A purpose-built former cinema at Townhead, Auchterarder High Street, built in 1925-26 in the Art Deco style by Charles T. Ewing of Crieff.
The symmetrical front elevation is a two-storey, three-bay block with a pair of integrated glass-fronted shopfronts at ground floor. The long centre bay has a pair of 2-leaf timber doors with glazed panels. The shopfronts to either side have recessed porch entrances with canted glazing.
At the upper level, there is a large multi-paned window flanked by a further pair of windows in the two outer bays. The bays are divided by four tall sandstone pilaster columns with squared capstones that extend above the roofline. There are horizontal signage boards between the ground and first floor, and a cornice band at the roofline. The auditorium hall to the rear is of rendered brick, having a pitched steel roof with a grey slate covering.
The interior was seen in 2019. There is a rectangular-plan vestibule with a pair of 2-leaf timber doors accessing the main foyer. The foyer has a grand stair with moulded timber handrail and cast-iron bannisters with a geometric design. There is moulded plasterwork to the walls and ceiling of the foyer and upper gallery. The auditorium has a distinctive curved ceiling of decorative pressed tin panels. There is a cantilevered balcony at the rear of the hall, with projector windows in the rear wall. Above the former screen area is a scrolled cartouche decoration and below is a rectangular musicians pit. There is a rectangular sound chamber addition (1941) within the screen area. The walls have plaster-coated brick pilasters with capital detailing and decorative shell light sconces, possibly added during a 1930s or 1940s refurbishment.
There is a former tearoom on the first floor with some moulded pilasters to the rear wall. The separate kitchen area has a built-in range. The projection room has been removed, creating a landing area at the top of the main stair. The shop to the right has a secondary staircase access to the first-floor tearoom. The shop to the left has a built-in wall safe.
Statement of Special Interest
20 A/B Townhead (former Auchterarder Picturehouse), Auchterarder is of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:
· As a notable example of a purpose-built, small-town cinema of the 1920s, retaining much of its early Art Deco character.
· As a rare survivor as part of the first wave of purpose-built cinemas in Scotland between 1909 and 1928, particularly so in Perth and Kinross.
· For the unusual and innovative inclusion of two integrated shops as part of the design.
· For the survival and quality of its interior design including a decorative pressed tin-panel ceiling, which is a rare survival in Scotland.
· For its prominence as part of Auchterarder High Street at Townhead.
Plans to erect a cinema on this site were prepared in 1925 by local architect Charles Ewing for Crieff businessman and cinema proprietor, Peter Crerar (Perthshire Advertiser, 1925). Contracts were placed mostly with local tradesmen including builder, William Gordon of Auchterarder and James Tainsh of Crieff who supplied the ornamental plasterwork (Dundee Courier, 1926).
The Auchterarder Picturehouse opened on 9 September 1926 with a showing of The Gold Rush (1925) starring Charlie Chaplin. The new cinema was described at the time as a handsome structure with a shop at each side, a large tea room, a cinema hall with lofty curved ceiling, and a colour scheme of green, mauve, buff and gold (Dundee Courier, 1926). In August 1930, the cinema was equipped with a state-of-the-art British Thomson-Houston sound system. The first 'talking picture' to be shown was The Rainbow Man (1929) starring Eddie Dowling. Auchterarder was reported as being the smallest town in the country to have a cinema with sound (Dundee Courier, 1930). The footprint of the building is depicted on the 3rd Edition Ordnance Survey map (revised, 1938).
An open recess between the two shop fronts was altered in around 1937 to form an enclosed entrance vestibule with double doors. The Auchterarder Picturehouse was bought by J B Milne Theatres in 1946 and renamed The Regal. It stopped operating as a cinema by 1963, after which the screen, sound equipment and most of the seats were removed. The former cinema has not altered significantly since then, with the entire building having been in continuous use as an antiques shop between 1963 and 2019.
The former Regal Cinema (Auchterarder Picturehouse) is a notable example of small-town cinema design of the inter-war period in Scotland. Its clean lines and horizontal arrangement of architectural elements is an early example in Scotland of the new 'Art Deco' style inspired by the seminal 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris and prefigures many of the streamlined Modern style Art Deco cinemas that were built during the 1930s. The two glass fronted shops at the ground level and large tea room/hall on the upper floor are an innovative and practical approach to high street cinema design. These integrated parts of the building were leased commercially to local businesses to further increase the potential revenue of the site. The integrated shops contribute to the plan-form interest of the building. The plan-form is otherwise broadly typical of purpose-built cinemas of the period.
The building retains a good number of decorative interior fittings and fixtures including a grand stair with decorative cast iron bannisters, and a rare, curving pressed tin-panel ceiling within the auditorium. First manufactured in the United States during the 1860s and popular until the 1930s in the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa, tin-panel ceilings of this type are much less common in Scotland. One other known example of a pressed tin-panel ceiling in a Scottish cinema is at the former Forres Picturehouse (not listed) of 1927.
Purpose-built, small-town cinemas of the 1920s were often designed by prominent local architects. The Auchterarder Picturehouse by Charles Turnbull Ewing (1880-1953) is a good representative example of this trend. Serving as an apprentice/assistant draughtsman in the office of eminent Scottish architect Sir John James Burnet from 1899 to 1905, Ewing began independent practice in Crieff in 1910, later becoming Burgh Surveyor. The Dictionary of Scottish Architects describes him as 'a very skilful Burnetian [after Sir John James Burnet] designer' (www.scottisharchitects.org.uk).
The building is prominently located on Auchterarder High Street (Townhead). This central and easily accessible location is typical of early purpose-built small-town cinemas of the period.
The scale and design of its symmetrical frontage is relatively imposing because of its modern architectural design and sits alongside a mix of mainly smaller-scale 19th century commercial and residential properties. The setting of the cinema building has altered little since its construction in 1925/26.
Age and rarity
Many hundreds of buildings were used to show moving pictures in towns and cities in Scotland during the first half of the 20th century. Commonly, these were existing halls and other public spaces that were converted for cinema use. Early purpose-built cinemas were often established by local entrepreneurs quick to see the economic potential of the new medium.
There are around 18 listed purpose-built cinemas and former cinemas in Scotland that were part of the first wave of construction, after the Cinematograph Act of 1909 and before the introduction of sound cinema in 1928. Very few small-town cinemas from this period survive in Scotland. Among the most significant is the Bo'ness Hippodrome of 1911 (LB22380) which is the earliest surviving purpose-built cinema in Scotland.
The former Regal Cinema (Auchterarder Picturehouse) is a rare example of an early small-town cinema in Perth and Kinross. The later Playhouse Cinema of 1933 (LB39584) in the city of Perth is currently (2019) the only other listed cinema in the Perth and Kinross area.
Social historical interest
From the first public screening of moving pictures in Edinburgh in 1896, cinema quickly established itself, along with football, as the most popular leisure activity in Scotland during the first half of the twentieth century (Spotlight on Scotland's Cinemas, 2009).
Peter Crerar (1881-1961) was an entrepreneur from nearby Crieff involved in several commercial ventures including cinema proprietorship. He adapted a public hall in Comrie to show films in 1923 (Early Cinema in Scotland Research Project, 2019) and his first purpose-built cinema was the Crieff Picturehouse of 1924 (now converted to housing and a restaurant). He later built the 1800-seat Dunfermline Regal super cinema (destroyed by fire 1970s). Crerar is also believed to have owned cinemas in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Construction began on the Auchterarder Picturehouse one year after the opening of the large golf hotel at Gleneagles, less than 2 miles to the west. When Crerar advertised public shares in his Auchterarder cinema in 1930, the advert mentioned the boost to trade generated by the large influx of visitors and hotel staff during the summer months (Dundee Courier, 1930).
The former Regal Cinema (Auchterarder Picturehouse) contributes to the wider history of popular entertainment and leisure in Scotland in the first part of the 20th century, and to our understanding of the impact of the early cinema boom on leisure and tourism in and around Auchterarder and Gleneagles during this period.
Canmore: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID: 285942
Ordnance Survey (Revised 1900 with additions in 1938) Perth and Clackmannan Sheet CXVIII.NW (includes: Auchterarder; Blackford), 3rd Edition, 6 inch to 1 mile. Ordnace Survey: Southampton.
The Bioscope (29/04/1926) Rapid Progress at Auchterarder Cinema, p.56.
Dundee Courier (10/09/1926) New Cinema for Auchterarder, Crieff Man's Enterprise, p.3.
Dundee Courier (13/08/1930) Talkies Inaugurated at Auchterarder, p.3.
Dundee Courier (30/08/1930) Strathearn Cinemas Ltd – Public Shares in Auchterarder Cinema, p.2.
Dundee Evening Telegraph (13/10/1933) 'New Auchterarder Cinema Company', p.9.
Historic Scotland (2009) Spotlight on Scotland's Cinemas.
Perthshire Advertiser (12/09/1925) Warrant to Build a Picturehouse, p.10.
Perthshire Advertiser (14/06/1941) Sound Chamber for Auchterarder Cinema Co. Ltd, p.11.
Peter, B (2011) Scotland's Cinemas. Isle of Man: Lily Publications, p.130.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Charles T Ewing: http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=200592 [accessed 2019].
Early Cinema in Scotland, 1896-1927 Research Project – Glasgow University in association with Edinburgh University: https://earlycinema.gla.ac.uk/ [accessed 2019].
Scottish Cinemas and Theatres Project, Scottish Cinemas Database - Regal Cinema (Auchterarder Picturehouse): http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk/scotland/auchterarder.html [accessed 2019].
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Printed: 18/01/2021 22:02