The Bradford Live team have paid repeated visits to the Odeon over the past weeks, studying the building in detail in preparation for the final stage 3 submission later this Autumn. It is a fascinating but challenging task. There are, in fact, two buildings: the 1930 original, and the 1969 Rank one, which was built inside the first. The builders of the second had little interest in the first: decoration was stripped, floors cut into, other period features ignored. The end result is a battlefield; as if the two buildings had gone to war. It makes the task of disentangling the two demanding but endlessly fascinating.
A structural concern was whether the 1969 builders had cut into the core structure of the 1930 building. If they had, then taking out the cinemas and bingo hall would have weakened the entire structure, and imposed expensive remedial works. Thankfully, it soon became clear that instead, the 1969 structure (which comprises some massive steel beams) had simply been bolted on the 1930 steel frame, such was the original’s strength.
The second key structural issue was the state of the steelwork in the two domes. Some years ago, this had used by some as a reason for demolishing the entire building, such was the cost, it was said, of repairing this damage. For sure, the ring beam at the base of the dome is badly corroded; however, it isn’t the critical structural element that many had assumed: the weight of each dome is supported instead by a vertical steel beam, meaning that the ring beam itself does not have to ‘hold in’ the weight of each dome, as would be the case with a ‘true’ dome. In short, this means that repairs can be done more quickly, and less expensively, than had previously been thought. The dome repair works are due to start within the next few weeks, paid for by the HCA ‘dowry’ agreed with Bradford Council.
These funds are also paying for a general ‘strip out’ of rubbish and some non-structural parts over the past few weeks. This is gradually revealing some wonderful detail, including most of the original ballroom ceiling. Just as important, it is starting to open up the spaces; giving tantalising glimpses of just how big the original auditorium was. Only when the cinemas and bingo hall are stripped out, however, will that space be properly revealed, and that is a specialist demolition task. Until that time comes, the team are working within a building in a building, but our plans are nevertheless taking shape, and we will show them later this Autumn.
For now, our brief is simple: continue to work hard to understand this fascinating structure, and how it can be reworked to accommodate a modern live music and entertainment venue. Bradford Live continues negotiations with the commercial operator and funding partners.
There are no guarantees; and risk, on such a large project, can never be totally eliminated. But the more work we do, the more we understand the building, and the more we can reduce that range of risk. Our job is to ensure that, at the end of this stage 3 period, the Council has enough information to make an informed decision. Let us all hope that that decision is to give the green light to the project; that the work done by all of the campaigning groups, with the support of so many Bradfordians, is in the end richly rewarded, and that Bradford and its people get a venue of which they can be justly proud.