Design for the Odeon cinema, Leicester Square, London

Design for the Odeon cinema, Leicester Square, London

This drawing by Harry William Weedon depicts his collaborator Andrew Mather's design for the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, London, with a large elevation and two small perspective details.

The Cinema was built as the intended "flagship" of Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Theatres empire on the former site of the 1883 Alhambra music hall. It reflects the scale of the burgeoning leisure industry at the time of its opening in November 1937.

A recreational culture blossomed in London in the first half of the twentieth century as residents increasingly had more free time and more money to spend; entrepreneurs in entertainment built cinemas, dancing venues, music halls and race tracks to lure Londoners out of the home and into the glamour of the city. While London had 94 registered cinemas with a grand total of 55,000 seats in 1911, by 1930 the city was home to 258 cinemas, with a viewing capacity of 344,000. Weedon and Mather alone designed a number of cinemas in Britain between 1935 and 1940, including theatres in Finsbury Park, Swiss Cottage, Birmingham, and Exeter, their work facilitating the mass consumption of a popular culture. As one Odeon ditty taught to matinee audiences declared,

"Won't you meet me tonight
Where your favourite
past-time's right It's round the corner at the O-de-on
Around the corner at the O-de-on."

Yet it is not merely the number of these theatres, but their design as well, that reveals the contemporary presence and power of the cinema in the nation's cultural life. The Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, with its commanding 120-foot tall tower covered, like the building's façade, in neon-reflecting black granite, acts as a West End cinematic shrine. Intended to literally and figuratively reflect London nightlife and with a building cost of £110 per seat, the theatre-and its Art Deco-infused interior-broadcast modern design as well as first run films to its large audiences.

Though the theatre's original interior decorations have been all but stripped away and while the significance of Leicester Square itself has diminished in the age of ubiquitous cinema multiplexes, Weedon's drawings for the Odeon preserve a 1930s blueprint of modernity.