1 Exterior side shot as Odeon Astoria, showing 'High Time'
2 Enlarged version of the night time shot on this page
3 Exterior shot from front of building
4 Exterior during the 1950's
5 Exterior daytime shot while showing 'Hamlet'
6 Recently uncovered Egyptian mural
History by Geoff Gill (Chief Technician)
The Odeon Streatham opened on Monday June 30th 1930 at 7.30 p.m with the film Paris starring Jack Buchanan. The theatre was one of the four London Astorias built by Paramount; the others being at Brixton, Old Kent Road and Finsbury Park. From the outset the owners were intent on creating what was known at the time as "Atmospheric Theatres" and the Astoria Streatham (as it was to be known for it's first 30 years) was no exception. The theme was to be Egyptian and the colour theme to be mainly red, green and gold, supplemented by reflected and concealed lighting. The Astoria boasted full stage facilities, a 3/12 Compton Organ with resident organist, their own orchestra and the Astoria Girls.
The stage equipment consisted of a 32 Counterweight System a large Stage Lighting board. There were 10 Dressing Rooms. The stage was 78 feet wide by 38 feet deep and had a grid height of 69 feet. Projection equipment was provided by Simplex projectors.
The Cinema Theatre and Allied Construction Magazine of July 1930 described in great detail a plaster mural in the Ladies Rest room in the upper foyer. "An Egyptian female figure bathing in a lotus-filled pool above a settee, which in turn has a glass panel at its base to give the effects of rippling water." Also situated in the upper foyer was the Astoria Restaurant while in the auditorium the hanging ceiling gave a multi-coloured effect via ever changing concave lights between the two ceilings.
Many famous orchestras were to play at the Astoria during its early years: Anton and his Orchestra, Ambrose, Band Leader Billy Cotton, and the Paramount Organist V.Johnson-Lewis supplemented the Cine Variety Presentations which were a daily feature (except Sundays when films only were shown). The Astoria became a centre of entertainment and dining out during the 1930's.
In 1939 The Astoria Chain was sold to Oscar Deutsch and his Odeon chain. Oscar eliminated the stage shows to save cost. The Rank Organisation acquired Odeon Theatres following Oscar Deutsch's sudden death in 1941.
The Astoria escaped any war damage unlike Rank's Gaumont Theatre in Streatham. One of the reasons it may have escaped was because it wasn't close to any railway lines, which were often a target for German bombers.
Very little is recorded of the 1950's at the theatre. Some stars appeared to promote their films notably Peter Sellers promoting The Ladykillers. After leaving the stage he re-appeared through a side exit with a tray of ice-creams which he proceeded to throw at the audience.
At some point in the fifties, the stage area was used as a screen frame store. Projection equipment was changed from Simplex to Gaumont Kalee 21's.
In 1960 The Rank Organisation embarked on a programme of theatre modernisation and the turn of Streatham came in September 1961. The theatre closed on Saturday 2 nd September after the final performance of The Last Sunset. The builders moved in straightaway and the modernisation began. All the Egyptian murals and decorative lighting concave ceiling effects were swept away.
A new proscenium was built, with the screen placed on a stationary frame. The magnificent mural on the front of the safety curtain was painted over, the fountains removed, the restaurant and tearooms closed to become a luxury upper foyer. Stage shows were to be withdrawn forever with the old orchestra pit covered over. Rank filmed part of the reconstruction for their Look At Life series and it became part of one of their 9 minute documentaries entitled The Cinema Steps Out. The Astoria reopened as the Odeon two weeks later with the film No My Darling Daughter. It was described by Rank as "South London's first Luxury Theatre". A gala opening brought along the stars of the film, Leslie Phillips and Juliet Mills. The London Evening Standard printed a special edition of the paper in celebration.
For the next few years the Odeon enjoyed the pick of the large Road-Show presentations on a pre-release basis. Goldfinger was one of it's huge successes along with a personal appearance of Honor Blackman. The late Oliver Reed also appeared live in front of the screen tabs to promote his film I'll Never Forget Whatsziname.
In 1967 The London Festival Ballet found themselves without their usual South London theatre to present their annual ballet performances and approached Rank, who at the time had their own head office live show department. Streatham was offered and so for the first time in many years live shows came back. This of course meant many things removed in 1961 having to be re-installed in dressing rooms and the screen had to be put onto a frame which could be then flown out and up to the grid to allow for stage performances. The ballet presented on the stage twice in 1967 were Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Christmas 1968 and 1969 saw two pantomimes which ran for 3 - 4 weeks being staged. The first starred Joe Brown and Dick Emery in Cinderella, the following year Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits along with Norman Vaughan starred in Aladdin. Odeon insisted the cinema was not to remain dark on Sundays, so Saturday night saw the lowering of the screen down from the grid, the stage speakers put back and then a double re-issue programme of films presented. Then it was back to the live show on the Monday. A further Christmas pantomime was staged in 1974; Cinderella again with Tony Blackburn and his then wife Tessa Wyatt.
One night stands with The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and also The Supremes from 1971-73 and a further visit from the Ballet also contributed to the varied entertainment at Streatham in addition to some of the Large/ Separate Performance Roadshow films around at the time.
Although the last official stage show was lan Dury and the Blockheads, in December 1978, there was one further show in March 1979. This was a daytime concert presented by Croydon schools.
In September 1979 the theatre was tripled, following the standard Odeon plan of sub-dividing the rear stalls into Odeons 2 & 3. These screens were larger than previous schemes as the "Minis" were extended beyond the front of the circle edge. Both seated 267 and were opened on 16th December 1979. The projection equipment consisted of Cinemeccanica Victoria 4's and Philips non-rewind systems. The equipment in the upper projection box had already been changed in 1970, from Kalee to Westrex 5000. In 1981 Cinemeccanica Victoria 8's were installed.
Further alterations were carried out in 1981 when Dolby Stereo was installed in Odeon One and the screen was moved forward to rest against the front of the lowered Safety Curtain and then again when the screen was moved even further forward to stand on a specially constructed steel frame above the end of the ceilings of Odeon 2 & 3.
Moving on to 1991, the Odeon policy throughout the circuit was to utilise unused space for further auditoria, especially in the former front stalls areas. At Streatham it was also decided to use the long disused stage end, and in addition to a new cinema in the front stalls, a further screen was placed on the stage running horizontally across the building from one side of the stage to the other. Work started in June 1991 and the new screens opened 16 weeks later in September 1991. All the stage equipment was removed including the scenery counterweight system and old tab tracks. The main stage lighting board was also made redundant. Equipment in the new boxes consisted of Cinemeccanica CNR 3 plates, a Victoria 5 and a Victoria 8 projector.
Following the success of the Odeon Holloway in North London, which was converted into 8 screens in 1998 it was decided to decide to do the same at Streatham. Plans were first drawn up in December of that year to add 2 further screens at the rear of the 1095 seater Odeon One and to add a further screen downstairs to bring a total of 8. Work should have commenced in September 1999 in 2 phases with completion by Easter the following year, however various planning delays meant work didn't actually start until January 8th 2001.
Following the final performance of Unbreakable on 7th January, the builders moved in to commence work on what was and is the most massive reconstruction ever seen at Streatham; a complete renewal of everything down to the last piece of wiring, along with a new ventilation system. Two extra screens have been constructed at the rear of the old circle and work is about to progress downstairs. Much of the supposedly lost decorative features have been uncovered, albeit for only a short period of time, Part of the famous Ladies rest room mural was exposed again after being covered over for 40 years, also some hand painted Egyptian style wall scenes were found under layers of paint. Unfortunately much of this had to be destroyed forever to make way for various new doors to access areas.
Projection equipment in all screens will be Victoria 5's Kinoton plates and Cinemation automation systems.
Back in 1968 South London boasted around twenty Odeons, some former Gaumonts, some former Astorias. Now there are four. The former Astorias at Finsbury Park and Old Kent Road have gone, Brixton is now "The Academy" concert venue. Only Streatham remains a cinema. It has survived a World War, the hard times of the fifties (which saw many cinemas close with the advent of television), 3 day weeks, power cuts, rampant inflation, its own share of vandalism, floods (many of them) and also a proposed supermarket and plans for a Streatham bypass which would have sliced through the centre of the cinema.
With the large catchment area and a mixture of audience type, the commitment of Odeon to keep it at the forefront of its operations is proven by the massive investment currently being undertaken. The Odeon Streatham's future now looks secure for years to come as the Theatre passes into its 71st Birthday.
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