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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.

Streamlining in the latter 1930s

A transitional style is seen in the Embassy (1936) in Shawlands on Glasgow’s South Side which retained the twin-towered look of the earlier Commodore and Dundee Vogue, but carried the façade detailing round the building’s side walls.

This commodious 1,638-seat cinema was built for the Harry Winocour Circuit – one of Glasgow’s smaller cinema firms, but sold thereafter to Glasgow Photo Playhouse, the owner of La Scala.

Ironically, with the money he made from the Odeon deal, Singleton was able to build many more super cinemas. This later batch included some of McKissack’s finest designs and each attempted to incorporate the bulk of its auditorium into a single, coherent architectural statement.

Perhaps the effect of work by Mendelsohn in Germany and Frank Lloyd Wright in the United States was at last being felt in Scotland. If so, it most likely filtered through to architects such as McKissack via projects by Thomas Tait, Basil Spence and the group of architects later associated with Tait and the 1938 Empire Exhibition (Tait, of course, was the assessor of the De La Warr Pavilion competition). Moreover, McKissack would have been well aware of new developments in cinema architecture elsewhere in Britain – such as Dreamland in Margate (1934) by Leathart and Granger and the many fine cinemas designed by assistants of Harry Weedon for Odeon. These were published in a glossy and fulsomely-illustrated monthly magazine called Cinema and Theatre Construction, to which anybody involved in cinema design in the 1930s would surely have subscribed.

Thus, Singleton’s Vogue in Govan (1937) stood on a corner with a curving cream frontage in fluted tiles carried to full height and screening the mass of the auditorium, which was otherwise shielded from view by surrounding tenements. The Riddrie (1938) for Smith and Welsh was located in the municipal suburb of that name and developed the concept of differing volumes, arranged in proportion and building up to the centrally-placed name sign.

Vogue - Exterior

Vogue - Interior

Riddrie - Exterior

Riddrie - Interior

These were large cinemas with 2,500 and 1,750 seats respectively. Within, they had compact front-of-house spaces and spacious auditoria, the design of which emphasised the side exit doors and the proscenium arches. At Govan, the entire front section, ceiling, splay walls and curtain, was covered in silver paint and illuminated by a continuous lighting trough, whilst Riddrie featured closely-grouped columns with recessed decorative panels above the side exit doors. Each interior made effective use of concealed lighting.

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