse.
The cinema was converted into three units in 1976. A new projection room, situated in the stalls area served the three screens. The original box became redundant. Number one screen still retained the original proscenium. The triple officially opened on Saturday 10th April 1976 with the movie ‘The Romantic English Woman’ shown to an invited audience in screen 3. The following all three screens were opened to the public. In 1991 two more screens were added and the old projection room was re-instated.
The Storyhouse complex, which embraces the building once occupied by Odeon, has a small boutique cinema of appropriately 100 seats.
Picture House (Cineworld) are to bring commercial cinema back to Chester with their planned cinema in the Northgate development.
David A Ellis chestercinemas.co.uk