Odeon West End
40 Leicester Square,
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The Leicester Square Theatre was built for actor/film star Jack Buchanan and impresario Walter Gibbons. Jack Buchanan had a flat built on top of the theatre, which he occupied until it was damaged by bombing in 1940.
Initially intended as a live theatre, there were problems acquiring adjacent properties and the stage space proved insufficient. It opened on 19th December 1930 as a dual purpose live theatre/cinema with 1,760 seats in stalls, circle and balcony levels. There were three boxes adjacent to each side of the proscenium at dress circle level, but these were only used during live performances. The foyer walls were decorated with polished black marble. The first operators were Warner Brothers and the opening programme was the Warner Bros. two-tone Technicolor film “Viennese Nights” starring Vivienne Segal and a stage dance production including Balliol and Merton and the Victoria Girls. It was equipped with a Wurlitzer 3Manual/10Rank theatre organ.
It was taken over in March 1931 by RKO Radio Pictures. In July 1931, Gracie Fields appeared for a week ‘twice-nightly’ as a prelude to her film “Sally in Our Alley”. Jack Hulbert’s song and dance show ‘The R.K.O. Loudspeakers’ was staged as part of the film programme in August 1931. It was taken over by County Cinemas and re-named Olympic Theatre from 21st March 1932, re-opening with John Stuart in “In a Monastery Garden”. County had commissioned architect Alister G. MacDonald to re-design the entrance and the interior was re-designed by Edward Carrick. A revolve was installed in the centre of the stage at this time. It closed in July 1932 and Jack Buchanan took control again. In August 1932 films were dropped in favour of non-stop variety which began with ‘Non-Stop Revels’ live on stage, non-stop from two ‘til midnight daily. Marie Kendall singing 'Just Like the Ivy’, was one of the artistes appearing. This policy lasted for almost a year.
It was taken over by United Artists and re-opened on 27th September 1933, as a full time cinema, re-named the Leicester Square Theatre again and re-opening with Jack Buchanan’s own film for United Artists “That’s a Good Girl”. It played United Artists pictures first run in London until it was closed again on 18th July 1937.
In 1938 General Film Distributors took control (J. Arthur Rank was one of the directors) and it became the first West End Cinema to be controlled by what would become the Rank Organisation in later years. It was closed for almost a year during 1940/1941 when it suffered bomb damage. Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon Theatres Ltd. took over in July 1946 and they closed it in July 1950 for repairs to the war damage. Further repairs were carried out in 1955 and the Leicester Square Theatre then continued until it was closed on 3rd April 1968 with “Carry On Doctor”. The cinema was to undergo a complete interior re-construction. The detailed French Renaissance style interior was totally removed, as was the Wurlitzer organ which was played at special organ concerts right up to closing.
Architects Arnold Dick Associates designed a new ‘modern style’ single screen cinema within the shell of the building, with a stalls and circle seating areas (removing the upper balcony) and the interior design was by Cassidy, Farrington and Dennys. Seating was provided for 1,402; 900 in the stalls and 507 in the circle. The Leicester Square Theatre re-opened on 12th December 1968 with Sean Connery in “Shalako”.
It was re-named Odeon West End from 22nd July 1988 with the opening of the comedy film “The Couch Trip”. It closed for twinning on 11th July 1991, re-opening on 11th October 1991 with screen 1 upstairs seating 503 and screen 2 downstairs opening on 1st November 1991 with 848 seats. In 2008, the seating capacities are given as 500 and 834.
The historic facade remains virtually untouched to this day, although partly hidden by metal cladding, and the entrance and lobby have been significantly altered. In October 2008, plans were approved by Westminster Council, to demolish the Odeon West End and build a 240-bed hotel on the site. There will be two new screens in the basement, with seating for 440 and 200. Demolition and building work was due to begin in the Summer of 2009, but the plans were put on hold due to the economic situation. A new set of plans for a hotel were approved by Westminster Council on 21st January 2014, and again the building is threatened with demolition.
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