Diary - latest news
New Leader of Newcastle City Council
Posted by Graham Soult, 1 July 2004:
As you may well be aware, Newcastle turned Liberal Democrat on 10 June - winning 48 seats to Labour's 30, the Lib Dems overturned thirty years of Labour control. Tony Flynn, the former Labour leader, even lost his own seat. The new Liberal Democrat Leader of the Council is Peter Arnold, a councillor for East Gosforth. What the change means for the old Odeon is unclear, though the Lib Dems' local election manifesto gives cause for optimism:
"Conservation of older buildings lies at the heart of an attractive, thriving city. We would protect more of our older buildings since they will increase in importance for future generations."
The first lot of signatures from the 'Save Newcastle's Paramount Theatre' petition were sent to Tony Flynn a year ago; now that the Council has a new Leader, it will be worth sending them to Peter Arnold as well, and getting his comments on the issue.
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Newcastle's Warner Village cinema to close
Posted by Graham Soult, 13 March 2004:
Newcastle's Warner Village cinema - at 15 years old, rather newer than the Paramount - is to be demolished, in plans revealed this week. The site at Manors has been acquired for redevelopment by Northumbria University, who plan an extension to their existing City Campus. According to the article in the Evening Chronicle, the new site will allow the University to taken on 3,000 extra students, mostly from overseas.
Vue Cinemas, who operate the Warner site, are expected to keep the cinema open until after Easter, and have suggested that they will look for a new site elsewhere on Tyneside. It is interesting to look at the changing fortunes of Newcastle's city centre cinemas over the last 15 years. The opening of the multi-screen Warner Cinema in 1989 undoubtedly hit the existing Odeon hard, offering a wider range of films and facilities on a site just 10 minute's walk away. However, the Odeon, at least, always had the advantage of its architecture and atmosphere, gving a sense of occasion that no multiplex could hope to match. Ironically, the Odeon got its own back by opening its new cinema at The Gate in November 2002. While still a multiplex box, lacking in much character, it trumped the Warner at every level - convenience of location, number of films, sound technology, range of facilities and comfort. With the Warner site in decline anyway, and Northumbria University desperate to expand, both parties are presumably delighted at the deal that's been done.
Over the next few years, it seems likely we'll see more of the first generation multiplex cinemas becoming vacant - so what's going to happen to all these buildings which are less than 20 years old? To date, just two others have closed, both due to declining audiences and increasingly out-of-date technology. The former UCI site at The Point in Milton Keynes - the first UCI to open in the UK - has been taken over by easyCinema.com, though it remains to be seen whether this concept will be rolled out nationwide. If it is, other redundant multiplexes may yet find a new lease of life. The other closure, the UCI at Crystal Peaks in Sheffield, looks set to be demolished, with the adjacent shopping centre planning an expansion. With Newcastle's Warner Village facing the same fate, demolition seems to be the most likely outcome for such buildings. Yet, there seems something rather wasteful about pulling down structures that were only put up in the late 80s. Perhaps in thirty years time we will be seeking to protect the few multiplexes that remain through listing?
Meanwhile, the Paramount/Odeon continues to stand proudly in Pilgrim Street, though its ground floor is now boarded up. The Journal has published another article about Selfridges, who state that "There is no formal commitment to Newcastle, but Newcastle has not been ruled out" - which is most informative. If Selfridges opened stores based on the amount of media coverage willing them to come, they'd certainly be in Newcastle like a shot. As it is, there's no guarantee that even if Selfridges do come, the Odeon will be their chosen site. Speculation is fun, but all we can do is wait and see!
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The return of the Wurlitzer and a possible relisting?
Posted by Graham Soult, 18 February 2004:
The Newcastle Paramount Theatre (former Odeon Cinema) remains empty over a year after its closure, though it was successfully reopened for an Audio Visual Culture festival in November. An application for its relisting, prepared by the Northumberland and Newcastle Society, has been sent to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and will be determined in due course by English Heritage. Meanwhile, the original Wurlitzer organ from the Paramount, currently in a museum in the south of England, has come up for sale, and a campaign is underway to bring it back up to the north east. Who knows, maybe one day it can be reinstated in its rightful home.
More information about these and other news stories is available from the press coverage section, and the petition - with over 250 signatures - is still available to sign here [taken from Sapling Update newsletter, February 2004].
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Petition sent off
Posted by Graham Soult, 26 June 2003:
The first batch of 203 signatures from the 'Save Newcastle's Paramount Theatre' petition have now been sent to the Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell MP (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) and to Councillor Tony Flynn (Leader of Newcastle City Council).
You can read the letters sent to Tessa Jowell and Tony Flynn, as well as the accompanying press release.
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Bimbis 'to let' - an explanation
Posted by Graham Soult, 4 June 2003:
Many thanks to Ian Grey, who offers an explanation for the 'To Let' sign on the former Bimbi's restaurant in the Odeon basement (see 31 May entry):
"...that used to be a way of avoiding paying business rates, my mum worked in a shop in Gosforth that was closed on compulsory purchase to build the high street shopping centre. Two days after they vacated the shop, the signs went up. When they rang the letting agent, it was silly money and weekly rolling contract - but they didn't have to pay rates whilst unoccupied and advertised."
So that seems to explain that...
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Posted by Graham Soult, 31 May 2003:
Not a lot looks to have changed with the building - it is still inhabited by a security guard, and supposedly a Rottweiler.
Amusingly, I've seen one or two people trying to open the front door, their body language clearly indicating that they think it's still open as a cinema. With the security guard sat at the ticket terminal, and all the foyer lights still on, they can perhaps be forgiven for their mistake.
In the last few months, quite a lot has been going on behind the scenes. Here's what I know at the moment...
The building has been sold, that's for sure - apparently to a developer called Newcastle Properties, based in Bedfordshire (thanks to John Matthews of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society for passing on that information).
However, writing in The Journal on 19 March, Bill Lynn (the Director Of Storey Sons & Parker) refers to a developer called Chelsfield - who are based in London - and "its major holding which so far includes the Northern Electric building and old Odeon Cinema and the former Bank of England building" (read article). He suggests that given the complexity of assembling the necessary land, and obtaining planning permission, work would be unlikely to start on site until 2005 or 2006. It seems probable that the building in the middle - the Commercial Union House office block - would form a part of any redevelopment, although presumably Chelsfield would have to acquire that first.
The Council have certainly expressed a view that they would like to see the block developed in its entirety. It is true that most people would welcome the demolition of Commercial Union House - that's the drab grey block which struts out halfway over Pilgrim Street. However, Carliol House next door, the former Northern Electric headquarters is a landmark, listed building, so would almost certainly be protected from demolition. In other words, we can probably look forward to its façade being retained.
If anyone knows anything more about the Odeon's current ownership status - particularly who DOES own it - I'd be glad to hear from you!
Interestingly, the Odeon's basement restaurant, previously occupied by Bimbis (who moved out in January), is currently 'to let' (with Lamb and Edge, I seem to recall) which suggests that the owners are perhaps seeking a short term tenant for that space before carrying out anything more major in 1-2 years time.
In March, the Evening Chronicle ran a story saying that there were plans to turn the building into a possible supermarket, shops and restaurant, with speculation that Tesco would move in (read article). However, nothing else has been heard of this since, and it contradicts the widely voiced assumption that Selfridges are eyeing up the site. The company has confirmed that they want to open a store in Newcastle, although it's not known how the current takeover activity might affect Selfridges' future plans.
Meanwhile, the former owners Cinven - instrumental in getting the building delisted in the first place - have sold the Odeon chain after just three years. The owners of Odeon - including therefore the new cinema at The Gate - are now apparently a German bank, WestLB, and movie distributor, the Entertainment Group.
All the latest stories are included in our list of articles from the local media.
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Inside the building after closure
Posted by Graham Soult, 24 January 2003:
I received an interesting e-mail today from DK, who had been into the building since its closure:
"I stumbled across your message board about the closure of the Odeon Newcastle.
"You're right - the building IS still occupied - but sadly only by a team of security guards and a sixteen stone Rottweiler (I'm not joking, it actually was sixteen stone!). I was one of the people responsible for removing the projection equipment on the Thursday of the week it closed (I think it had just closed the night before). It was the first time I had been in the building, but I was totally dumbstruck at the sheer size, beauty and elegance of this building. Unfortunately, most of the decorative lighting had already been cut, leaving only the essential ones on, so I only got the chance to see the place with minimum light.
"We went down to the foyer about halfway through the day for a breather, and during the hour we spent down there, two different people knocked on the front doors asking to be let in to take photos. After the first person had left, I made a comment to the guard along the lines 'nobody would mind them taking a photo or two', but he told me that they were under STRICT instruction that no-one was to get in. 'A bit harsh', I thought - but the decision had already been made by those a lot higher than any of us there. It was probably for the best - by this time, the speakers behind the screen up in Screen 1 had been removed, and the screen itself had been cut down the sides and hooked up about halfway to allow for their removal. It would perhaps be nicer for people to remember the place as it was rather than see it like that.
"I did notice that there was an automation system for the whole building, which included heating, ventilation, exterior and interior lighting etc - so this, coupled with the presence of the Security guards, might explain why the place still looks occupied. There is still a large amount of equipment to be removed from the building, so I don't know how much longer the security guards will be in there. I don't know what the long-term plans for the building are."
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Posted by Graham Soult, 3 January 2003:
Still no change! The lights remain on, the stuff inside looks untouched, and the building, to all intents and purposes, looks occupied.
This is confirmed by IG, who wrote: "Was in Newcastle on Monday [30 Dec]... had a walk round to look at the Odeon. It still seems just like you described it a week after it closed! Assorted lights on in the building including Manager's office and Men's staff room backstage. No signs of life though!"
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Posted by Graham Soult, 5 December 2002:
I passed the former Odeon at 15:00 today - although it has now been shut for over a week, the building still seems to be inhabited, and has not yet been boarded up. However, a notice on the door indicates that the building is protected by 24 hour security, which can be no bad thing. Somewhat spookily, the interior of the building appeared to be lit up as normal, and the shop and popcorn counter seem to have been left just as they were - complete with bags of sweets and big containers of popcorn.
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Building update, with pictures
Posted by Graham Soult, 27 November 2002:
Following its closure yesterday, the Odeon's owners have wasted no time in stripping the former cinema of its Odeon branding. Last night, the cinema was open as usual, its frontage and signage illuminated in the way which had become such a familiar sight over the years [Photo 7]. By 2pm today, all the signage - even the five letters 'O-D-E-O-N' stepping down the façade - had disappeared [Photo 9] [Photo 10] [Photo 11]. Not a lot seemed to be happening inside. Some of the modern fittings in the vicinity of the box office looked as if they were being stripped out, but since the building is reportedly being used for an Odeon staff farewell party at the weekend, presumably not too much will happen to the interior in the meantime.
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Posted by Graham Soult, 26 November 2002:
Read my account of the Odeon's final evening on 26 November 2002 - a truly memorable and historic event.
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