A view inside the St Albans Odyssey project

An old Odeon sign above a doorway

An old Odeon sign above a doorway - Credit: Archant

To the uneducated eye the Odyssey Cinema looks nothing more than another building in the midst of renovation work, draped in scaffolding.

But if you are given the chance to whack on a hardhat and peer inside, as the Herts Advertiser was on Friday, you will see the remains of a once-loved, fallen picture house being carefully brought back to life.

The ageing venue could have gone down the route of many other forgotten gems and disappeared into obscurity, but luckily a saviour stepped in to revive the fading piece of St Albans’ history.

James Hannaway is no stranger to rejuvenating old buildings – he famously thrust the Rex in Berkhamstead back into the spotlight and returned it to a popular attraction – and now he has cast his eye to the Odyssey.

After years of raising money and finalising planning permissions, work to raise the glamorous entertainment complex from the dead is well underway after Procare Building Services descended on the London Road site back in August.

A team of around 30 have been toiling away to transform the former Odeon in time for next summer and last week we watched them finish off sealing the roof and reinforcing the ceiling joists, which signalled yet another integral phase under the builder’s belt.

Although the new venue is slowly taking shape it is currently poised between the past and the present, and nods to a bygone era still litter its eaves and the aisles. Site manager JJ Madden has uncovered various old programmes and items frozen in time, still bearing the names of films once shown at the cinema.

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As we walked around the premises, various original details lit up the building site such as a bronzed wrought-iron banister ending in a curly flourish, which led from the foyer down to the lofty auditorium.

When taking the steps down to the huge screening room, that once held 1,700, it was hard not to imagine the cinema’s previous patrons on the same journey, clutching the rail with anticipation over the movie they were about to see.

And it is this sort of excitement the Odyssey team are endeavouring to bring back with dramatic stylised art-deco features and a traditional cinema experience with a single screen.

The downstairs will be fitted with cabaret-style tables and chairs, a “schmoozy” foyer with a luxe bar, and cinema seats with vast stretches of leg room.

CEO of the Odyssey Mr Hannaway said: “It will be a civilised and fabulous place to go, where you can wear your best clothes.”

Not wishing to mask the cinema’s previous golden age, he explained that they planned to keep the décor as close to its original era as they could: “We are going to use whatever is left in the building that we can rescue. We found some places where lighting had been installed and it must have made a really spectacular effect.”

He said of the work carried out so far: “It’s brilliant, I’m very happy. It’s been very slow up to this point.”

A moment of realisation for the film stalwart was seeing the roof completely cleared, after unruly trees, wildlife and pigeons had taken over during the 20 years it was deserted: “To see it cleared was fantastic. Other events have been equally as spectacular, like the scaffolding going up.”

The opening is earmarked for next summer and a string of events are already in the pipeline to welcome the city’s cinephiles: “We’re going to have an opening week, as there are so many people to invite, such as the people on the ground that have helped us. It’s going to be an extraordinary week and each night will be very special.”

For more photos of our exclusive tour behind the scenes at The Odyssey, see our online gallery at www.hertsad.co.uk The Odyssey team are still looking for funding and a number of sponsored seats are available. For details contact Jill Taylor at jill.leslie1@btopenworld.com