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Buildings

Odeon Cinema

If World War Two hadn’t intervened, then this building might have looked very different. The structure that houses Mecca Bingo, on Flat Street, has stood since 1956, but its foundations and steel structure were put in place in May 1939.

It had been intended to complete the building by April 1940, but war meant construction was halted, and not resumed until 1955.

In 1937, Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941), the founder of Birmingham-based Odeon Cinemas, had his sights on South Yorkshire. New cinemas were to be built in Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

The Sheffield Odeon, on a wedge-shaped strip of land on Flat Street, promised to be an Art Deco masterpiece.

Plans were drawn up by Odeon-architects Harold William ‘Harry’ Weedon and William Calder Robson for a 2,326-seat cinema, containing four shops and a three-storey office block.

When war started in September the main steel frame was already up, but building was immediately halted by the cinema chain.

By November, it announced that work would recommence, but ongoing shortages of building supplies and labour meant it remained a building site for the next seventeen years.

When building recommenced in 1955, the plans had been re-drawn by Harry Weedon and his new partner, Robert Andrew Bullivant, for a 2,319-seat cinema without the shops and office block.

The Odeon Cinema opened in July 1956, by which time the chain had been sold to the Rank Organisation after Oscar Deutsch’s death.

The opening was attended by actress Dinah Sheridan and her husband, Sir John Davis, chairman of the Rank Organisation, the occasion memorable for a guard of honour provided by personnel from RAF Norton. A suitable tribute because the first film shown happened to be Reach for the Sky.

The Odeon might have looked a little less impressive than originally intended, but it was typical of 1950s construction, unusual for having a single-storey wedge-shape glass foyer projecting in front of the brick-clad auditorium.

There were 1,505 seats in the stalls and 814 in the balcony. Lighting was via three rows of light fittings hanging close to the ceiling and from concealed lights in two decorative panels each side of the proscenium opening.

The cinema was equipped with Todd-AO equipment, a widescreen, 70mm format developed by Mike Todd and the American Optical Company in the mid-1950s to compete with Cinerama. The process meant that there were long runs for classic movies like South Pacific and Cleopatra.

By the start of the 1970s, the Rank Organisation had two cinemas in the city centre, the other being the Gaumont in Barker’s Pool. Attendances had fallen, and not for the last time, the company decided to consolidate with one cinema in Sheffield.

The Sound of Music was the last film shown at the Odeon, reputedly ending a phenomenal fourteen month run. It closed in June 1971, and following refurbishment became a Top Rank Bingo Hall that opened three months later.

Later renamed Mecca, the building will soon celebrate fifty years, making it one of the longest surviving bingo halls in the country.

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Buildings

Odeon Cinema

The Odeon Cinema, on Flat Street, was built between 1955-1956, later becoming the Top Rank Bingo Hall in 1971, and subsequently re-branded as Mecca.

However, the building’s history is strange because the structure we see today is a pale imitation of what was originally intended.

In 1938, Oscar Deutsch, the founder of Odeon Cinemas, set up a subsidiary company called Odeon (Sheffield) Ltd, registered at 39, Temple Row, Birmingham, intending to build an extravagant cinema on land bordering Flat Street and Norfolk Street.

Deutsch employed architects Harold ‘Harry’ Weedon and William Calder Robson to design an Art Deco theatre, making use of the unusual shape of land, incorporating four shops and a three-storey office block.

Harry Weedon was responsible for overseeing the Art Deco designs of Odeon Cinemas in the 1930s, and this artist sketch shows that his know-how was going to be applied in Sheffield.

Back then, it was called an “ultra-modern” design, with neon lighting to illuminate the spectacle at night-time. The tower-like device – known by architects as a fin – was to be the centre of the lighting scheme.

The building itself was designed in the shape of a flat iron, the point of which would form the frontage, with luxurious foyers to accommodate patrons who otherwise would have had to queue in the street.

A biscuit-coloured mottled faience was to be used on the Norfolk Street elevation, while the Flat Street side would be partly built in the same material, and partly in 2inch facing bricks.

A black faience was to have been used to form a base, and green and blue faience bands forming a background to the coloured neon tubes.

Inside there were to be 2,326 high-quality seats of the same design – 1,502 in the stalls, 824 in the circle – all divided into three blocks, the only difference in price being governed by the position of the seat.

In addition, there was to be a ladies’ boudoir, as well as several changing rooms.

Plans were made to install a “scientific scheme of acoustic correction,” ensuring perfect sound reproduction as well as a system of B.T.H. earphones for the deaf.

Work started on the cinema in May 1939, the main steelwork in place by the time war was declared in September. Construction was halted, and a shortage of materials and labour meant that it didn’t recommence until 1955.

By this time, the Rank Organisation owned the Odeon chain, and conscious of costs and changing trends, asked Harry Weedon to liaise with architect Robert Bullivant to create another cinema using the original steelwork and footprint.

The result was modern by 1950s standards, less spectacular than the 1930s design, but has stood the test of time, surviving longer as a bingo hall than it did as a cinema.

But, and we may ponder, what a building it would have been had the original design been built.

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Buildings

Vista

Work will start shortly on “Vista”, a 16-storey student tower block on a plot of land between Flat Street and Pond Street.

Sheffield Council approved a plan by Langland Estates to redevelop the entire former Head Post Office site in September 2015. Refurbishment of the listed buildings is complete, including the old post office which is now Sheffield Hallam’s Institute of Arts.

Langland’s initial aim was to build up to 22 storeys, but this was brought down to 16 two years ago after talks with the council’s planning department.

The development has now been bought by Liverpool-based Mount Property Group which is aiming to complete construction for the September 2021 academic year. The approved scheme is for 241 “student units” with ground floor reception, study lounge, coffee shop and bike store.

It is Mount’s first project in Sheffield, and will use its own building subsidiary, Mount Construction.