A former theatre turned cinema in the West End has been saved from conversion into a hotel after Camden council rejected an appeal from the developer.
What is today the Odeon Covent Garden was originally opened in 1931 as the Saville Theatre and is particularly notable for the stone frieze that runs around the building and the grand arched entrance decoration sitting in s solid wall of rusticated brickwork.
The frieze by Gilbert Bayes depicts Drama through the Ages, and is considered to be one of the most important works of art of this type of that era.
Although opened in the 1930s as a theatre, in 1965, Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles leased it to put on both plays and music concerts — some of which were rather notorious. After Epstein’s death the theatre was sold to ABC and converted into two cinemas, and in 2001, was taken over by Odeon and is now a four-screen venue.
Although the developer didn’t plan to demolish the Grade II listed building, they did plan to gut the interior — most of which is admittedly fairly modern — and add more floors to the top, effectively turning the frontage into just a facade in front of their hotel.
Although there are limited historical survivors inside the building now, and the frontage would have been preserved, the addition of three glass-clad floors above the sombre brick frontage would have looked, frankly, quite ghastly.
And that was an improvement on their original plans for 9 floors to be added.
Planning requests in 2017 and 2018 were refused in 2019 and the developer filed an appeal, which was then subject to an inquiry.
That appeal was rejected by Camden Council yesterday.
Most of the reasons for refusal are to do with the external effects of the conversion, and only one relates to the function of the building as an entertainment venue. The offer of small replacement cinemas in the basement was clearly not acceptable.
The planning permission refusal won’t stop the cinema from being converted into something else one day, but whatever it will be, it’ll almost certainly have to be a cultural venue.
One upside of the whole process has been more detailed investigations of the interior, and while what you see now is modern, the Theatres Trust discovered that some of the original theatre’s fixtures had survived behind the modern cladding and inserted walls.
Maybe one day it’ll be turned back into a grand venue, with a restored interior that once more reflects the impressive exterior.