Glasgow’s Landmark Cinemas

Our friends at the Scottish Cinemas and Theatre Project have pulled together a guide to Glasgow's Landmark Cinemas.  From the World's Tallest to the city's oldest, read on to find out more! 

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Scottish Cinemas

08 May 2015
5 minute read

Glasgow has a selection of every kind of cinemas: the grandest, the largest, the tallest, the oldest, the most unique, the most luxurious...here are a just a few of the more notable Landmark Cinemas of our Cinema City.

The World’s Tallest Cinema - Cineworld, 7 Renfrew Street

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Image credit: Cineworld Cinemas

Opening on September 21, 2001 as the UGC, Glasgow's Cineworld has made a big impact on the city's cinema scene. At over 12 stories high, and with an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s Tallest Cinema, the UGC was also the UK's busiest cinema in terms of admissions in 2003 (over 1.8 million admissions in that year alone).

Cineworld's largest screen holds 663 - but add up the capacity of all 18 screens, and it can hold just over 4,300 people - oddly, almost as many as the Playhouse cinema that it replaced could seat in its single screen!

The Largest Cinema - Green's Playhouse, Renfrew Street/West Nile Street

Glasgow's Cineworld is itself a record-breaking cinema - but it sits on the exact site of one even more famous, even larger, and even grander in scale and scope - the legendary Green's Playhouse (later the Apollo).

Four years in the construction, designed by architect John Fairweather, the Playhouse opened with 4,368 cinema seats in a single auditorium over three levels. This was Britain's largest ever cinema, and also the biggest in Europe when it opened.

It's amazing to think that, at a time before the coming of sound on film, a small local family-run firm that owned just a handful of cinemas had the ambition and drive to build Europe's largest cinema.

But simply being a cinema wasn't enough for the Greens - the building, a true multi-purpose entertainment venue - also included tearooms, a double-height ballroom above that could hold nearly 3,000 people, plus - of all things - a putting green on the roof!

It's said that when the building was operating at full capacity, it could hold nearly 10,000 patrons in total.

The First Film Show - Regal/Cannon/MGM/ABC, 286 - 326 Sauchiehall Street

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Image credit: O2 ABC Glasgow

The 02 ABC music venue is contained within a venerable building, one of the central places of Glasgow entertainment that stretches back well over a century. Opening in 1875 as the Diorama, featuring painted canvases of historic events, then the Panorama in 1878, where the images were animated by having the canvases scroll, it became Hubner's Ice-Skating Palace in 1885. As one of the first buildings in the city to have electric lighting, it was the ideal site for Glasgow's first public cinematograph film showing, in May 1896. It was later converted to the Hippodrome, and featured a large circus ring complete with water tank underneath. As the home of Hengler's Circus, films were shown here regularly in the off-season, and after a short-lived incarnation as the Waldorf Dance Hall, it was re-built once again in 1929 as the Glasgow flagship of the ABC cinema chain - the aptly named Regal.

Despite the dramatic alterations over the years, some brickwork from the oldest part of the building - the brick circular Diorama - can be still seen on the Scott Street side of the building, where part of a curved brick archway sticks out from later additions.

The Art-house Cinema - Cosmo/Glasgow Film Theatre, 12 Rose Street

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Opening in May 1939, the Cosmo cinema was the first purpose-built 'art-house' cinema to open outside of London. Designed as the flagship for the Singleton chain (which also included the Kingsway, Mecca and Riddrie cinemas in Glasgow), this 850-seater was prolific cinema architect James McKissack's final design before his death.

While the exterior is little changed, inside it is quite different to how it would have been in 1939. What's now GFT Screen 1 was originally just the balcony of a single auditorium - with the stalls where Screens 2 and 3 are now.

The foyer was originally double-height, with twin staircases leading to the balcony. Payboxes were situated to both the left and right, between the two sets of entrance doors. A small kiosk was situated at the back of the foyer, which was panelled in walnut. A large globe, set above the main rear stalls entrance, reinforced the international nature of the films being shown. A large cloakroom and luxurious ladies powder room were also provided.

The cinema was advertised under the slogan 'Entertainment for the Discriminating', with the cartoon character of the bowler-hatted Mr Cosmo a familiar sight in newspaper advertisements of the time.

The Oldest Cinema - The Grosvenor, Ashton Lane

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Image credit: The Grosvenor Cinema

The Grosvenor in Ashton Lane is something of a survivor - it's now the oldest cinema in Glasgow that's still showing films, having first opened back in May 1921. It was originally entered from Byres Road - at that time, Ashton Lane was just a quiet backwater.

The long, narrow entrance led through from Byres Road to the rear of the auditorium, which had a series of boxes running along the back, and sat over 1300 people. There was also a cafe, and above the entrance, the novelty of an American-style soda fountain.

The Grosvenor closed for reconstruction works in 1980, and it was at this point that the entrance was moved round into Ashton Lane. Two new cinemas were constructed in the old stalls - named the Ashton and the Kelvin, while the old balcony was walled off and forgotten about. With the most recent reconstruction works in 2003, the building was reconfigured once more, with two smaller screens and a new bar downstairs, and another a huge bar, originally The Loft (now called the Grosvenor Cafe) upstairs, allowing an excellent view of the original Grosvenor cinema ceiling, which is remarkably still intact after all these years. The size of this gives a good idea of the scale of the original cinema auditorium, albeit divided in half horizontally, at roughly the height of the original balcony. The entrance doors to the new upstairs bar are exactly where the top of the screen once was, and what thousands of young children, attending the Saturday ABC Minors club film shows would have watched cowboys, aliens and other weekly serials.

Want to know more? The Scottish Cinemas and Theatre Project have lots of info on what they do and even more about the city's cinemas.

Find out out what's on at Glasgow's cinemas.

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