The cinema opened its doors on 25th August 1930 as The New Victoria in the heart of Edinburgh's Southside. The opening night programme lists "Rookery Nook" as the grand premiere, with accompaniment from The New Victoria Symphony Orchestra. The new cinema showed 'screen snapshots, variety acts and Movietone news'.
Until it's closure in 2003 the New Victoria had been in use as a cinema and place of entertainment since its construction in 1930. Historical reports suggest it was one of the longest continuously-running 'supercinemas' constructed during an unprecedented period of cinema popularity.
The defining feature of the New Victoria was the 2058 capacity single screen Pompeiian auditorium. The small foyer led to a long, curving stalls lounge. The auditorium was classical Greek style, with figurines in niches lining the walls. A curving colonnade ran round the rear of the balcony,and several private boxes lined the rear of the stalls.
The original proscenium was flanked by 6 full-height pillars on each side. Full stage and dressing room facilities were provided for theatre companies. A replica of part of the original proscenium was created for Screen 1 during the extensive alterations to the cinema. This was sited directly in front of the original which remained hidden but intact.
CinemaScope was installed to the New Victoria in 1954, and the proscenium was widened and brought forward and the pillars hidden by curtains in 1958 to allow 'South Pacific' to be shown in 70mm. The auditorium was also modernised, and lights were fitted to the ceiling to create the effect of sitting out under a starry sky in 1960. The seating was reduced to around 1,784 in April 1964, the building was renamed the Odeon.
In 1974 the building was B-listed as, in the words of Historic Scotland, "An outstanding example of the work of the most famous British cinema specialists"
In 1982 the auditorium was sub-divided, with two new cinemas created in the original rear stalls area. The original balcony became Screen 1. Due to the listed status of the building, this was done in a reversible manner; with the original decoration retained. In 1989 two more screens were created - one on the stage and front stalls area; the other above this in space above the stage. The Cafe and Crush Hall spaces remain largely similar.
In 2003, Odeon sold the building (along with the Odeon Renfield Street in Glasgow) to a property developer. The cinema closed on 30th August 2003, with many of the staff transferring to the new miniplex Odeon that was opened on the site of the old ABC Lothian Road. At the time of closure there were 5 screens, seating 1: 639 (original circle), 2: 292 (left rear stalls), 3: 201 (right rear stalls), 4: 261 (stage and front stalls), 5: 107 (above 4 on stage)
In August 2004 the building was temporarily used as an Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue called Pod Deco - each of the screens was a separate stage used for comedy and drama. Temporary seating was used and in Screen 1 a lighting rig was suspended from the ceiling. Curtains hid the lack of screen. The building was again used as a festival venue until 2007, the last time it was open to the public.
Many of the beautiful original features are still intact and the potential to refurbish where possible and replace where not is immense. Below are some images of the cafe bar, and some of the intricate detail to be found around the cinema.
With many thanks to Gordon Barr and scottishcinemas.org.uk for this information and the use of photographs.