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- Category: C
- Date Added: 19/04/2000
- Local Authority: North Ayrshire
- Planning Authority: North Ayrshire
- Parish: Kilbirnie
National Grid Reference
- NGR: NS 31603 54677
- Coordinates: 231603, 654677
James Houston, 1939. 2-storey to S, single storey former cinema auditorium to N, 5-bay, rectangular-plan Art Deco former Radio City cinema (currently a community centre, 2008). Steel frame with cement-rendered brick infill. Base course, dividing band courses with decorative circlets at junctions; coped eaves course to front block.
S (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: symmetrical; 5-bay; slightly advanced centrepiece with broadly chamfered recessed doorway centred at ground accessed by 3 semicircularplan terrazzo steps with Saturn motif, entrance screen to doorway comprising 3 sets of glaze timber doors with triangular glazing pattern, doorway flanked by (later) mosaic tiled walls, semicircular-plan steel-framed cantilevered timber canopy oversailing entrance, deep recess centred above (originally containing "radio" transmitter beacon) flanked by 2-storey bays each with pair of windows to outer return at 1st floor, modern signage spanning recess at centre. Full height bays to outer left and right advanced at ground floor with curved outer angles, each with flag-pole clasped by facetted brackets, horizontal band of window openings at ground floor, window on each corner and to each outer return; pair of small openings to right of right return, modern billboard above; irregular openings to left of left return, predominantly louvred below lintel.
E ELEVATION: predominantly blank; doorway near-centre of ground floor, 3 margined billboard panels evenly spaced between horizontal band courses above; irregularly-fenestrated return of principal elevation advanced to outer left (see above).
W ELEVATION: matching E elevation, but with single billboard panel to left of irregularly-fenestrated front block at outer right.
Windows boarded-up (2000). Profiled reinforced asbestos cladding to auditorium roof with substantial cast-iron square-profile downpipes and gutters.
INTERIOR: curved ends and 3 circular light fittings to recessed ceiling feature in entrance hall; 2-leaf timber entrance doors with glazed strips accessing auditorium; some fluted wall decoration surviving; some projection equipment surviving in projection room at upper level of S block.
BOUNDARY WALLS, GATES, GATEPIERS AND ARCHWAY: low curved stugged sandstone wall enclosing S front surmounted by saddleback cope and wrought-iron railings with geometric pattern, circular-plan gatepier to SE, coped with domed cap; wall stepped up to meet bridge parapet at W.
Statement of Special Interest
A well-known landmark prominently sited at the head of Kilbirnie's Main Street, Radio City is an important survival of the 1930s, when Scotland was at the forefront of cinema and indeed modernist design. It is the last surviving cinema building designed by James Houston (1893-1966). Houston came from Kilbirnie, Ayrshire. He trained firstly with the architectural firm of Fryers and Penman, then studied at Glasgow School of Art. He started his own practice in 1920. Houston was an enthusiast of cinemas at the height of their popularity in Scotland. He not only designed the Radio City cinema but also The Viking at Largs of 1939 (now demolished). Radio City is an example of 'theme' architecture, a genre associated with thirties cinemas of which Houston was particularly well known. The recess in the centre of the principal façade originally contained a large 'radio' pylon with a flashing beacon at the top, flanked by flashing neon zigzags and chrome eagle wings (a replica mast has been installed). The cinema could accommodate 1200 people, 880 in the stalls and 320 on the raised area. Houston designed the auditorium on the 'stadium' principle, where rather than having a balcony where the seats 'often had the foulest atmosphere' (NMRS manuscript MS/611/4), the rear seats are set on a platform which slopes up from the back stalls. The cinema interior was originally lavishly furnished and painted with planets, stars and futuristic designs which were described as 'rich colourings without being bizarre' (NMRS manuscript MS611/1).
The building was converted to a community centre 2002-04.
Notes and references updated as part of the Cinema Thematic Study 2007-08.
NMRS, PLANS AND MANUSCRIPTS RELATING TO RADIO CITY, 1937; 1938 EDITION OS MAP; C McKean, THE SCOTTISH THIRTIES: AN ARCHITECTURAL INTRODUCTION, (1987), p63-64; Neil Cameron, "Past master of the fantastic thirties", SCOTSMAN, 16 October 1989; R Close, AYRSHIRE & ARRAN: AN ILLUSTRATED ARCHITECTURAL GUIDE, (1992), p93; M Glendinning, R MacInnes, A MacKechnie, A HISTORY OF SCOTTISH ARCHITECTURE, (1996), p402, 573; R Bailey, SCOTTISH ARCHITECTS' PAPERS: A SOURCE BOOK, (1996), p51, 121-122, 212, 230; D MacDonald, "Tuning in to Radio City" and "Phoenix Arising?", ARDROSSAN & SALTCOATS HERALD, 1998; "Radio City aim is a new programme for the community", GLASGOW HERALD, 1999; NMRS Photographs. Other information courtesy of the Cinema Theatre Association Scotland, www.scottishcinemas.org.uk (accessed 13-12-07).
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