Katya Knyazeva (avezink) wrote,
Katya Knyazeva
avezink

An ode to Odeon (1925–1932)



"This is decidedly the largest, most up-to-date and most beautiful cinema in the Orient." (NCDN, 25 September 1925)

"Odeon is Shanghai's newest picture thetare and it certainly should prove to be very popular because neither expense not effort has been spared to make it one of the most handsome structures in the Far East. The Odeon has a seating capacity of 1,500. Although primarily for the exhibition of motion pictures, theatrical entertainments will be given." (Shanghai Times, Sunday Edition, 4 October 1925)

"Most grand and up-to-date motion picture palace in Shanghai. Latest ventilating systems. Most comfortable seating accommodations. Fire-proof building. Spacious and attractive rendezvous. Only the very best pictures will be shown. Excellent facilities for effective advertisements. Centralized location – in proximity to corner of Jukong and North Szechuen Roads." (North-China-Daily News, 3 June 1925)

The Odeon 奧迪安大戏院 was at 1078 N. Szechuan Road (later 41 North Szechuen Road), west side, on the corner of Jukong Road 蚯江路 and across the street from the Isis Theatre. The main entrance at North Szechuen Road led to a "tastefully decorated vestibule" connected to the main hall in the back. All the seats had good uninterrupted view of the screen, and there were convenient hat racks under the seats. More than a half of all seats were on the ground floor, and the rest were on the balcony. The projection equipment was of Simplex brand.



[See more images and read the rest of the story...]

The building contractor was Wong Kor Sung. For some reason, the press did not name the architect, but remarked on the pleasing interior design, with its "light buff and green contrasts". Another article specified that the interior was tinted in the "season's popular cuckoo shade, relieved with apple green."

The orchestra pit was "roomy and well-equipped", for music was "an important part of Odeon's entertainment program". Eight dressing rooms, showers and bathrooms were provided behind the stage. During the intermissions, the patrons could enjoy "comfortable lounge rooms", with a candy booth and bar rooms with refreshments. Some fifty fans cooled the space in the summer; steam heating was engaged in winter. The fire-proofing was very sophisticated, from the use of special materials to multiple fire exits and built-in hydrants.

The opening night, on a Friday October 9, 1925, was crowded, with patrons flocking to see Mary Pickford in a "spirited romance" Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924). In the following years, the Odeon Amusements Ltd. expanded, building Broadway, Central and Strand theatres, with the first designed by Brandt & Rogers and the latter two by Elliott Hazzard.





In the last days of January 1932, the Odeon was destroyed, "having been set afire with kerosene by Japanese bluejackets seeking to smoke out Chinese snipers," as the American journalists phrased it. The famous fire-proofing did not protect the building very much. The last picture to have played at the Odeon was the Hollywood movie The Cheat (1931), with Tallulah Bankhead. Only the front facade was left of Odeon. Yet by all accounts, the neighborhood around it suffered a lot worse: "if you describe Odeon as a ruin, a new word must be invented to describe what's left of Chapei." By the end of the year, the remains of the building were demolished and the neighborhood was being rebuilt.

When they were extinguishing the fires around the gutted Odeon, the firefighters of the Chapei Fire Brigade spotted a dog high up on the ledge of the theatre. The dog was sitting "like a statue", and because bamboo ladders could not reach it, the firefighters asked for a permission to return several hours later, with a longer ladder. Having rescued the "emaciated and nervous" dog, the team gave it the name Chapei. The "wistful-eyed and intelligent-faced" mongrel became a mascot of the Fire Brigade. He grew so attached to the team that he kept trying to ride in fire wagons with them. After two happy years at the new home, an ear infection killed Chapei, and the obituary for him appeared in the local newspapers.




Tags: architecture, cinema, hongkou, japanese occupation, theatre, war, 虹口区
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