Beds, Herts & Bucks

Restored Odyssey art-deco cinema in St Albans reopens

The Odyssey, St Albans
Image caption A long queue formed outside the former St Albans Odeon when tickets went on sale for the first time

An art-deco cinema left derelict for 19 years is reopening after a community campaign to save it from demolition.

About £1m was raised in three months to allow a consortium led by James Hannaway to buy the former Odeon cinema in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

Hundreds of people queued for tickets to Saturday's opening of the newly-named Odyssey.

A spokeswoman said there had been "huge interest and excitement".

Image copyright Gary Fellows
Image caption The London Road site was derelict for 19 years

The former Odeon in London Road is the second cinema Mr Hannaway has saved after restoring The Rex in Berkhamsted, which reopened in 2004 following its 1988 closure.

In November 2009, he announced his intention to buy the four-screen St Albans' cinema, which closed in 1995, if he could raise £1m.

Image copyright james hannaway
Image caption The four-screen cinema closed in 1995

The Odeon to Odyssey journey

1908: St Albans' first cinema, the Alpha Picture Palace, opened by Arthur Melbourne-Cooper

1927: The first cinema burned down

1931: The Capitol Cinema opened on the cleared site, seating 1,168 in the stalls and 452 in the balcony

1945: The Odeon renamed the cinema

1995: All screens closed on 20 August

1995-2009: Various proposals put forward for a new cinema but the owners want to use the site for flats

2009: James Hannaway announced he had agreed to buy the building, subject to raising the funds

2010: £1m raised between January and March

Local people raised the cash in three months.

An extra £2m needed to turn the site into a 500-seat, single screen theatre, with seating and tables on the lower level and a balcony above, was raised by buying shares, advance booking membership, sponsoring seats, donations or small loans.

Its new name is inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, the science-fiction epic from director Stanley Kubrick, who lived in the city.

Jill Leslie, who has been involved with the project for three years, said the building was a "really important part of the history of St Albans".

The cinema reopens on Saturday afternoon with a singalong screening of Frozen and is followed in the evening by The Theory of Everything, a biopic of Stephen Hawking.

Image caption The building, including the projection room, has taken four years to restore
Image caption Many of the original fixtures have now been restored
Image caption Previous owners of the Odeon site had wanted to use the site for flats

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