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From the Folkestone Herald Published 9 March 2000

 

Odeon secret.

BRIAN Swoffer, of Wear Bay Crescent, Folkestone, was particularly interested in the recent reference in Memories to the building of the town’s super cinema, the Astoria - later re-named the Odeon - and said he thought the proprietor was Maestrani Ronco, who he understood was also the town’s Italian Consul.

There were many local Italian caterers in those days, he recalled - Rossi, Cozzi, Grilli, /Ferrari (?) and Geronimo, to name a few.

When the Herald photograph of around 1909 was taken Carlo Maestrani’s name appeared in large letters above Maestrani’s Central Cafe Restaurant.

Cinema Girders

HUGE: The men sat on the top give some idea of the massive girders that were used to build Folkestone’s first ‘super cinema’ the Astoria - later, of course, re-named the Odeon, on the site of which Boots stands today. This picture was shown to me by local historian Alan Taylor after we published an Otto staff picture recently. The iron beam spanned the building, supporting the circle. The picture was taken in Oxford Terrace behind the cinema. Years ago I was shown a copy of the Montgomery picture, top right, which had been recovered from a local tip. I think it was probably a ‘still’ picture for cinema publicity when a “Desert Rats” film was showing.

 

But by the time the cinema was built Mr G. F. Ronco was the restaurant proprietor according to the book Picture Palaces Remembered, by John Roy and Tony Thompson, published in The Kellys street directory of 1938 gave the Italian Consul as Eugenio F. Ronco, so perhaps the writers got the first initial wrong.

Incidentally on one occasion during the War the military took over the Astoria (which by then had become the Odeon) so that Desert Rats hero General Bernard Montgomery could speak to the officers under his command in the eastern district about the North Africa campaign ahead, amid very tight security.

As Mr Swoffer points out the restaurant boss was very useful to the Astoria company as not only was he able to provide the site for the cinema but he also held a licence to sell drinks which he was able to pass on to the new company.

In those days, he says, it was quite difficult to obtain a new licence.

"A lot of local people, including my father, bought shares in the company.

“The Odeon group were very helpful in the design of the cinema - and were very pleased with the result, as it was similar to their own new cinemas.

 

Closed shop!

“What they did not tell the Astoria company, however, was that unless they belonged to a big group they were unable to obtain the best films, the distribution of which was like a closed shop!

‘As the Astoria could not get the films the Odeon “generously” said ‘we will take you over!’ - And obtained a cinema of their own design for a knockdown price.

“But Astoria shareholders did not make a profit out of the deal - they may even have made a loss.

“The only ‘dividend’ that my father got out of the deal was that on a Saturday morning before the cinema opened he was allowed to sit on the mighty 2,500 Compton organ as it rose up out of the pit!!’’

In Picture Palaces Remembered the authors, the late John Roy and Tony Thompson state that the architect/designer was Edward A Stone, well known for his four London Astoria cinema designs, particularly that at Finsbury Park, and he joined the board of Astoria (Folkestone) Ltd. The managing director and main driving force was Major C.H. Bell, the consulting engineer.

The building cost 55,000, exclusive of site, and the total cost was given as 100,000, quite a tidy sum before the War. And, would you credit it today, the cinema once provided work for up to 43 people! And they were long hours too.

The fire safety screen was said to weigh 6.5 tons! And there was an air conditioning system with complete air changes every 10 minutes.

There was a capacity audience, filling 1666 seats for the grand opening night on April 20, 1935 the film being The Gay Divorce, starring that legendary pair Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The film was preceded by a musical programme presented by Jan Godowsky and his orchestra and Leslie Holman at the Compton organ. In addition there was British Movietone News and the Gaumont British Magazine. The event was billed as the greatest show in Folkestone s history.

By June 1936 the fast-growing County Cinemas Ltd had become the owners and according to John Roy and Tony Thompson the Astoria enjoyed good business.

In 1939 County Cinemas merged with Oscar Deutsch’s circuit of cinemas and in June 1940 the Astoria - “The Cinema Supreme” - became the Odeon.

The organ was later sold and is reputedly in Holland. I understand there was also an electronic Hammond Lafleur organ for music and dancing in the cinema’s restaurant/cafe.

 

Montgomery

Montgomery surveys the battle scene from his tank at El Alamein months after speaking to army officers in the Odeon about the coming North Africa campaign.

 

1900

Council out of touch in debate over tramway?

ONE LOCAL editor wrote a strong JL9 V V editorial In favour of the round-the-coast tramway plan which he understood had been accepted by most local councils concerned, Including Hythe, but not Folkestone or Dover and suggested the Town Council was out of touch with the feeling of the people who seemed mostly to be In favour of the scheme. He also wrote that fears a tramway would reduce the value of property to the West End of town were groundless. The Borough Surveyor had produced plans of routes proposed for a town service which, by a rough estimate, would cost 40,000, not including tramcars, a statement met with laughter at a Town Council meeting. The cost was put at 6,000 a mile. Ladysmith and Kimberley may have been relieved and Boer republic capitals captured but the guerrilla fighting of the Boer War went on. Folkestone had its own war correspondent in South Africa, Mr A.G. Ullyett, a telegraphist Who sent a number of reports and smuggled out a journalist's dispatch hidden in his socks when Colesberg, where he worked, was overrun by the Boers, but he escaped. Black Watch soldier, Dick Castle, from the Bayle, had Just been wounded.

 

1925

Council presses railway for a safer East Cliff crossing.

THE TOWN Council decided to press the Railway company again for wicket gates at the railway crossing at East Cliff after it was pointed out there were gates at Folly Road. Turning to the 70,000 Leas Band Pavilion plan (about which there was soon to be a public meeting) and the plan for a bandstand at Marine Gardens, there was much debate. Alderman Reg Wood said the Council was 50-50 about the scheme, Cllr Broome Giles said the Ratepayers Association were not unanimous, but voted 7-4 In favour. An exasperated Mayor, Alderman E Bishop, commented "It Is always the same. When a scheme gets near to going ahead It is torpedoed.” The same thing had been going on In the Council for 40 years, he complained. After Capt J Barfoot’s move to postpone a decision was defeated 8-7 the Mayor said the band pavilion Issued had been debated 25 years, they obtained powers to build In 1920 and, for the past five years it had been the burning question of the day. Many jobs were being provided locally by a scheme to put telephone wires underground instead of overhead on poles. Thousands of pipes lined many main roads, one of the lines of cable going from the Foord valley up to Selsted and Swingfield on its way to link up with Canterbury.

 

1950

Boost for town as it is made swim race base.

FOLKESTONE was chosen as the base for a cross-Channel swimming race in August organised by the Daily Mall, while other towns would be able to provide training facilities, ft was announced. There was to be a 1,000 prize each for the first man and the first woman to reach Dover beach and 250 for every other swimmer to complete the swim. In the event of no one completing the course the best effort would win the swimmer 500. The old Folkestone Gazette published disturbing pictures of more coastal damage caused by winter storms at Sandgate Castle where part of the outer wall and a section of a bastion collapsed onto the seashore. Two members of Flushing shopkeepers’ association joined other guests at the annual dinner of Folkestone Chamber of Trade at the old Wampach Hotel, when the unique ties between Folkestone and the Dutch port were cemented. The direct link between an English resort and Holland was then unique. The hopes were that there would be more ‘exchange’ visits between holidaymakers and business people of the two ports. One of the oldest voters locally in the general election was 93-year-old Richard Carswell, who lived at Elham where he was born. He was pictured in the Herald’s midweek paper, the Gazette, walking to the polling station.

 

1975

Red tape blamed for hold up in housing homeless.

A SLASHING attack on red tape which had delayed a major council housing scheme In Shepway was launched by a group of councillors and the same week Shelter, working to help the homeless, said the district's housing situation was so bad It planned a crisis meeting in Folkestone. The housing site In question was the former School of Infantry site off Military Road, Hythe, owned by the council since 1971. There 40 homes, 20 old people’s fiats and 10 two-person flats were planned and KCC approval had been given, but it was claimed local councillors were haggling over a change in roof levels. The merger of two removal firms marked the end of an era for Hythe - and for one of its best known families - when brothers Reg and Len Newman announced their retirement from the family business of Newman & Sons (Hythe) Ltd. They joined their father’s business as young men and stayed. The business was founded by Charles James Newman around 1905. He sold oil from house to house, and progressed to a horse and cart. Reg and Len helped expand the business of general haulage, passenger transport, with buses and taxis, and, later, furniture removals and storage. Reg was a Hythe councillor 22 years and three times mayor. Local ambulance staff moved Into 110,000 new headquarters at Church Road, Cheriton, a far cry from their.

 

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