The architect for the Broadway was Alister G. MacDonald, a figure just as interesting as the cinema’s colourful Managing Director. MacDonald was the eldest son of Britain’s first-ever Labour Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald. Alister’s first cinema job was probably as Clerk of Works to Frank Verity for Paramount’s Plaza in London’s Regent Street in 1925-6. After a spell studying skyscrapers and sound insulation design in America, he went on to become the leading architect of newsreel cinemas in Britain. The skills he learned in the USA were to prove useful when it came to designing these small, compact news cinemas in cramped, awkward sites, such as railway stations. His most famous such designs were at Victoria and Waterloo Stations in London, although sadly his plans for a cinema in Glasgow’s Central Station were unrealised. He also built numerous conventional cinemas, most notably for the Caledonian Associated Cinemas group (CAC) in Scotland, including the Playhouses in Peebles, Montrose and Elgin (all 1932), as well as the Empire Cinema for the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park in 1938 – which was later moved to Lochgilphead, where it survives as a guesthouse.
James McKissack was one of Scotland’s most prolific cinema architects. McKissack’s designs, spread throughout Central Scotland, reflected every significant new trend in British cinema design, from the earliest cinemas of the Edwardian period, inserted into existing shop units, to the most glamorous ‘super cinemas’ of the late-1930s, and even include Scotland’s first specialist ‘art house’ cinema – the Cosmo
in Glasgow. Notwithstanding having produced so vast and significant a body of work, the details of McKissack’s remarkable life have largely been forgotten by architectural history and the majority of his designs have long since been demolished.
By piecing together surviving fragments of information about his life and works, this article aims to tell the forgotten story of James McKissack – Cinema Architect.