When McKissack died, on 24th June 1940, Britain was again at war and,
by its end, society had changed radically. Even so, the cinema remained
popular - for a time.
Whilst the aim of any architect is to design buildings that stand the
test of time, also appealing to current fashion, they have also to
recognise that unless these buildings are outstanding and exhibit
strong, recognisable traits of the period in which they are built, most
of them will eventually disappear. McKissack’s cinema designs,
which so accurately reflected the popular modernity of the 1930s are no
exception - indeed it is remarkable that any of them still exist today.
At the time of McKissack’s death in 1940, cinema was, perhaps,
the most popular form of entertainment for the majority of people. For
the generations who had grown up between World War 1 and World War 2 a
visit to the cinema had been an escape from unemployment, poverty, bad
housing and the general drabness of their existence. Cinemas were
‘a haven of comfort, where you could come in out of the cold, be
entertained, have a sleep, have a cuddle, and four hours later be only
a few pence worse off’.
Thus the colourful, decorated and illuminated fascias and the lavish
interior designs were an important part of the cinema- going
experience; but just as the admission price was cheap, the materials
used to achieve the effects were also inexpensive and ephemeral and
would inevitably become decay over time.
The ephemeral nature of the materials used to build and decorate many
cinema buildings, only intended to last for a fairly short period,
meant that by the 1950s and 1960s, the buildings would have required
extensive refurbishment which would not have been cost-effective, so it
is hardly surprising that many were demolished, especially as they
occupied land which had considerable value for other building projects.
However some were to survive and their salvation was Bingo.
As Cinema declined as a popular entertainment, reform of gaming laws
meant that bingo flourished, and is still popular today, although
converted cinemas have largely been replaced by new premises. Of
McKissack’s designs, the New Tivoli
in Edinburgh, the Riddrie
in Glasgow and the Vogue
in Rutherglen are still bingo halls and in good condition. The La Scala
in Hamilton and the Mecca
in Possilpark in Glasgow are derelict and likely to be demolished.
[In 2006, the New Tivoli
is currently derelict, the La Scala is due for demolition but the
facade will be retained, and the Mecca has been turned into shops]
Today only one of McKissack’s designs is still a cinema. The Cosmo, now the Glasgow Film Theatre
is perhaps the finest work of his firm, and while substantially altered
to accommodate two screens, it remains a well-constructed, dignified
and comfortable haven in which to enjoy the magic of cinema.