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Why demolition of the Paramount / Odeon is bad news for Manchester

Everyone seems to agree that Manchester is on the up and up. Everywhere there are cranes on the skyline, trendy new apartment buildings, glitzy shops and boutiques in the shopping district, with wonderful Christmas markets, a Big Wheel and a skating rink in Piccadilly Gardens. Even people who are cynical about national politics praise the council and talk about the magnificent job they're doing. Open the Manchester Evening News any day of the week. In matters regarding the development of Manchester, it all seems to be good news

But there's one piece news that isn't so positive, and that is that the Odeon Cinema on Oxford Street, opened in 1931 as the Paramount, is to be demolished.

It closed in September 2001 and was open for a total of 72 years.

Some may say: So what? What's the problem? Why save an outmoded structure that's had its day? Why not tear it down and put something "new" and "smart" in its place?

Because the Odeon is one of the few remaining symbols of Manchester's pre-eminence as a centre for entertainment.

Because it's a beautiful building with art deco features, one of a few remaining examples of an important but neglected style of architecture.

Because up till September 2001, the Odeon Cinema added something special to Oxford St. Not just another coffee bar or night club or office frontage. It gave a buzz of excitement, a hint of Hollywood style glamour, a reminder of the elegance of another age.

What would people think if the Odeon Leicester Square in London were closed? But this isn't London, it's Manchester and different rules apply. It's not the capital. The priority level is lower.

Why did it close? Probably a number of factors: Because there have been too many cinema seats in Manchester city centre. Because out of town multiplex cinemas allow people to park for free. Because the Disability Discrimination Act makes a building like this very difficult to maintain in public use. Because Manchester City Council are taking a 'bold' approach to development and don't want Manchester to be stuck in the past.

But in the opinion of EOM, the past is part of the future. The John Rylands Library, the Central Library, the Midland Hotel, the Opera House, the Old Fire Station are from the past, but are major assets into the future.

The balance has swung too far towards the uncritical ushering in of everything that appears 'new' and 'exciting' and the clueless throwing out anything that seems 'dated' or 'passť'.

In other parts of the world, this building might not be destroyed. In Stockport a committed group of local people saved the Plaza and have made it a going concern. The Friends of Victoria Baths saved that building from destruction and put it on track to eventual restoration and re-opening.

What is Manchester? Manchester is the buildings that make it great and unique, the buzz of the streets, the feel of history from the architecture from times different to our own.

In a few years, a new use could become viable for the former Odeon, but once it's gone, it's gone forever, and will quickly be forgotten by all but a few committed people.

The destruction of the Odeon is not just the removal of an old building, it is symbolic of the loss of Manchester's historic identity.

The Cinema Theatres Association based in Richmond near London, has announced it is to urgently spot list the Odeon / Paramount. See my post on the Eye On Manchester website

Here's a list of some of Manchester's buildings that have disappeared. Some deserved to be demolished, but many ought to have been saved.

  • The Assizes Court, Strangeways, demolished in the mid-50s
  • The Market Place and surrounding streets, removed to make way for the Arndale, 1960s
  • The Queens Hotel corner Piccadilly and Portland Street
  • The Milne Building on Mosley St
  • The Castlefield Warehouse, demolished 1962.
  • York House, Major St forerunner of modernist architecture, built 1911, demolished 1975
  • The Hospital for Skin Diseases, Quay Street
  • The Salford Tramways Depot
  • The Ambassador Cinema Langworthy Rd Salford
  • The Mathematics Building Manchester University
  • Kenton House 1930s style flats in Harpurhey
  • The Playhouse and other cinemas along Oldham Road
  • The old cinema Levenshulme
  • The sunken gardens in Piccadilly, and one third of the open space
  • Numerous industrial revolution era mills that have burnt down under mysterious circumstances
  • The Hulme Crescents, Fort Ardwick and other 1960s housing developments
  • The Oldfield Road Dwellings, as painted by Lowry

And many more besides.

Discuss the issue of the demolition of the Odeon Cinema in the Forum

See photos on the theme of demolition in the photo portfolo

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-01-09

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