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James McKissack - Cinema Architect
by Tom Widdows

0. Introduction
1. Early Works
2. The First Cinemas
3. The Search for Style: Cinemas of the 1920s
4. Art Deco and Jazz Moderne
5. Streamlining in the latter 1930s
6. New Design Directions: the Aldwych and Cosmo
7. Conclusion

Kingsway, Glasgow. 1929.

The Early Works of John McKissack and Son

James McKissack was born in Glasgow in 1875, the son of John McKissack, a successful architect in the city. At that time McKissack Senior had recently formed a partnership with William G. Rowan and this was to continue 1890.

John McKissack, born in 1844, was noted for his church designs, in particular Girvan Parish Church, Clydebank United Free Church and another in Tarbert, Loch Fyne. Many other churches designed before 1890 are attributed to him, but were probably actually the work of his partner, Rowan. These include churches in Pollokshields, Paisley, Queen’s Park, Govanhill and Swinton Road, Glasgow. By 1890 when the partnership was dissolved, James McKissack was already working for his father as an apprentice, having joined the firm in 1889 at the age of 14. He was to continue in this role until John McKissack’s death in August 1915 at the age of 71.

Having commenced his career under his father’s tutelage, James McKissack would have spent a lot of time copying and working up his designs, for then, as now, drawing was a vital professional skill for the architects, designers and artists. Consequently, in 1890 the McKissack attended drawing classes at Glasgow School of Art. There, staff and students had a keen awareness of the need to educate first-rate designers for what was the ‘Second City of the British Empire’. Drawing at this time was instilled as a professional language requiring great precision on the part of the draftsman.  The following year McKissack attended the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College to study Architectural and Building Construction under Professor Gomlay A.R.I.B.A.

As McKissack Senior was a successful architect, he could afford to send his son to Europe to study and so in 1891 the young James McKissack travelled in Italy and France. As essential parts of an architect’s training included sketching details of architectural construction and classical façade composition, it can be assumed that McKissack filled many sketch books with studies of the buildings he saw. In 1900, at the age of 25, he commenced practice in Glasgow, in partnership with his father. He clearly had aptitude, but was also fortunate to be able to work in the family firm at such a young age.

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