As cinemas prepare to reopen as the lockdown eases, we take a look back at the history of film houses in Aberdeen
Although the city has four cinemas – Vue, The Belmont, and two Cineworlds – it was once home to dozens of venues, from grand thousand-seat theatres to cosy, intimate establishments.
In the early 1900s, cinemas started to appear across town, which led to a boom of venues in the 1940s.
Over the years most have disappeared, or the buildings – such as the Palace or the Capitol – have been reused.
We’ve taken a trip down memory lane to look at some of the cinemas that have entertained city audiences throughout the years.
The Cinemas of Aberdeen
The Astoria opened in 1934 on Central Park, Kittybrewster. Although beloved by fans, it closed in 1966 because of its location. The cinema was demolished in 1967.
Still popular to this day, the Belmont is a staple of Aberdeen. It was originally a Trade Hall but screened its first films in 1896. In 1919 it became a full-time cinema known as the Coliseum Cinema, then New Kinema before opening in 1935 as Belmont Cinema. In 2000 The Belmont Picturehouse opened and in 2014 it became what it is known as today, Belmont Filmhouse.
Casino opened on Wales Street in 1916, built on the grounds of a former slaughterhouse. In 1959, despite its recent refurbishment, it closed to become a bingo hall. It was then demolished to build housing.
Woodside Electric first opened in 1912 on the grounds of the former skating rink, as its nickname the Rinkie tells. The cinema was popular until 1918 when the building began deteriorating leaving it cold and difficult to heat. The audiences drifted until 1923, when the owner began struggling financially so much that it closed.
Formerly Union Hall, this building began its life in 1897. It was used for occasional picture showings until 1910 when it became the Picturedome. It was renamed the Cinema House in 1924 before closing in 1971 to become a bingo club. It is now unoccupied after venue The Assembly closed last year.
The low-cost cinema opened in 1935. Its entrance was unusually through a tenement of flats. It closed its doors in 1963 before becoming a bowling venue that was shut in 2007. The building was demolished but the flats remained.
Globe Picture Playhouse
In 1912, the Globe opened its doors on Nelson Street for the first time. It was affectionately known as the Globie, before it was taken by the army in the early 40s. No more films were screened there however it is still in use as a shop.
Electric Cinema/Capitol Cinema
The Electric Cinema opened in 1910 on the grounds the Arcade Skating Rink. It was renovated with a Chinese themed auditorium in 1928 before being closed and demolished in 1932 to make way for Capitol Cinema. The Capitol opened in 1933 and showed its final film in 1995 after struggling. It became a bar, and a nightclub and the space has now been turned into offices.
Gaeity/Palladium Cinema/Regal/ABC/Cannon Aberdeen/Lighthouse/Vue
This cinema has gone under many names over the years and is currently known as the Vue. It opened as the Gaeity in 1908, before being renamed the Palladium in 1919. The Palladium was closed in 1930 where it became derelict.
Moving on from the Palladium, plans for the site were in motion. The Associated British Cinemas (ABC) took over and constructed the Regal cinema which opened in 1954.
After being closed for refurbishment in 1974, the Regal became the ABC before being taken over by the Cannon group in 1987 and then being renamed the Cannon.
In 2000, the derelict cinema was demolished to make way for the new Lighthouse Cinema which opened in 2001. By 2004, the theatre had been taken over and the cinema was renamed. It remains the Vue today.
Grand Central Cinema
For almost 60 years the Grand Central Cinema on George Street was a popular film venue. Its eventual closure in 1981 was a sad day for Aberdeen as it shut on the same day as the popular Queen’s Cinema on October 17. The building stayed as it was until 1984 when it eventually became a housing development.
Kingsway still stands today – although as a bingo hall. The King Street cinema was known for its spacious foyer area. It opened in 1939 and operated until 1963 when it became the largest bingo hall in Northern Scotland.
This Bucksburn cinema on Auchmill Road opened between 1940 and 1947 under the original name of Glen Cinema. It was renamed the Argosy at some point before 1953. No closure date is known for certain but part of the building was demolished with planning permission for housing granted.
La Scala Photo Playhouse/Majestic Cinema
La Scala Photo Playhouse on Union Street was the first purpose-built cinema in the city. It opened in 1914 before being closed and demolished by 1934 to make way for the Majestic. The Majestic was then opened two years later. It was eventually demolished despite protests to save it.
News Cinema/Curazon/Cosmo 2
This former stable became the News Cinema in 1936. It changed names to the NewCine Continental in April 1955, before becoming the Curzon in 1959. It was then taken over and refurbished to become the Cosmo 2. It closed in 1977, and the empty building was destroyed by fire in the 80s.
From 1911 until 1940, King’s was a popular cinema in a great location. It was eventually closed and converted into a ballroom which it remained until 1955. The site was then demolished 24 years later.
With more than 1,800 seats the Palace Theatre opened in 1998. Films were regularly screened from 1911 onwards and it was taken over in 1929 when it became a 2,000 seat cinema. It closed its doors in 1959 and now operates as the nightclub Atik.
The Picture House/Gaumont Aberdeen
The Picture House opened on Union Street in 1914 before it was taken over by the Gaumont British Theatres in 1929. It was later, in 1950, renamed as the Gaumont. It was eventually demolished, but the facade remained and is now shops.
Opened from 1881 on Exchange Street, the Alhambra was converted from a disused church into a cinema. It now lies empty, but was formerly a takeaway.
The Playhouse opened in 1921 on the site of a former billiard hall which had been known as the West End Picture House. The Playhouse also had the Ingleneuk Cafe which closed a few years before the entire cinema did in 1974, when it was also demolished.
This cinema was built in 1913 and could hold 580 people with both stalls and circles. The closure of the Queen’s marked the end of an era for Aberdeen cinema as it closed on the same day as the Grand Central Cinema did in 1981. It is now Beaverbrooks.
Built in 1932, the Regent had over 2,000 people. In 1940 it became the Odeon. It was refurbished in 1995 before becoming a health studio. Presently the C-listed building is Nuffield Health.
The Star Picture Palace
Known as the Starrie, the former mission hall on Park Street became a cinema in 1911. It was a successful cinema until the war. It was almost forgotten about but finally demolished in 1971 to make way for new housing.
The Lyceum/Royal Cinema
The Lyceum was opened in 1813 on the premises of a former Zion church. By 1816 it had switched names to become the Royal Cinema. By 1918, it had shut down to become the John Street Hall. It is now the Mither Tap bar.
Torry Picture House
The former skating rink became a popular venue for film in 1921. It became Torry Cinema in 1930 when sound equipment was installed. It was a favourite until 1966 when it became uneconomic to run and shut down. It was demolished to build shops.
Aberdeen couple remember special times at cinemas
Aberdeen couple Bill and Mary Jolly went on dates to the movies at the start of their relationship and would often frequent the Kingsway Cinema after they married in 1954.
Bill said: “I think we probably went to the cinema for our first date. I was always buying nice things and taking Mary out to try to impress her.
“We tried out all the cinemas really, but liked Kingsway the best as it was just round the corner from our house after getting married.
“We would get shown to our seats by the usherettes who were still working in the cinemas at that time. They had tiny hand-held torches to guide you to your seat and when it came to the intermission, they would be there with little tubs of ice-cream in the carrier round their neck.
“In those days you got two films when you went to the cinema, so during the intermission there was local news clips that were shown.”
The 89-year-old would often treat Mary to an ice-cream or her favourite chocolate, Black Magic which Bill called Black Tragic.
He added: “We liked the Gaumont as we felt it was classy. The seats were great, especially the love seats up the back, but I won’t say much more about that. You could say it was a good place to exchange those chocolates.
“The cinemas were different back then. Unlike today, the feature film was followed up with another shorter film. You were allowed to smoke in the cinema back then too, not that we did, we were too busy enjoying the Black Tragic.”
What was on in Aberdeen
A look back at cinema listings from over the years
In this early edition of the paper, the small entertainment section features reviews of the latest screenings at cinemas.
The movies on show at the time were silent films that would keep Aberdeen audiences entertained for hours.
The Capitol in 1940 was showing Gone With The Wind, the nearly four-hour long 1939 Best Picture Academy Award Winner.
Other films showing at the time include The House Across The Bay and He Married His Wife starring Cesar Romero.
At the beginning of 1958, Aberdeen residents could visit 15 cinemas of their choice with each showing different movies.
You could visit the Odeon at the Holburn Junction and watch the Stooge starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis or The Capitol for the top-billed war movie The Enemy Below.
You could visit Grand Central Cinema in April 1961 and enjoy the Disney classic Cinderella.
Also on show at the time was Federico Fellini’s award winning Italian drama La Dolce Vita which was being broadcast with English dialogue.
In April 1970 you could venture to movies and watch a young Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music or Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars.
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were also stars of the screen at the time, starring in crime-thriller Bonnie And Clyde.
The 80s was an exciting time for cinema, with showings of Ghostbusters, Purple Rain, The NeverEnding Story and even Beverly Hills Cop.
Also on show was Amadeus, the 1984 winner of the Best Picture Academy Award.
If you wanted to go the movies in 1999, you could swing by Virgin Cinemas or the Odeon and watch blockbusters including Tarzan, The World Is Not Enough and Fight Club.
The change in cinemas
The change in cinemas in Aberdeen started when many of them shut down, particularly in 1981 when two popular theatres closed on the same day.
Many more followed and presently only four cinemas operate in Aberdeen, which includes Belmont Filmhouse.
The Belmont originally opened in 1896 as a Trades Hall before eventually becoming the full-time Coliseum Cinema in 1919.
Since then, it has underwent a number of changes and in 2014 it became the Belmont Filmhouse that we know it as today.
Head of cinema operations Colin Farquhar said: “There are lots and lots of old cinema sites in Aberdeen, as folk who know the city are aware.
“The one I used to come to when I was wee was the Odeon on Justice Mill Lane.
“I’m a Shire lad though so we quite regularly would go to Elgin to the Playhouse there. Most of my formative film memories are from that building.”
The Belmont has been home to a number of events including movie premieres and Colin has seen a number of events pass through its doors, including the opening of director Terence Davies’ Sunset Song adaptation.
“The film premieres in my time have mostly been regional ones like You’ve Been Trumped, One Day Removals and Sunset Song – which is also the highest attended film we’ve ever done.
“Recently, Parasite became our busiest ever foreign language film, which I’m very proud of. What a film. I’m very pleased it happened under my watch.
“(It’s) all rather affecting to write while the cinema is sadly closed due to coronavirus, but it helps whet the appetite for reopening, which I hope is sooner rather than later.”