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Aberdeen Cinemas: West End / Playhouse
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Aberdeen Cinemas: West End / Playhouse

Historic Photographs
David Oswald
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Aberdeen Cinemas: West End / Playhouse
Historic Photographs
Aberdeen Cinemas: West End / Playhouse
An Aberdeen Journals Archive photograph of the Playhouse at 475 Union Street in January 1959. The venue originally opened on 12th November 1915 as a cinema called the West End. This was the first venture into full-time picture-hall proprietorship by James F. Donald, a key figure in the history of independent cinema exhibition in Aberdeen.

Donald was born in Newhills and came to Aberdeen for an apprenticeship with a coachbuilding firm. He had a varied career before coming to prominence as a highly successful dancing teacher. He was the leader of the Gondolier School of Dancing and Deportment.

He moved into the cinema business after acquiring the necessary projecting equipment and occupying a former billiard hall above the Aberdeen Dairy at 475 Union Street. Michael Thomson in Silver Screen in the Silver City (1988) describes the cinema as a "strictly utilitarian affair", but a successful one at that. It was only heated by stoves, and coupled with being above a diary, it became known as "The Tuppenny Freezer".

Donald's lease on the cinema expired in September 1920 and he was immediately followed as proprietor by Bert Gate's Aberdeen Picture Palaces. It was a time of expansion for the incoming company. They had recently purchased The Picturedrome on Skene Terrace and shortly looked to transform the West End. The latter closed on 2nd April and reopened on 14th September 1921 as the 1,000-seater Picture Playhouse.

The opening ceremony was attended by Gates, the cinema's architects George Sutherland and Clement George, and various local VIPs. The opening films were A Yankee in the Court of King Arthur, a comedy called Jerry on the Spot, Pathé news, and another short. Thomson states that Aberdeen Picture Palaces were "now the proud possessor of a large, well-situated 'flagship' house, and Union Street now sported a fine up-to-date cinema."

The design of the Playhouse was "classical" and up-market, in accordance with its prominent west-end location. As seen here, the Union Street entrance was surrounded by white Sicilian marble facings on a black marble base. The paybox was oval in shape with one end in the vestibule and the other in the front foyer.

The main foyer was through the Union Street part of the building and up a 12-feet wide carpeted, marble stairway. This way was a tea room called the Ingleneuk, the manager's office, and the ornately decorated auditorium. The plush new cinema represented competition for the nearby Picture House.

Bert Gates, the manager of the Playhouse, was somewhat sceptical of the talkies but fully embraced the new development in February 1930 with the installation of a full Western Electric sound system.

The opening of Aberdeen Picture Palace's Capitol down the road in 1933 saw a reduction in ticket prices at the Playhouse. The two partner cinemas were advertised at the time as "Aberdeen's Premier Pair".

On 23 May 1941 it was announced that James F. Donald (Aberdeen Cinemas) Ltd. had bought a controlling interest in Aberdeen Picture Palaces. This meant that the Playhouse, along with the other APP venues, were now in the Donald circuit of cinemas.

This photograph dates from 1959 shortly before the cinema was relaunched as the Playhouse Continental, showing popular, often more risqué, films from Europe. This only lasted for a couple of years and the cinema reverted to being the Playhouse in 1961. This photograph shows the cinema advertising The Wind Cannot Read with Dirk Bogarde and All for Mary.

By 1973 the profitability of the Playhouse was eroded by spiralling costs. The owners of the building, builders James Scott & Son, had moved premises and were looking to dispose of the Union Street property. The cinema's lease was terminated at the end of 1973 and the cinema closed on 9th May 1974. Ownership of the block passed to Devanha Properties Ltd. and after lying empty for a few months the Playhouse was demolished to make way for a new block of shops and offices.

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

Image © Aberdeen Journals Ltd.
Union Street
2. Copyright known - held by third party
Playhouse 1959-01-22 (C)AJL
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