Edinburgh, EH8 9JH
Original owners: Provincial Cinematograph Theatres and Gaumont British Theatres.
Architects: William Edward Trent together with John Jerdan FRIBA.
General Contractors: McLaughlin and Harvey Limited, London.
Seating Capacity: 1226 stalls, 772 circle, 60 private boxes. Total original capacity: 2784 seats. Total Capacity: 2058.
Date Opened: Monday 25th August 1930.
Opened by: Sir Samuel Chapman, M.P.
First feature shown: “Rookery Nook” starring Ralph Lynn and Winifred Shotter.
Cinema Organ Installed: Wurlitzer 2-manual, 10-rank theatre organ (opus 1265) which had originally been installed in the Embassy Theatre, Baltimore (Maryland), US in 1926.
First Organist: Leslie James.
Opened as a 3 screen Odeon Film Centre: March 1982.
Date Closed: Saturday 30th August 2003.
Provincial Cinematograph Theatres had secured a site on Clerk Street, for this 2000 plus seat venue. With an estimated budget of £50,000 the company’s chief architect, William Edward Trent together with Edinburgh architect, John Jerdan FRIBA, submitted their drawing of a luxurious super cinema during May 1929. Unique in style, it would include 5 dressing rooms as the venue was intended for both film and variety shows.
The principal building contractor was McLaughlin and Harvey Limited of 25 Highbury Grove, London.
Construction began in earnest. An over ambitious opening date was set for the Christmas of 1929. However, a more realistic opening date, targeted for the summer of 1930 was eventually agreed. During this time the company (PCT), was in the process of a takeover by Gaumont British Theatres who opened and named the building the New Victoria Cinema.
The smallish façade, faced in light stone, had a generously proportioned canopy that gave adequate cover over the stepped entrance and its gang of five double doors. The New Victoria’s sign was prominently displayed, central on the top line of the canopy.
Above was a balcony/terrace, featuring three full length double doors that gave access to the terrace for customers of the café. Four elegant Doric pillars completed the visual effect to this area.
The medium sized entrance foyer led to an impressive long, curving stalls lounge. The upper lounge and large café matched the opulent furnishing and fitting of that of the lower level foyers.
The large Grecian themed auditorium seated 1,226 in the stalls and 772 in the balcony. A further 60 patrons were accommodated in 12 private boxes positioned in the rear stalls area, total capacity: 2058.
A colonnade spanned the rear and side walls of the balcony. A series of niches were centred between each column of this colonnade on the upper side walls, each containing sculptures that were variously described as Gods and Goddesses of the Acropolis or as the Muses of Art, Music, and Drama (designed by the artist Beattie). The width of the auditorium was striking, evoking the sense of sitting in an open-air Grecian amphitheatre; even the fire/safety curtain featured a painting of a scene from the Acropolis at Athens. The huge ceiling was perfectly plain onto which moving clouds were projected.
The splay walls were flanked by 6 full-height pillars on each side, complementing the original proscenium that consisted of deep plasterwork in a repeat box design. The semi-atmospheric intention here, combined with Neoclassical and Art Deco detailing is highly unusual and was not repeated in any of the other PCT/Gaumont cinemas designed by Trent.
The cinema was built with a stage 88ft wide by 32ft deep (26.8m by 9.8m), five dressing rooms, and a proscenium opening of 46ft (13.7m) in width. The generously proportioned pit could accommodate a large orchestra together with the console and lift for the Wurlitzer 2-manual, 10-rank theatre organ (opus 1265) which had originally been installed in the Embassy Theatre, Baltimore (Maryland), US in 1926. Leslie James was the organist on the opening night.
The cinema opened its doors on Monday 25th August 1930 as The New Victoria in the heart of Edinburgh’s Southside. The Scottish Unionist MP, Sir Samuel Chapman declared the New Victoria open.
The Gala programme consisted of the introduction of celebrities, the New Victoria Symphony Orchestra provided accompaniment to the various variety acts. Movietone news preceded the first sound film shown “Rookery Nook” starring Ralph Lynn and Winifred Shotter.
CinemaScope was installed to the New Victoria in 1954.
Four years later the proscenium was widened and brought forward. The pillars on the side walls hidden by curtaining, all to allow the presentation of “South Pacific” in 70mm.
In 1960 the auditorium was also modernised, with the main ceiling lighting revamped with numerous lights to create the effect of sitting out under a starry sky. The seating was reduced to around 1,784.
A name change came along during 1964 when the building was rebranded as Odeon. Pop concerts were very popular at the Odeon Edinburgh. Top touring artists and groups of that time including AC/DC, Paul McCartney and Wings, Bay City Rollers, The Clash and Elton John performed on the stage that, in 1978, was increased in depth to accommodate the larger shows.
The 1970s signalled a change at the traditional picture palace single screen cinemas to multi screens under one roof. Historic Scotland wisely listed the Odeon Edinburgh as a Grade B building on 12th December 1974, stating that, “An outstanding example of the work of the most famous British cinema specialists.” This meant that any future alterations would have to be carried out with care and had to be reversible. This was later upgraded to Grade A Listed building in 2012,
Inevitably, work started to convert the single screen Odeon into a three screen venue. In March 1982 the Odeon became a triple screen cinema, with the former balcony becoming Screen 1, holding 695 seats and two screens in the former rear stalls area seating 293 and 201. In December 1989 two further screens were formed in the front stalls area, holding 259 seats and known as Screen 4, with Screen 5 built on the former stage area and accommodating 182 seats.
The Odeon continued its multiscreen business for a further 13 years. In 2003, Odeon sold the building to a property developer. The cinema closed on Saturday 30th August 2003, with many of the staff transferring to the new miniplex Odeon that was opened on the site of the old ABC Lothian Road.
In August 2004 the building was temporarily used as an Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue called Pod Deco – each of the screens was a separate stage used for comedy and drama. The building was again used as a festival venue until 2007. Several attempts were made to re-open the building. In November 2015 the empty building was purchased by hospitality and leisure operator G1 Group, whose portfolio of venues include restaurants, bars, late night bars, nightclubs, cinemas, and hotels. Proposals for using the building as an entertainment venue, super-pub, or as an arts centre have come and gone since then.
In May 2022 present owners, the Scotsman Group (formerly G1 Group), confirmed they “are working hard in the background on plans to bring this historic site back to life”.