Odeon Lewisham

1-5 Loampit Vale,
London, SE13

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Gaumont Cinema

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Located in the southeast London district of Lewisham, on a huge triangular site, with the entrance on Loampit Vale at Lee High Road, with other boundries on Molesworth Street and Rennell Street. The magnificent Gaumont Palace was opened on 12th December 1932 with Jessie Matthews in "The Midshipmaid" and Laurence Olivier in "Westward Passage" plus on stage Bobby Howells Big Band Show. Built for the Gaumont Theatres chain, it was the largest cinema designed by architect W.E. Trent, and he was assisted by James Morrison and Keith P. Roberts.

The facade had horizontal bands which originally contained letters advertising the weeks programme. There was a large central window, which allowed light into the 200 seat restaurant that was located in the circle foyer level. The name ‘Gaumont Palace’ was in large neon letters in a recess across the top of the building.

The foyer had polished macassar wood panelled walls and walnut wood around the display cases. There were decorative panels above the doors to the circle, possibly the work of artist Frank Barnes. The auditorium was pure Art Deco styled, with a stepped ceiling containing cove lighting. The side walls had a series of tall arches on each side, with the arch on each side of the proscenium having a large statue of a female nude sculptured by Newbury A. Trent. The proscenium was 56 feet wide, the stage 85 feet wide and 36 feet deep, and it was fully equipped for stage shows. The Gaumont Palace was equipped with a Compton 3Manual/12Rank organ which was opened by Frederick Bayco.

Stage shows featuring top artistes were part of the programme through until the early 1940’s, when wartime conditions brought them to a halt. It had been re-named Gaumont Theatre in 1937. In fact the Gaumont Theatre was closed for several weeks in early-1941, and during this time it did recieve some minor bomb damage. It re-opened on 3rd March 1941 with Charlie Chaplin in "The Great Dictator". After World War II, live shows commenced again in the form of sparodic Sunday Concerts, starring artistes such as Martha Raye, Carmen Miranda and Victor Borge. In November 1952, "Robin Hood on Ice" was presented for a week.

On 26th February 1957, the restaurant re-opened as a Victor Sylvester Dance Studio, with the famed orchestra leader appearing in person with his orchestra.

On 27th February 1962, towards the end of a matinee performance of "The Guns of Navarone" a fire (which was thought to have been deliberately started by childen) set the cinema alight, and extensive damage was done to the rear stalls seating area, and the entire building was badly smoke damaged. A concert that was to have been staged by Ella Fitzgerald the following Sunday was hastily transfered to the Trocadero, Elephant & Castle.

After several months of restoration, the cinema re-opened as the Odeon on 29th July 1962, with a special screening of Doris Day in "That Touch of Mink" and a suprise screening of the main original opening film from 1932, "The Midshipmaid". Many more concerts were then staged at the Odeon, among the artistes appearing were Nat ‘King’ Cole, Johnny Cash, Sarah Vaughan & Count Basie and His Orchestra, Ted Heath and His Orchestra, Ray Charles, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, The Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, and The Beatles (twice in 1963). Later to appear were The Who, Rod Stewart, David Essex and The Bay City Rollers.

Attendences at film performances were on the decline and it was increasingly difficult to fill even a few rows of seats in the huge cinema. The Rank Organisation applied three times for a bingo licence, but were turned down on each occasion. The final film programme was Leslie Neilson in "Prom Night" and George Hamilton in "Love at First Bite" on 14th February 1981.

The former restaurant had been in use as a bingo club, a nightclub named Paradise Garage, and then became Pool club. The Odeon was left empty for 10 years, and the entire building was demolished in June 1991, to allow for a road widening scheme. A fragment of the left hand side of the facade still remains in situ on the Rennell Street side of the building.

Contributed by Ken Roe
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