Image

The Odeon in Bondgate, Darlington, is being restored after decades of neglect

WHEN I first moved to Darlington, to spend a year at college, I stayed in digs with three fellow students. We had a landlady who didn’t like us cluttering up her home, despite us being paying guests, and who fed us macaroni cheese at least three times a week.

This meant we had to seek shelter and sustenance elsewhere. The Odeon cinema on Bondgate regularly provided the shelter, while the Americana Fish Bar across the road provided the antidote to the macaroni cheese.

It was 1979, before multiplexes, and around the time desperate operators started dividing up their cinemas into smaller units – typically one big screen and a couple of studios – so they could show more movies, in the hope that audiences. presented with a greater choice of rubbish, would turn up.

The Odeon hadn’t been divided. It was vast, seating about 1,100 in stalls and circle, and frequently almost empty. That I can’t remember anything I saw there suggests we watched whatever was on, rather than making any kind of discerning choice.

By the time I returned to Darlington to work, in 1986, the Odeon had been closed for five years. Riley’s turned part of it into a snooker hall where I occasionally played, badly, before setting off for an evening’s work. The outside still looked like a cinema but inside they’d done a decent job of disguising the building’s original function.

Image

The original ceiling remains intact

I hadn’t thought about the old place much for decades before I stumbled across a Facebook post about it. I don’t think I even knew that its original name was the Majestic.

It’s still a snooker club, although it has had a couple of operators since I last played. But it’s now being transformed by a local commercial property developer, Devlin Hunter.

Today he was giving guided tours of the building, organised via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/238396066298040/) by people who’ve taken a keen interest in the Majestic’s future. He took us into areas few people had seen since the last reel played out, although some of the building was still off limits for safety reasons.

He’s already removed a hideous suspended ceiling, uncovered the proscenium arch, and made a start on restoring some of the tremendous art deco features which appear to have survived the years relatively intact. There are stained glass windows and a magnificent, hidden façade yet to be tackled.

Mr Hunter’s visitors ranged from architecture lovers and cinema enthusiasts to local people with their own memories of the building and the merely curious.

Image

The original facade of the Majestic survives, complete with its many stained glass windows, but is, for now, hidden (Orphan internet picture, I’d be happy to acknowledge the photographer if anyone knows who that was)

He says he’s been surprised by how many people seem to have a view on his project and he’s already spent more than he intended as more features have been revealed. He resisted every attempt to get him to disclose what the ultimate use will be. There have been reports of a “multi-purpose leisure facility”.

Whatever it turns out to be it would be nice to think that the people of Darlington will once again find  their entertainment in this impressive building.

Now, about reopening the Americana Fish Bar…

Advertisements