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Empire Cinemas is advertising the installation of the ‘IMAX with Laser’ projection system at the Empire Leicester Square, the first in Europe.
According to this article, it will be installed by ‘the end of summer.’
The Picturehouse/Cineworld (née MGM) was perhaps first though built within the shell of the Trocadero. No idea how much reconfiguration was involved though the old Pepsi IMAX was a good example of what could be achieved within its cavernous space!
SethLewis—“Vue West End was a couple of years before its time”—not quite sure what you mean by this? Thank you.
Cjbx11—I agree with you that there are too many small screens, and I suspect this is likely to be off-putting to potential repeat customers.
The small screens at the Empire are perhaps better than might be expected—bigger screens than you’d think, and decent sound. Also, back in the 90’s, the smaller screens (i.e. other than 5 and 7) at the Warner were certainly better than the average multiplex—the ones in the basement are a bit compromised (off-centre screens and too much sound leakage) but the rest were exemplars of the time and good presentation throughout.
On the other hand, the Odeon Mezzanine screens—haven’t visited since the refurbishment/rebrand to Studios—were just too small.
The Empire’s IMAX auditorium does offer something that no local multiplex offers—the widest screen in the UK—and, soon, IMAX’s laser projection system.
I think it’s difficult to reconfigure the VUE; as it was a total rebuild on the site of the 1930’s cinema, the footprint is already well utilized—i.e. there isn’t void space to use! So much so that, looking through the Westminster Planning Applications archives, the original proposal was for a 7 screen multiplex—and it seems that only later were two extra screens added at roof level. Still, that doesn’t excuse the seemingly poor upkeep… a “lick of paint” wouldn’t go amiss.
So, hopefully the Empire remodelling, and the Picturehouse, are votes of confidence into the future—still awaiting the OLS refurbishment…
FanaticalAboutOdeon—Based on photos, I too would probably have considered the original interior to be somewhat over-bearing. However, the abruptness of the transition to the “flat” wall section, having seen photos of the original, doesn’t quite look right; still, the auditorium is very attractive and has become the OLS interior that we all know and love.
For me, the recreated “golden ladies”—aside from (my apologies to those who very much like them) that sort of feature not being to my taste—look rather “tacked on” and I would prefer something to better match the “streamlined” part of the auditorium. I suspect they are considered the “jewel in the crown” of the 1998 refurbishment, though, so without drastic changes to the OLS one may not expect to see them replaced!
I cannot remember the colour-changing lights in the circle lounge—come to think of it, nor can I recollect what the foyer and circle lounge looked like prior to the 1998 refurbishment—albeit nothing like photos I have seen of the original interiors. Whilst, as you say, the circle foyer lighting makes for an attractive feature from the (now other side!) of the square, the replacement metal signs did not seem to me to be a step up from the previous neon scheme.
The recently installed LED displays, though, are a most useful feature during premiere events.
Thank you for your updates on the proposed refurbishment, I await any further news with bated breath!
FanaticalAboutOdeon — Thank you once again for the fascinating info! Strange that the splay walls went through several changes over the years—only for the “flying ladies” to be returned; I shall have to seek out photos.
I, too, find the fibre optic scheme to be “muted”—but it does look OK, as you say, from the front stalls.
On the topic of the shelved refurbishment planned for this year, I just ran a search on Westminster Council’s Building Control Records, and there is an application from February 2015 for a “Refurbishment of Cinema” proposed to start in March 2015. However, the application status is “Withdrawn.” I assume no further news is forthcoming on this?
davepring—I have a copy of the book to which you refer (the author is David High,) but not accessible to me at this time. I shall peruse it again when I have the chance!
Here’s a photo of the contour curtain in one position. Not sure I’ve seen any other photos from that era, is that one of the positions you recollect seeing?
Hmm… looking at the various pictures I’m having quite a hard time identifying which parts of the ceiling could have survived the 1962 reconstruction; I’d guess the dome and associated structure would have been removed. According to this post, there was some remaining plasterwork behind the right side wall, and looking at plans, the most plausible location would be somewhere around the side exit near the stalls/circle gangway.
Dave Pring — Do you have any idea where fragments of the “Lamb” ceiling remained?
In the “laser show” era, my recollection is that the contour curtain was only ever dropped in an “inverse V” shaped pattern.
FantaticalAboutOdeon—Thank you for the fascinating information on the post-“zing” interior. It would be most interesting to see photos!
The “rolling wave” design was not the same as the 1987 neon splay wall feature?
On the subject of its exterior, as I posted above, I recall a “patch up” job on part of the facade. This, I think, is visible in this photo; however, it now seems to be largely covered by the smaller LED displays positioned either side of the balcony.
Its impressive and imposing facade is, in peak season, invariably photographed by tourists.
Just stumbled on these photos of the cinema under construction:
Construction Photo 1
Construction Photo 2
Construction Photo 3
Can’t increase screen size without closing rear stalls due to sightlines… Reconfiguration to compete is urgent IMO…
IIRC the facade had a bit of a “patch up” job during the late 1990’s works.
FantaticalAboutOdeon—I did notice, on the occassions when the contour curtain was used in the “laser show” era, the machinery sounded rather “clunky”—albeit this may not have been any indication as to its condition.
Talking of the 90’s, I recall right up until the late 90’s, there was a older gentleman who always seemed to be positioned at the bottom of the vestibule, and if I remember correctly—although it is a vague memory now—he still wore an old Empire staff uniform. I can only assume he had been working there for decades!
I see there have been a couple of pictures of the “Lamb” Empire uploaded by Ken Roe recently to CT, this one ppears to show sets of steps up to the circle level and steps down to the stalls. It’s not quite clear from the pictures, but it still seems to me that a fair amount of reconfiguring occured in the 1962 conversion.
This still leaves the question of what the Leicester Street entrance lead to… and also what remains of the original Empire Theatre—other than the Leicester Street facade. I assume that the original facade was altered and possibly moved forward slightly, to yield the “Lamb” design.
In terms of the rake of the circle stepping, I think it may look that way due to higher seat backs? Also, there were a few rows of “loge” seats at the front of the “Lamb” Empire’s circle.
This picture shows just how much the ceiling has been raised. I can imagine that the divding wall isn’t far off from protruding out of the roof, so heaven knows how it was “hung”! It is also obvious that very little of the “Lamb” Empire’s interior could have survived the 1962 conversion (as previously discussed on this site)—certainly not the ceiling, nor splay walls, nor proscenium.
I had previously linked to some photos of the 1928 Empire, but those links (at the time of writing) no longer work; here are some alternative links to what I believe to be the same stock photos:
I suspect the LEDs behind seats are simply in keeping with the current fashion. I did mention at the end of the very first public screening that the colour sequencing wasn’t the same as “Screen 1” and was informed that they could be reprogrammed in any desired manor, although I suspect my comment was promptly cast aside as AFAIK nothing has changed!
I am trying to put the £150,000 figure for the 1968 Stockton Odeon into context—running that figure through the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator gives £2.3m in today’s money. If my recollection is correct, the 1967 Plaza reconstruction would be £10m using the same converter—so it would seem to be a very good result given the budget. Regarding the capacity, was a twin cinema not considered?
It is interesting to speculate on why the Empire Leicester Square hasn’t been replaced. It may well be the case that, in more recent years, following the sale of the building by First Leisure, the change of use of the nightclub to casino saved it. I suppose one should not begrudge casinos too much; after all the Hippodrome had a restoration of sorts (albeit neither that nor the original Matcham interior are to my taste) thanks to its conversion—far better than yet another useless hotel in the heart of the West End!
FanaticalAboutOdeon—Thank you for the fascinating structural information! One wonders how the poor old building is still standing when bearing the load of successive conversions—as I mentioned in a previous post, according to the recent Cinema Tech. Magazine article, the massive IMAX/IMPACT dividing wall is “hung” from the girders and floats off the floor—and the Casino below has additional mezzanine floor sections, etc.
There are some further elements of the 1962 conversion which remain puzzling to me. One is that I assume the “circle” section reused the structure/stepping of the 1928 auditorium; however, it appears to have been shortened. I assume the main girder is somewhere around the gangway between the “circle” and “stadium” sections. Therefore, is that part of the 1928 circle still lurking under there?
The other is the foyer—the cross-sectional diagrams (which do not appear to be accurately drawn) on the British History site show that the replacement foyer is smaller in size, and indeed the current seating area opposite the long bar has a slopped ceiling; so I assume the floor was raised up.
Soundproofing-wise, according to the article linked to from this post, the floor is 5" thick concrete. Of course, these days a floating floor would be added on top.
Regarding the LEDs, I think it was a mistake to add them behind each row of seats, and the sequencing needs to be reprogrammed.
In the post-multiplex era, it is impossible to conceive of a grand space like the 1968 Stockton Odeon being built in the West End or similar, let alone in the regions. With the flat “stalls” section, I initially assumed it was a conversion—but a quick search on Cinema Treasures revealed otherwise—though I’m slightly puzzled as to why the split flat/stadium raking. It is good to hear that, at least for a time, it had some good runs!
FanaticalAboutOdeon—I see what you mean about the “stage” end of the “New” Empire being in what was the stage house—it is clear from the cross sectional plans on the British History site.
The difficulty I can see with a further “cove” towards the screen is that it would be difficult to fit those tiles on a steep curve; albeit, your suggestion is a shallow curve. But the reason I suggested there could be difficulities around the constraints of converting an existing building was that, looking at photos of the “Thomas Lamb” auditorium, it would seem that, crown of the dome perhaps notwithstanding, the ceiling of the 1962 Empire was higher than that of the 1928 Empire, and the highly curved section at the projection end presumably approximately follows the constraints set by the roof. So, not knowing how the replacement ceiling was supported or hung, I’m thinking there were some constraints which led to that design—or perhaps I’m wrong and it is a flaw!
Very interesting information on the coloured lighting—thank you. Green, of course, is used with the new (inferior) LED lighting. Quite possibly the mink tiles didn’t change colour, but the gold colour tiles, I’m quite sure, did.
I have indeed seen the Flickr photo you refer to, very nice. (As an aside, I stumbled on your upload of the 1960’s Odeon Stockton whilst browsing through your Flickr pages—looks like it was reasonably impressive!)
I don’t think the contour curtain was taken down until a larger screen was installed in 2006? If I’m not mistaken, it can be seen in this YouTube video of the “laser show”—which is also an excellent example of “showman” presentation skills. However, for the majority of presentations I saw in the “laser show” era, (unfortunately) I don’t recall it being dropped.
FanaticalAboutOdeon—Good point on the “half dome” feature above the screen, although I liked that feature, particularly with, as you say, the fibre optic “starfield;” nonetheless, it did look somewhat disjointed.
There were hidden exits either side of the screen, behind the curtains. Also, towards that end of the Empire, there was a tank room above (now converted to offices), and it seems that at the far end the pitched roof grinds to a halt and there is a drop down to a flat roof section. So, to speculate, the lack of a “proper” proscenium may have been the price paid for converting an existent building.
If the tiles were mink and gold, when did they change colour? It seemed that there were two sets of tiles, one stuck on top of the other…
I would also be interested to know if there were any changes to the concealed lighting scheme over the years. AFAIK a new lighting control system was installed during the 1988 refurbishment, but—and I can’t find the reference right now—I gather that they were colour-sequenced right back to 1962.
As for which venue is the “zenith of cinema design,” there are of course a few candidates, but I think it’s fair to say both of those examples are great!
FanaticalAboutOdeon—thanks for the reply!
I should have made it clear that I am not in any way suggesting that George Coles could not be responsible for the design of the “new” Empire… just curious for the above reasons. Indeed, this plan was by his practice:
That said, a (non-cinema) example is Centre Point, which looms over Oxford Street. It had been attributed to Richard Seifert for many years but it is now considered to be designed by George Marsh, who worked for his practice.
My preference is for art deco and modernist designs; the 1928 Empire interior to me (my apologies to all those on this site who are enthusiastic about the work of Thomas Lamb) is absolutely hideous, albeit I can only find B&W photos and films of it.
For me, the 1962 Empire is, aesthetically, the high point of cinema design. Whilst the staggered walls/ceiling with bands of concealed lighting is clearly reminiscent of Radio City Music Hall, I consider the design to be more elegant, whilst producing the effect of massive spaciousness, and I think the tiled walls/ceiling added to this.
So, I wouldn’t agree with the opinion of the author of your quote! (Except regarding the seats—they were fantastic.) Incidentally, I have a copy of the book “The First Hundred Years: The Story of The Empire Leicester Square” by David High; unfortunately I don’t have access to it at the moment, but my recollection is that it discusses the trepidation around the 1962 reconstruction, but states that subsequent to opening, the public was “delighted” by what they saw.
Also, according to:
The “New” Empire had “ceiling and walls of plaster tiles finished in mink and gold.” Perhaps you know if this was the case?
Mike… My Father was a Project Architect and so I know a little bit on how things work in that field, which is what lead me to ask the question.
Unfortunately (for me?!), he did not work on any cinemas but the most relevant projects he had some involvement with were Planet Hollywood London and Planet Hollywood Gatwick Airport. If I remember correctly, in both cases the designs were done by an American practice and sent to the practice he worked for, to produce final drawings, ensure that UK building regulations were met, etc. (e.g. Some of the materials the Americans had specified did not meet UK fire regulations!) Also, as you say, once building work commences supervision is required and in this example it was also undertaken by the same UK practice.
Also, in projects he worked on, the individual(s) whom the practice bore the name of (or rather the partners/bosses) had varying levels of involvement, but they would always be responsible for having contact with potential clients and getting in work. Design wise, their input varied from none whatsoever (one practice he worked for had 100+ staff…) to designing the building (but not producing detailed drawings… one of them apparently didn’t even know how to use a mouse!) Different parts of a building could be designed by different Architects… or others could be responsible for the interior design details/fit-out…
All of which is to say that, on a project of larger scale than a house extension, the idea of an Architect as “auteur” can be, I suspect, a bit misguided.
Speaking of George Coles, does anyone know who was actually responsible for the design of Empire 1? AFAIK it bears no resemblance to any other cinema designed by Coles' practice, and I can’t help but wonder if they were the UK architect for what was in fact an American design, or if MGM had instructed them to do something “inspired” by the Radio City Music Hall.
I can’t find the references right now, but my previous archive searches brought up articles which stated that, in 1961, MGM sold the Empire to Mecca, and their intention was to replace it with a new building incorporating offices, cinema, dance hall, etc. By 1962 this scheme had been shelved for the conversion of the existing building to what came to be known as Empire 1, and of course the dance hall below.
Terry—My apologies if I misinterpreted what you had said regarding technology/presentation. Looks like we’re on the same page there!
Up to date with trends… including modern B-chain sound equipment… or were still using Altec VOTT?
Due to open this Summer.
Some drawings of the bar area etc. Looks hideous!
Terry—A lot of “ifs” there! When the multiplexes arrived, the greater choice and pristine interiors were a revelation.
Now I’m not saying I liked them—outside of venues such as the Warner West End, the ambience was often poor and the presentation could be sloppy (e.g. failure to do the anamorphic lens change!) I also remember being shocked to see slide projection with adverts for local businesses in a Cineworld… hardly the way to set the mood…
Regarding IMAX/laser projection—I fully anticipate it to provide superior picture quality.
It is not the “fault” of the technology but the operator if there is a failure to achieve a good standard of presentation in all respects. The Empire’s IMAX auditorium may lack tabs, but the colour-changing concealed lighting, suitable “non-sync” music, etc., and of course the very attractive foyer, remain.
As for the Chinese, it’s a world-famous landmark theatre in a “megacity” which also happens to be the movie capital of the West. They were fortunate enough that the building/site constraints did not stop them from digging a large hole in the ground. The Empire LS was more constrained, but in upgrading to meet today’s expectations, was fortunate enough to have a steeply racked circle which works well for IMAX, and that modern acoustic absorption could be applied to the walls/ceilings without annihilating the interior look and feel.
In most cases, it’s surely easier and presumably cheaper to sell out to a developer looking to build flats or similar and do a new-build on another site…
JD Wetherspoon (operators of The Twyburn pub, within the same complex as the Odeon Marble Arch) have received permission for outdoor seating until February 2016, so it may be assumed the existent Odeon Marble Arch will stand until at least then…
The developer has submitted a planning application dated November 2014, which is pending a decision. Perhaps surprisingly, 6 screens, albeit 5 of which appear to be “studio” size, are shown in the drawing for basement level 1. The proposed entrance is on Edgware Road with access via escalators.