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Aberdeen Cinemas: Picturedrome / Cinema House

Historic Photographs
David Oswald
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Historic Photographs Details
The Cinema House was located at the corner of Union Terrace, Skene Terrace and North Silver Street. The building was designed by Arthur H. L. Mackinnon and originally built in 1897-1898 as a clubhouse for the Aberdeen Union Club. Mackinnon (1870-1937) was a local architect who also designed the Aberdeen Fire Station on King Street and Mile End School.

The building's first recorded use for cinematographic purposes was a New Year Holiday Carnival organised by the pioneering Aberdeen cinematographer and exhibitor William Walker in December 1901. Alongside an early picture show the extravaganza featured the popular fiddler James Scott Skinner and a conjurer called Harry Marvello.

It was a Londoner by the name of Henry N. Philips who came to Aberdeen and in June 1910 converted this building into Aberdeen's second permanent cinema: the Picturedrome. The enterprise was a great success and Philip's formed a company called British Animated Pictures to run the cinema.

The 'Drome's first manager was Harry Fenton. He also appeared on the cinema's stage as a singer. This was a time when cinemas would often show a mixture of films and variety performances. The venue had a pianist called Hal Scott who would accompany performances and provided musical ambience.

The Picturedrome was noted for showing the film productions of Thomas Edison's Edison Studios and for consistently good stage turns.

In 1923 the Picturedrome/Union Club block was sold to the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds. They were one of the 19th century friendly societies in which people would band together prior to the development of more comprehensive welfare provision. The Shepherds continued to run the cinema for a period. A sign for the society can be seen in the top left of this image.

In May 1924 the cinema was taken over by James F. Donald. He was the patriarch of the Donald family that played a prominent role in the history of cinemas and theatres in Aberdeen. Restored and improved, the venue reopened on the 11th August of that year as the Cinema House. Donald initially held the premises on a 20-year lease, but would go on to buy the property outright.

This photograph, taken from in front of the Central Library, dates from around 1934 and shows the cinema advertising Father Brown Detective and The Lemon Drop Kid. Also visible next door at 2 Skene Terrace is a branch of the successful grocer and provision merchants, Wilburn Ltd.

[Information primarily sourced from Silver Screen in the Silver City (1988) by Michael Thomson]
Skene Terrace
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