Some Listed Cinemas in Scotland

[A slightly adapted and updated version of an article first published in 2009 in the AHSS Magazine, this round up summarised the new and upgraded listings of cinemas in Scotland, due to a joint project between Historic Scotland and the CTA].

In 1999, the Cinema Theatre Association functioned as an adviser to English Heritage during its cinema survey.  When CTA Scotland was set up in 2006, one of our first acts was to meet with the listing team at Historic Scotland to introduce ourselves and suggest that a similar project should be carried out for Scotland’s cinemas, to better reflect the surviving stock of cinema buildings given the many losses of the last ten years or so. 

 

In June 2009, Scotland had 7 A-listed, 57 B-listed, and 23 C(s)-listed cinema buildings. One key output from the project has been a new free glossy Historic Scotland booklet entitled “Spotlight on Scotland’s Cinemas”. From their press release:
“Historic Scotland, working with the Cinema Theatre Association, has looked at how the outstanding buildings where audiences have basked in the glow of the silver screen have evolved and survived. Culture Minister Michael Russell said:  “Spotlight on Scotland’s Cinemas is the result of Historic Scotland’s survey of our country’s cinema building and from the number of people who contributed their knowledge and enthusiasm to the publication – not least the Cinema Theatre Association – it is clear that the pictures remain a wonderful part of our heritage and hold cherished memories for so many of us.” 
A full free PDF version of the new ‘Spotlight on Scotland’s Cinemas’ booklet can be downloaded here

Working with the Historic Scotland on this project proved to be an extremely rewarding and fun experience; the listing team were extremely interested and enthusiastic about the project, and we enjoyed engaging them in the ongoing debates and arguments for and against our listing proposals. 

New listings include: 

Savoy, Cambuslang 1929, John Fairweather. Newly listed at Category C(s). 

Cambuslang_savoyaerialshotjune

The Savoy Cinema was built in 1929 for a local company, probably primarily as a cinema, but with facilities for theatre use. The architect was John Fairweather, who was responsible for designing the two largest cinemas built in Britain, the Green’s Playhouses in Dundee and Glasgow. Fairweather’s influences were more neo-classical than art deco, and his cinema interiors, including the Cambuslang Savoy, usually had giant columns along the sidewalls. 
Historic Scotland’s Listed Building Description says: 
“The former Savoy Cinema is a good example of the work of John Fairweather, one of Scotland’s foremost cinema architects. Forming an important part of Cambuslang’s streetscape it is designed in Fairweather’s characteristic Classic Style. The street elevation appears largely unaltered [and] the interior remains relatively intact.” 
The listing of the Savoy is particularly interesting, as before the final official decision was made, a planning application was submitted to the local council to convert the building into a Wetherspoons pub. Normally, a live planning application such as this would have prevented listing going ahead, but in this case, it proceeded anyway, which sets an interesting and potentially useful precedent for the future. 

[As of early 2011, the building is still disused, as having closed as a bingo hall, two different planning applications for pub conversion were withdrawn before they could be determined]

Globe, Johnstone 1939, Lennox & McMath. Newly listed at Category C(s). 

4

Lennox & McMath specialised in cinema and petrol station design; their other cinemas included the New Bedford in Glasgow, and the George, Bellshill. In the 1930s, Johnstone was at the forefront of an ambitious plan to clear its town centre of slum housing, replacing it with sleek, modern buildings. The Globe had to comply with a requirement for the building to be set back ten feet from the existing building line, to allow the future widening of the High Street. It is worth noting that the builder employed to construct the cinema was Kenneth Friese-Greene of Sheffield. Friese-Greene, as well as a builder, was also a Cinema Equipment Specialist and amateur cinematographer, but most importantly, he was the son of William Friese-Greene, believed by many to have invented the moving picture camera in the late 19th century. 
Historic Scotland’s Listed Building Description says: 
“A good example of a small town 1930s streamlined Art Deco cinema. It is prominently sited on a corner position in the High Street, and importantly, its distinctive corner entrance with fins and chevron glazing pattern remains intact.” 

[In early 2011, the Globe remains open as a bingo hall]

Regal/Vogue, Lanark 1936, Lennox D. Patterson. New Category C(s) Listing. 

5

The Regal’s auditorium is a spectacular surprise with an excellent streamlined design. On either side of the proscenium the splay walls feature three U-shaped bands that become progressively longer as they step down. They are underlined by a longer horizontal band that is adorned with an incised chevron pattern that is repeated throughout the auditorium. All have built in lighting troughs which illuminate these features, creating a highly effective focus on the proscenium. The screen itself is behind two sets of curtains, the outer set having a festoon arrangement. There are two internally-illuminated clocks next to the front stalls exits, one of which is still in working condition.The balcony fronts retain their chrome plated railings that repeat the chevron pattern of the grills and the ceiling. 
Historic Scotland official Listed Building Description: 
“a good example of a provincial Art Deco cinema with a characterful horizontal geometric façade and some fine period detailing surviving to the interior.”

Pavilion, Bathgate 1920, John Fairweather. Newly listed at Category C(s). 

0

The Bathgate Pavilion opened in 1920, with a plain exterior. Inside, the ceiling is segmented, with plain panels outlined by detailed decorative plasterwork foliage. A series of ventilation ducts are placed down the central ceiling panels. The proscenium is tall and narrow, typical of its era, with straight sides, and a curved arch above. It is flanked by two further arches, each with carved decorative panels within. One wall features a series of windows covered by shutters. Windows were often a feature of earlier cinema auditoria, opened between performances to allow fresh air and daylight into the auditorium, and to save on electricity by providing light when the cleaners were in. 
Historic Scotland official Listed Building Description: 
“a good, largely unaltered, and rare example of post-World War I cinema design with good interior detailing. It is an early work by Fairweather for the Green chain and makes a strong contribution to the streetscape.” 

Riddrie, Cumbernauld Road, Glasgow 1938, James McKissack. Newly listed at Category B. 

7

Now the flagship hall for NB Bingo, the former Riddrie cinema is one of the best preserved 1930s suburban super-cinemas in Scotland. This was among McKissack’s best designs, and it seems no expense was spared in its construction for George Smith and James Welsh. As part of the planned Glasgow suburb development of Riddrie, this portion was developed under the direction of George Smith, Corporation Housing Convenor, who was also the director of several cinema companies. At this point in time, a modern cinema building was seen as a standard amenity for a planned community. The rounded, flowing curves of the exterior are edged in black, and the white faience tiles broken up with tall windows above the central entrance canopy. The auditorium still very much retains its original cinematic feel. On either side of the proscenium, columns run the full height of the auditorium, flanking the side exits, above which are set patterned recesses, with an oblong clock (still keeping the correct time!) above the left side exit. Outside, the cinema was flanked by an integral sweet shop, car park to the rear, and its own electricity substation, all designed as part of the same complex. Unusually, all are still extant, and pleasingly, the official name of the electrical substation remains ‘Riddrie Picture House’! 
Historic Scotland official Listed Building Description: 
“one of Scotland’s best preserved super-cinemas … an outstanding example of an Art Deco cinema and the impact of its unequivocal Art Deco lines on a prominent island site remains undiminished.” 

New Picture House, North Street, St. Andrews 1931, Gillespie & Scott. Newly listed at Category B. 

8

The New Picture House has a long, narrow auditorium, with a balcony and a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Designed by local architects Gillespie and Scott, the main auditorium is decorated with a series of paintings of the local area – including the cinema itself – and a cartouche embossed with the letters NPH (for New Picture House) crowns the proscenium. Numerous original decorative features remain intact in the building, including original doors and signage, and remnants of the original gas secondary lighting system (no longer used!). Listing was proposed on the grounds that it is a unusual cinema design with a theme based on the location of St Andrews; the interior features unique hand-painted panels depicting the local area, which are of immense value for this famous University town and tourist destination; it has an excellent picturesque street frontage with colonnade and Scottish-style crow-stepped gable; the cinema is in excellent condition with all its original features in place; the auditorium retains balcony and stalls seating; and this is not just the only purpose-built cinema remaining in St Andrews, but it is also the only cinema built by this St Andrews based architectural firm. 
Historic Scotland official Listed Building Description: 
“The New Picture House is a little-altered cinema in an unusual, and possibly unique, marriage of styles created to sit within a traditional St Andrews streetscape … The emphasis at the New Picture House is on distinct local identity and this is very rare in cinema design of the 1930s.”

Listing Upgrades – Category C to Category B 

Central, Leith 1920, Original architect – George Beattie & Sons, cinema alterations by unknown architect. Originally listed Cat. C(s) in 1977. Now Category B. 

9

The Central was built in 1894 as a Turkish baths, hence the Moorish influence on the facade. It opened as a cinema in December 1920, seating around 500 in stalls and a small balcony. It closed sometime before 1936, probably never having been converted for sound. Converted for church use in 1936, the building has retained that use ever since, with windows let into the side of the auditorium, and the projection room removed. The real interest in the building however is in its plaster screen, surrounded by a decorative proscenium, still amazingly intact and looking stunning today. Now owned by the Edinburgh-based Destiny Church, the interior of the building has been cleaned and repainted, with new seats fitted in the balcony, and they have instigated a series of popular film showings, digitally projected, but utilising the original plaster screen. The Central was C(s)-listed in 1977, without the interior having been seen.  Although it was not a cinema for very much of its life, the building is an example of one where the various changes of use and alterations – including those for cinema use – have added to the historic and architectural interest of the site. 
Historic Scotland official listing description: 
“a particularly interesting building with unusual detailing which has gone through a remarkable series of uses. It has impressive intricate plasterwork. The building contains a rare example of a plaster screen within the proscenium arch which dates from its previous use as a cinema.” 

Green’s Playhouse, Ayr John Fairweather, 1931. Originally listed Cat. C(s) in 1999. Now Category B. 

1

The Playhouse, Ayr is important as a rare intact survivor of a purpose-built cinema on the largest scale, featuring a similar interior decorative scheme to the now demolished Glasgow and Dundee Playhouses. The Ayr Playhouse opened on 8th July 1931, a replacement for an earlier Playhouse on the site, which had burnt down. At that time it was the second largest cinema in the country. The design is impressive; managing to fit 3,116 seats in a building with stalls and a single balcony – both the Glasgow and Edinburgh Playhouses achieved their massive capacities using two tiers of balconies. The stalls sat 1757, the balcony 1303, and boxes 56.
Looking at the plans, this was achieved by minimising the foyer spaces, squeezing the café into a mezzanine level under the balcony rake, and having the balcony extend backwards over the foyer spaces to the very front of the building. There is very little in the way of wasted space within this building. 
Historic Scotland official listing description: 
“The building is a prominent landmark, and retains many of its original interior architectural features. The auditorium in particular has fine original decoration, including characteristic large Corinthian columns separating the boxes to each side wall.” 

Listing Upgrades – Category B to Category A 

Playhouse, Edinburgh John Fairweather, 1929. Originally listed Cat. B in 1974. Now Category A. 

12

The Playhouse is the largest and most opulent cinema ever built in Scotland that still survives today in its original form. The only comparable cinemas with a larger seating capacity than it, the Playhouses in Dundee and Glasgow, have both been lost. The Edinburgh Playhouse is therefore the best surviving example of a cinema by John Fairweather; it is also the best surviving example in Scotland of the ‘super-cinema’, built when a combination of maximising the number of seats, and creating an expensive and pleasant experience for the patron was the most important factor in cinema design. Opening in the late 1920s, when variety shows were still part of the cinema experience, the Playhouse was designed from the beginning with a large stage and full-height fly tower; this has proved key to its survival and re-use as a theatre venue. The building has a unique design, making best use of its steeply sloping site, with a small low facade giving little indication of the scale of the auditorium concealed behind; the grand circle is entered from street level, with stairs down to the stalls and up to the gallery. 
Historic Scotland official listing description: 
“a significant and rare example of an early dual-purpose super theatre-cinema, constructed on a huge scale by the well-known cinema architect John Fairweather. Built as a venue which could accommodate both film and live performance, the building is particularly important for its opulent interior décor which remains substantially intact.” 

Hillhead Picture Salon, Glasgow Brand & Lithgow, 1913. Originally listed Cat. B in 1977. Now Category A. 

13

Opened in October 1913 as the Hillhead Picture Salon, this was one of the earliest suburban cinemas in Glasgow. The architects were Brand and Lithgow, who largely designed industrial and commercial buildings. Perhaps as a result of this, they were particularly keen in experimenting with concrete, due to its fire-resistant properties. The “Hennebique Ferroconcrete System”, was used in the construction of the cinema, the original plans showing the method being deployed in the roof, operator’s room, lavatories and gallery steppings. The roof is particularly interesting, as the concrete ribs are exposed in both the interior and exterior of the building, with the stunning decorative plasterwork applied directly to the concrete. The CTA strongly objected to plans in 2007 to punch skylights through this unique ceiling, which after a strongly worded – and successful – publicity campaign, were thankfully revised to remove the most damaging elements. The building is now a bar/restaurant,. 
Historic Scotland official listing description: 
“A rare very early cinema survival with fine interior plasterwork. One of only two cinemas known to have been constructed using the fire-proof Hennebique Ferroconcrete System, even its screen was simply made of cement, and the combination of this early exposed concrete structure with the remarkable decorative plasterwork makes the ceiling treatment and roof structure in particular very special.” 

Picture House, Campbeltown Albert V. Gardner, 1913. Originally listed Cat. B in 1989. Now Category A. 

14

“No longer prim but still determinedly pert and promenade-pretty; a priceless survivor. Designed by Albert V Gardner in 1912 – 1913, and renovated by him 1934-35, its importance as one of the earliest surviving cinemas can scarcely be overstated.” – F A Walker, The Buildings of Scotland – Argyll and Bute
This is a very early purpose built cinema, and (before the recent reopening of the Bo’Ness Hippodrome) the oldest in Scotland still showing films. Alterations made by the original architect in 1935 inserted fake plasterwork buildings into the auditorium, making the building one of only two remaining ‘atmospheric’ cinemas remaining in Scotland (the other being the Edinburgh Odeon/New Victoria). This style is also exceedingly rare within a UK-wide context. The auditorium remains undivided with stalls and balcony. While many cinemas have formulaic facades this one is a thoroughly planned composition, something even more unusual because of its early date. The first wave of purpose built cinemas often still strongly resembled theatres and it is particularly rare to find a building in which a distinctive architectural form is being developed for this new building type at this early date. The plan form is highly unusual, with the foyer plan based on a series of concentric ovals. The use of Art Nouveau for cinemas is extremely rare, and this may be the only example within the entire UK. 
Historic Scotland official listing description: 
“an important and rare example of an early purpose-built cinema, one of the earliest surviving purpose-built cinemas in the UK and also the only example in Scotland of this first wave of cinema building still in use as such. Stylistically, the building is highly distinctive with a strong streetscape presence. The exterior treatment is Glasgow School Art Nouveau. The use of this style, including the use of roughcast harl, is very uncommon in cinema design. Its interior is of equal significance. It retains elements of a 1935 ‘atmospheric’ refurbishment. These alterations show an important developmental step within cinema architecture by inserting atmospheric scenery into the auditorium.” 

For more information please get in touch: email us at info@ctascotland.org.uk

Gordon Barr & Gary Painter
CTA Scotland

About Gordon Barr

Old buildings fan, ex-scientist, software dev, old cinemas buff, occasional boffin & cow-wrangler. Too many books, too few bookshelves.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s