Keith Street, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, ML3 7BL
Architect: James McKissack Listing: B-Listed (1979) No of Seats: 1,297
Status: Building at Risk Opened: 1921 Closed: 1960
Other information: Opened 3.21 by T. Ormiston. Arch. J. McKissack. s. 1,297. Sold to Gaumont, 3.28. Renamed Gaumont, 10.4.50. Cl. 5.11.60. Vogue Bingo until 1997. Due for demolition, though facade to be kept. Extant, 7.02. B-listed
The La Scala cinema, in Keith Street, Hamilton, opened in 1921, to the designs of architect James McKissack – also designer of the La Scala, Sauchiehall Street (1912), the Kingsway (1929) in Cathcart, the Riddrie (1938), the Mecca (1933), and many more. It was originally opened for the small circuit of around a dozen Scottish cinemas run by Thomas Ormiston.
The Ormiston cinemas were sold to Gaumont in 1928, but the Hamilton La Scala was not given the circuit name until 1950. Closure as a cinema came only ten years later, which seems inevitable given the cinema’s very close proximity to the much more modern ABC and Odeon halls in Hamilton, opened in 1931 and 1938 respectively.
Following the end of films, the La Scala was converted for bingo use as the Vogue. It continued on bingo for some time, being B-listed by Historic Scotland as far back as 1979, before finally closing in 1997.
It has been derelict since then, and after a period of uncertainty, is now owned by South Lanarkshire Council. In 2005, planning permission was granted for a developer which involved demolition of the auditorium area for restaurant and leisure use, although the façade will be retained. It should be noted, however, that similar plans involving the demolition of the auditorium and retention of the façade were approved in 1999 and 2001, neither of which came to fruition.
In the meantime, 8 years of dereliction has not been kind to the structure, and water damage from both burst pipes and ceiling leaks have resulted in failure of both floors and ceilings, mostly in the foyer and rear stalls area. Work to strip out asbestos has also resulted in the loss of most of the auditorium wall covering, and the ceiling between the barrel-vaulted ribs.
The exterior includes an unusual feature of two tall, free-standing poster boards, on either side of a recessed portico entranceway. This is flanked by tall Egyptian-style pillars, decorated with pattern of overlapping scales, similar to those McKissack had utilised for the entrance of his (unrelated) La Scala in Glasgow 9 years previously.
Marble stairs, now sadly fragmentary, led from the street to a central exterior paybox, situated in the middle of the recessed portion of the facade, with doors on either side leading to the main foyer regions. The bright, faience finish of the portico area of the façade was contrasted by the pair of red brick towers at either corner. These were topped by open wooden “bell towers”, which were themselves capped with pyramid-shaped roofs, joined along the top of the full width of the façade with open balustrades and a central stone name panel.
The exterior paybox looking directly onto the street was something McKissack would return to for another project with limited foyer space, namely the 1929 Kingsway. Other similarities with this later cinema include the foyer spaces being wider than they are deep, and featuring high, tapering ceilings.
In addition, both cinemas did not have upper foyer areas – instead, narrow stairs on each side of the building led directly to the front balcony, then continued up to the rear balcony. The balcony itself extends back and the main foyer is directly below it. The auditorium, however, bore little resemblance to the Kingsway, apart from the proscenium opening, to which we shall return shortly.
The La Scala featured a long, narrow auditorium, with straight sidewalls and a single, straight-fronted balcony. The ceiling was a fairly plain, barrel-vaulted affair, with plaster ribs joining the pilasters on the sidewalls at each side. Above the balcony, the ceiling adopted a shallower curve.
There were few decorative features on either the sidewalls or ceiling, bar some simple capitals at the top of the sidewall pilasters, and small, geometric ventilation grilles along the centre of the ceiling. These grilles also featured on the underside of the balcony, in the rear stalls area. These particular grilles were situated in three square, coffered recesses on the ceiling under the balcony, which were also lined with decorative cornicing. Similar cornicing adorned most of the junction between wall and ceiling in the rear stalls area.
The stairway on the front left hand side of the balcony was a later addition for bingo, but was done in a very sympathetic manner, continuing the decoration and curve of the original balcony front.
The proscenium was a prototype of a design McKissack was to reuse in several different locations in later designs – a thickly bordered arch with flat sides, curving over at the top. In most of his later examples, the border area was ribbed, but here it was plain. Instead, the sides here featured richly ornate pillars with foliage decoration, whilst the whole arch is surmounted by an ornate plasterwork cartouche – a bulbous, heart-shaped affair with foliage surround, topped with a cherubic head.
His later prosceniums of a similar shape omitted the cartouche and side pillars, in favour of the aforementioned ribbed effect – surviving examples including the Riddrie and the Kingsway, although the latter has been largely destroyed by water ingress after many years of dereliction:
A small projection room was located at the back of the balcony, with a rewinding room directly behind it. Both had a fire exit leading out onto the roof space, directly behind the open latticework balustrades at the top of the facade. Above the right foyer side entrance, overlooking the street, was a large office and storeroom.
Perhaps the most unusual and interesting feature in the building is one that very few people would have ever seen during its working life.
A ladder outside the projection booth led up into the roofspace, officially just to give access to change lightbulbs and check the ventilation system.
However, at some point a projectionist had used this space, almost a small room between the panels hiding the ventilation shafts, as a private getaway space. They had decorated the space on either side with a variety of different circus and variety act posters.
One of them is titled ‘Bostock and Wombwells Gigantic Combined Show’; which was touring until 1931, dating the posters to that time at the very latest.
Many thanks to South Lanarkshire Council, and in particular Stuart Hodge and his colleagues, for the opportunity to survey the building.
In 2008, demolition of the auditorium block began. The fate of the facade is still currently undecided.