Opened in 1935, the Southgate Odeon, which stood on the corner of The Bourne and Tudor Way, N.14., was finally demolished in 1982, making way for ‘Hobart House’, an office block that has since been converted to residential use.
Developed in the mid-1930’s, the Southgate site was an acquisition by Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon, with an existing cinema scheme already in place. As such, the new cinema was designed by the prominent theatre architect Bertie Crewe (William Robert ‘Bertie’ Crewe, 1860-1937), rather than one of Odeon’s regular architects, such as George Coles or Harry Weedon.
Southgate was Crewe’s only work for the circuit and one of only a handful of cinemas that he designed during an illustrious career. Working in collaboration with Henry G. Kay, he also penned the Regal, Kennington S.E.17., which opened two years after the Odeon and was his last major work before his death.
Construction costs for the new Southgate cinema were reported to be £26,130, with building works completed in the autumn of 1935. As late as September of that year however, adverts were still being placed for plasterers to finish the cinema’s ‘Art Deco’ interior. The auditorium featured the first example in an Odeon of exposed air vents, which featured a unique honeycomb design rather than the traditional decorative metal grilles.
The new 1,438-seat cinema opened on Wednesday 16 October, 1935, showing ‘Passport to Fame’ with Edward G. Robinson, which had opened in America as ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’ but was renamed for the British market. There were 810 seats in the stalls at ground floor level, with a further 628 seats in the balcony on the first floor.
Carpets and seats were sourced from Turners (W. W. Turner & Co., Ltd.), of Birmingham, who specialised in cinema interiors. In 1935 alone, the company made more than 85,000 seats and 50,000 yards of carpet, winning contracts with Odeon for 14 new cinemas across Great Britain, including Southgate.
On Friday 7 May, 1937, the building made history when the first television set to be installed in a British cinema was opened in the restaurant by the London-born actress, Anne Grey.
The Southgate Odeon was closed on 7 September, 1972, by the chain’s parent organisation, The Rank Group. Like many other cinemas, it had fallen victim to the rapid post-war decline in attendance levels, which peaked at 1.6bn in 1946 but had fallen to just 157m by 1972, representing a 90% drop.
Three years later, on 27 December, 1975, the site reopened under new independent ownership as ‘The Capitol’ and survived for another five years, yet with attendance levels continuing to fall, the cinema closed its doors for the final time on 2 January, 1981, and the former Odeon was demolished a year later.
Now standing in its place is ‘Hobart House’, a nondescript office block that has recently been converted to flats. In a strange nod to Crewe’s building of 1935, its replacement echoes the outline of the former Odeon, with its prominent corner tower, but is let down by poor execution and so stands as an awkward attempt at matching the splendour of the original.
A plaque on the front of the new building, installed to commemorate the centenary of cinema in 1996, in association with the British Film Institute (B.F.I.), notes the former premises as ‘A classic example of the Odeon Art Deco style’, a poignant tribute to Crewe’s work. Sadly, Southgate is all the poorer for its loss.