|Information and interior photographs courtesy of Murray Thomson and Sam Hayward.
Many thanks to George Pollock of Arcade Developments for access to the building.
The Stirling Alhambra Theatre was designed by John McLean and opened as the Arcade Theatre in 1882. It formed part of a larger complex built between 1879 and 1882 for William Crawford, a local China Merchant, encompassing a shopping arcade and the Douglas Hotel. The Arcade remains open to this day and bears the name Crawford Arcade.
The theatre was used for Variety shows for the first 50 years of its life, changing its name to the Stirling Alhambra Theatre in 1912. During this time it played host to many of the best acts on the circuit including Sir Harry Lauder and was the resident theatre of the Val Gurney Dramatic Company for a time.
The Alhambra was converted to a full time Cinema in 1931 by the Stirling Alhambra (1930) Limited who were based at 2 Dumbarton Road, Stirling. The plans were lodged with the Council on the 8th of October that year and involved removal of the stalls foyer to increase the stalls capacity to 505 and the construction of a projection box and winding room to the rear of the building on tall brick supports, accessed by an external iron staircase.
The projection box was to be just 3.6m wide by 2.4m deep and the winding room 1m wide by 1.4m deep. Both were 2.4m high. The external staircase would also give access to a generator room, which was to replace a set of toilets.
There were alternative plans lodged for an internal box but these were not required. The landowner of the ground to the rear of the Alhambra, baker James Miller, lodged an objection to the external projection box as he had not come to an agreement with the company regarding use of his land. This was withdrawn on the 12th of October following an agreement with Mr Muirhead, a Director of the company.
The Alhambra Cinema was managed by Mr WP Young and ownership passed to Stirling Cinema and Variety Theatres Limited in 1932. Its life as a cinema was short lived and it closed in 1939, due to the outbreak of war and the emergence of more modern cinemas in the town centre, including the Regal, which had 2,200 seats and lay just 2 minutes walk away.
In 1963 local department store Menzies converted the Alhambra for retail use. The staircase at the rear of the stalls was removed and the auditorium converted into the furniture department. The balcony terracing was altered from eight to three levels at the rear and used to display furniture, with the sides being flattened and used as a gallery. The Cinema’s lavish ceiling was also removed at this point.
The external staircase was removed and a new door located at the front of the projection box, opening directly onto the balcony. The box was used for French polishing and the winding room converted into a store. The generator was removed and once again converted to a toilet. The front of the stage was used as a display area with the rear used as a ladies wear store on the ground floor and an upholstery store at balcony level. The dressing rooms had by now been sealed off from the rest of the building.
Later Menzies created a floor between the balcony sides to convert the main auditorium into 2 levels with stairs down from the new floor to the stage level. Menzies’ retail empire shrunk towards the end of the century and the former Alhambra was returned to the Arcade owners. It is now used by both the Arcade Management and several of the shops as a storage area, although new potential uses are being investigated.
Now empty above shops. The Arcade - including the Alhambra - is Category B-listed.
An archive photo can be seen here courtesy of Stewart Donaldson.
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