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Odeon Ayr
Burns Statue Square
Official Odeon website:

Despite alterations, this is an important building in the history of cinema in Scotland. The first true Odeon Theatre ever built in Scotland, where most of the chain’s cinemas were takeovers, it is also now the only one left.

It makes an important contribution to the streetscape of Ayr, being one of the first buildings visible when exiting from Ayr railway station, its landmark tower giving a focus to Burns Statue Square.

Photos below from 1985, courtesy of Paul Francis:

Click here for a gallery of interior photos from 1983, courtesy of Jim Duncan.

Archive postcard images courtesy of Kevin Phelan.

Odeon Cinemas in Scotland
In the 1930s, the Odeon circuit had made its name by building a series of modern, well-appointed buildings, starting in the south, and then gradually expanding nationwide. However, it was struggling to gain a foothold in the highly lucrative, but extremely cut-throat Scottish cinema market. In sharp contrast, its great rival ABC had begun in Glasgow under the Scottish Cinemas and Variety Theatres (SCVT) name, and had a strong presence and purpose-built halls in most of the main Scottish towns and cities.

Odeon initially tried to expand into Scotland by buying up existing older buildings. In September 1936, Odeon purchased ten cinemas from the Glasgow-based Singleton chain, which were then re-branded as Odeons. However, many of these were far from being the modern, luxurious “machines for watching movies in” that the chain were famous for.

Singleton had been extremely canny, and used the proceeds from offloading many of his substandard halls to build new cinemas and start another new circuit of his own, adding to Odeon’s competition!

Odeon’s growth was truly phenomenal. Established as a circuit in 1933, by 1936 it had gone into a major expansion. The peak year for the company was 1937, by which time the circuit decided to not only acquire already existing cinemas in Scotland but also to create its own highly-branded, purpose-built venues there. Odeon had decided to do things properly, and began to plan for its own house architects to design and build a series of true Odeon Theatres across Scotland. At this time, the name Odeon had become almost a generic term for cinemas, and the appearance of the cinemas were a distinctive feature of the brand, with liberal use of faience tiling, towers and streamlining. Showing how seriously this approach was being taken, a new company Odeon (Scotland) Ltd. was formed, and house architect Andrew Mather’s practice even set up a branch office in Glasgow to oversee the schemes. Initially, seven cinemas were planned, for Ayr, Bridgeton, Falkirk, Hamilton, Motherwell, Partick and Townhead. Of these, only three were ever completed: Ayr opened on 30th July 1938, Hamilton on 14th November 1938, and Motherwell on 3rd December 1938. Bridgeton was reportedly under construction at the outset of war, but was never completed.

Of the three, Hamilton and Motherwell were very similar in design, featuring low rectangular facades covered in cream faience, with a squat tower feature on the left. Both facades were somewhat dwarfed by the bulk of the auditorium block behind, and although relatively plain, the architecture of these two cinemas was probably enough to stand out amongst the heavy industry which dominated most Lanarkshire towns. Motherwell was demolished in 1996, and Hamilton in 1999, leaving Ayr as the only survivor.

Architect Background
Odeon tended to use one of two architects firms for its buildings: the firms of Andrew Mather, or Harry Weedon. Mather worked together with Weedon to devise and controlled the Odeon “house style”. The Scottish Odeons, although usually credited to Andrew Mather himself, were actually designed by another member of his practice, Thomas Braddock. Braddock had worked closely with both Mather and Weedon on the what was considered the most important Odeon ever built: the Leicester Square flagship cinema for the circuit. Braddock was intimately involved in drawing up the final scheme of this seminal building.

Building Description
Ayr’s Odeon was totally different from its two Scottish brothers and is an excellent streetscape building for its era. In contrast to the plainer Lanarkshire cinemas, Ayr was a bustling seaside resort, and needed an architectural statement more appropriate to this backdrop.

The composition is typical for later Art Deco architecture with a strong emphasis on the horizontal and vertical elements of the building. The building is symmetrical with a long, low frontage, with flanking shops on either side of the cinema entrance in the middle, under the tall central tower feature. While the shops front onto the street line the cinema entrance curves inward away from it, providing a greater and more welcoming area outside in which patrons could assemble. The commercial function is addressed already from the outside not only by the instantly recognizable exterior, but also by the way the logistics of the building work.

Circle Screen & Ceiling

Octagonal Odeon Clock

Circle Foyer

The main entrance block is two storeys high with the tower reaching up an additional storey to the height of the auditorium roof behind it. It is structured with three-dimensional projecting bands that sweep upward from above the canopy, and the side features sail over the parapet level where they terminate in an elegant curve backward. The central feature is less pronounced and terminates at the parapet. Originally, these bands were outlined in neon so that the cinema could be seen from afar, especially at night. There was also horizontal banding that outlined the canopy and at parapet level of the entrance block. Odeon neon name signs were hung vertically on the sides of the tower, and horizontally across the top, completing the composition.

The vertical tower striations resemble Mather’s earlier Odeon in Portsmouth from 1936, but the Ayr cinema is far less busy and much more streamlined. The sweeping curve of the entrance area, together with the shop units that form wings on either side, and the way the tower is physically unconnected to the auditorium block appear to be unique features amongst Odeon cinema designs.

The vertical entrance block above the canopy had originally been covered in cream faience tiles. These have since been removed, and the tower rendered over, losing some of the detailing.

Below the canopy, across the entire street frontage and emphasising the horizontality, was more cream tiling that has since been replaced.

The auditorium is set back from the foyer, and when viewed externally from the side, the roof can be seen to be sloping down towards the screen end. Unlike a traditional theatre, a building built purely for film did not require a fly tower, so there was no need to have a high roof at the screen end. This also had the benefit of reducing the volume of open space inside the building, thus reducing heating costs.

This interesting roof construction was visible from inside, in the way the ceiling is segmented, and steps down towards the screen.

The Scottish Odeons were done on a modest budget and at a modest scale compared to the finest and largest English Odeons. The designs for Hamilton and Motherwell seem to have suffered because of this; but at Ayr, possibly because it was the first one to open, or perhaps because there was a lot of competition from other fine cinemas in a seaside resort town, architect Thomas Braddock (see below) seems to have made much more of an effort to produce something individual and architecturally interesting. The tower has no structural purpose and is designed purely for show as an advertisement feature for the cinema to be seen from great distances. This is an excellent use of the building as its own sign - commercial architecture at its best.

Despite the changes, the tower remains a dramatic landmark in the town and it would not take much to restore the exterior to its original gleaming state.

Current Status
The interior of the Odeon has been altered over the years, notably when the auditorium was split into three and later four separate screens. There are now two small screens in what was originally the rear stalls, one in the front stalls, and one in the balcony. (Originally with 1,732 seats, it was tripled in 1987; the fourth fourth screen was added in 1992.Current seating: 388 (former circle), 371 (former front stalls), 168 and 135 (both former rear stalls).). The interior was always quite plain however, so not a great deal has been lost. The building retains numerous subtle original features, including the handrails on the stairs to the balcony from the main foyer, balustrades in the balcony, curving plasterwork detailing on the balcony foyer ceiling, some light fixtures on the ceiling, and even, at the very back of the balcony, an internally illuminated octagonal Odeon circuit clock. While the foyer itself has been modernised over the years, it likely that original features such as cornicing and other plasterwork still survives above modern suspended ceilings.

Except for the removal of the faience tiles from the entrance block and the resulting loss of detail, the exterior is very much as it originally built. The current blue tiles at ground level, while an unfortunate part of the current Odeon branding, would be easily replaceable.

Special Interest
During his lifetime, Oscar Deutsch built 140 cinemas throughout the UK. Atwell describes the instantly recognizable Odeon architecture as “among the best of any commercial buildings put up between the wars”. The Ayr cinema is the single surviving Odeon in Scotland, and was from the beginning one of only three ever to have ever been built here. Under the supervision of house architect Andrew Mather, it was designed by Thomas Braddock, who was also responsible for the circuit’s flagship cinema on Leicester Square (together with Harry Weedon and Andrew Mather). While Ayr’s structure has been somewhat altered over the years, it still definitely retains the unique Odeon look.

It is of more than regional importance as the only remaining, purpose-built Scottish Odeon, despite the fact that the original design has been somewhat compromised over the years. The compromises – especially to the exterior – have the potential to be easily rectified.


Ayrshire & Arran: An Illustrated Architectural Guide (Close, RIAS, 1992) p. 19

Clyde Coast Picture Palaces (Peter, Stenlake, 2000), p. 44 – 47

Odeon Cinemas: Volume 1 (Eyles, BFI, 2002) p.156, 177-179, 250

Odeon Cinemas: Volume 2 (Eyles, BFI, 2005) p. 222

Postcard of Burns Statue Square featuring the Odeon, postmarked 1947.

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