The Picture Houses of Rutherglen
© Rutherglen Heritage Society
From the script of 'Going to the Pictures’, a programme which features in CamGlen Radio’s ‘Halfway to Burgh’ local history series. The audio clips are from a conversation with local historian David Jackson, recorded in 2017, which featured in the programme. The programme takes the form of an imaginary walk from the east to the west of Rutherglen past the sites of the cinemas.
Like many other towns in Scotland, Rutherglen had several picture houses. Most were built in the 1920s and ‘30s. There were six picture houses in Rutherglen. They have all closed now, the buildings either demolished, or put to another use.
Heading into Rutherglen from Cambuslang, the first cinema is the Pavilion or Green’s Picturedrome. It’s where Kwik Fit is now at 271 Main Street. The Pavilion was built in 1914, making it one of the earliest picture houses in the town. It was designed by John Fairweather, who also did the Savoy cinema in Cambuslang, now the Wetherspoons pub which bears his name.
Above, from the 1914 plans for the Pavilion.
Image credit: scottishcinemas.org, Bruce Peter
Above,the Picturedrome building in the 1970s. The site is now occupied by KwikFit.
Image credit: scottishcinemas.org, Chris Doak
Owner George Green rebuilt the picture house in 1930 on the site of a skating rink and reopened it as Green’s Picturedrome. Greens continued showing films there until they shut the doors in 1959. There’s a photograph on the scottishcinemas.org website of the Picturedrome (above right), I think taken in the early 1970s. The picture shows what looks like a flat-roofed extension being used a car showroom. You can just make out the name William Semple & Sons Motors Ltd.
A few words about the cinema architect, John Fairweather. In 1922-23 he visited the USA on behalf of George Green to study theatre and cinema design in which he had specialised since becoming architect to Greens in 1913. The Picturedrome was one of Fairweather’s first designs, and he went on to design more than 20 other picture houses, including the 4,000 seat Green’s Playhouse in Renfield Street, which later became the Apollo music venue. As a rather sad footnote, Fairweather was killed while crossing the road during the WW2 blackout in 1942.
Right, John Fairweather Image credit: thefairweathers.org.uk
The Electric Picture Palace
Leaving Green’s Picturedrome, turning left up Stonelaw Road, we come to the Electric Picture Palace built in 1911, making it the earliest custom-built cinema in the town. Despite its glamorous name, the Electric Picture Palace seems to have been anything but a palace, with reports of the place being dark and dingy, and you had to sit on wooden benches. A bit of a flea pit, by the sound of it. The cinema seated 600 and was operated by the Rutherglen Electric Theatre Co. Ltd.
David Jackson talks here briefly about its history and its name.
Left, the Electric Picture Palace in Stonelaw Road following its conversion to a billiard hall in the 1930s. Image credit: scottishcinemas.org, Bruce Peter
The site of the Electric Picture Palace is at the bottom of Stonelaw Road, across from the red Tree Business Centre. To begin with, I had a bit of a problem working out where it was until David told me.
In the audio clip below, Sheena Hampson of Rutherglen's Busy Bees craft group tells Christina Quarrell about the newsagents which her parents opened in the late 1940s next to the billiard hall, previously the Electric Picture Palace. The 'drossey brae' Sheena refers to is so named due to shale from the nearby Stonelaw Coal Pit being used as road surfacing.
Right, site of the Electric Picture Palace in Stonelaw Road, January 2020. The original low wall at the front remains.
Initially, I thought that the first pictures to be shown in Rutherglen were in the Town Hall in 1897, but the town’s cinema history goes back further than that, to the Evangelistic Institute, as David tells us in this audio clip
Further up Stonelaw Road was the Rhul which stood where Tesco Burnside now is. Designed by architect Neil Duff, it was built in 1932. At a meeting of the Rutherglen Dean of Guild Court the following application was granted: ‘Burnside Picture House to be erected on the east side of Stonelaw Road to the south of the existing house known as “The Towers” which is presently used by the Burnside Masonic Lodge. The application goes on to tell us that: Accommodation will be provided for about 760 persons on the ground floor and 504 in the gallery. The cost will be about £15,500.’
The Rhul was sold to the ABC chain in December 1936. The cinema boasted a then high-tec Western Electric sound system, and it had a cafe. The Rhul was closed and demolished in November 1960.
Right, Stonelaw Road, Burnside, 1930s, The Rhul cinema is on the left.
Image courtesy of Stenlake Publishing Ltd.
The Grand Central
Back down on Rutherglen Main Street, turning left, we would find the Grand Central, near where the Rutherglen Exchange shopping centre now stands. Built in 1921, seating was provided for 950 people. The Rutherglen Reformer reported that the opening bill included the silent Western drama Wolves of the Range. The Grand Central adapted well to the arrival of the “talkies”. However, the hall proved too narrow for the showing of Cinemascope movies.
This photograph of the Grand Central shows a flat roofed building with a white facade, appearing almost shoe-horned in between the tenement buildings either side of it on Main Street. The film being shown when that picture was taken was Two Hearts in Harmony, which dates the photograph to 1935.
The Grand Central closed in December 1957, by which time Rutherglen was well-served with larger, better appointed cinemas.
Above, the Grand Central picture house in Main Street, pictured c. mid-1930s. Image credit: scottishcinemas.org,
Unlike today where you can spend a fortune at the cinema on popcorn and fizzy drinks, when you were young in the 1950s, you brought your own refreshments. And, it didn’t cost too much to get in, as David tells us:
Heading further west along Main Street on the left hand side, the next cinema is the Vogue, the only cinema building now still standing in the town. Designed by architect James McKissack for the George Singleton circuit, the Vogue was opened by the famous entertainer, Harry Lauder in January 1936, and seated 1,750 people. McKissack designed cinemas all over Scotland in the 1920s and 1930s, including the Cosmo in Rose Street, now the Glasgow film Theatre.
The first audience to the Vogue was treated to Cecil B De Mille’s epic The Crusades, starring Loretta Young. The Vogue, latterly the Odeon, was famed for its luxurious interior consisting of Corinthian columns and art deco flourishes, as noted by Peter Bruce’s in his book 100 Years of Glasgow’s Amazing Cinemas’.
Right, the Vogue in the late 1940s. The film showing is Yellow Sky which was released in 1948. Image credit: bingotastic.com
The Vogue was taken over by the Odeon chain and renamed as the Odeon. It was closed by the Rank Organisation as a cinema in October 1974. It then began to operate as a bingo hall, initially by Top Rank, and currently operates as a Mecca Bingo hall. Like the Savoy in Cambuslang, the Vogue is a Grade C listed building.
Left, the Vogue cinema building in December 2018, now the Mecca Bingo hall, 58 Main Street. It is the last surviving of the six cinema buildings in Rutherglen
"The old cinemas; I remember them well: The Rhul, Greens, The Grand Central, The Odeon, The Rio.
In the week before we left, [to emigrate to Australia in 1951] 'The Last Days Of Pompeii' with Preston Foster, was playing at Greens, which, if I remember, was right next to the cop shop, and across the road from a repertory theatre. Just before that, we'd seen 'The Jolson Story' with Larry Parks at The Rhul. And, 'Stars In My Crown' with Joel McCrea at The Rio, when I was given a free ticket by a bloke
in Main Street, who couldn't use it that night. I was about eight, and had to get special permission from Mum to go out at night. Try that these days...you'd end up as a statistic in the morning paper.
We'd walk from Kirkwood Street up to The Rhul to see a movie, thinking nothing of the journey.
The Odeon...my mother used to take me there every Friday night during the war, and we'd eat our toasted cheese sandwiches in the back row. What a beautiful cinema that was.
The Grand Central...when Dad was away in Africa with the Royal Artillery, my mother used to be down on her hands and knees, scrubbing the tiles in the foyer of that cinema just to make a few extra bob to keep us alive during the war.
Next door to it was The Coop, which sold the best potato scones you'd ever tasted. I'd be up there constantly, spending my very meagre pocket money on them. Can you still buy Pease Brose in Ruglen? There was some restaurant down near The Rio where that was its speciality. I'll never forget the taste."
John McGregor, Adelaide, South Australia. Image credit: Rutherglen Reformer
Next, and across the road, was the Rio, at the west end of the Main Street, near where the Picture House pub now stands. The Rio opened in September 1935, with a glamorous opening ceremony, in which a telegram from film star Margaret Sullivan was read out. Built into the side of the Rio along at the Glasgow Road end was a Birrells shop.
Birrells were a bit like RS McColl, and were an ideal add-on to many picture houses. They had their own chocolate and sweetie factory in Glasgow.
Right, the Rio picture house with Rutherglen cenotaph on the left.
Image courtesy of Stenlake Publishing Ltd.
Seating over 2,000 people, the Rio kept up to date with the latest cinematic technologies and was quick to install Cinemascope and stereophonic sound. The Rio’s fortunes eventually declined with the other picture houses in the town, and the building was demolished in 1971 as part of a programme of road improvements at the junction of Main Street and Glasgow Road.
To end the tour, and although not actually in Rutherglen, was the State, in King’s Park. I’m including the State, because lots of people from Rutherglen went to the pictures there. The State, in Castlemilk Road was designed by Charles J McNair & Elder for Cathcart Picture Playhouse Ltd. The State opened in December 1937 with the musical comedy romance Ready, Willing and Able, starring Ruby Keeler.
The State was the very latest in cinema design. Its streamlined facade outlined by red and blue neon strips, was classic Art Deco. There was an island pay-box in the foyer, and in the auditorium the walls and ceilings gently curved towards the screen.
"I feel a particular nostalgia for the old State cinema. I made frequent attendances in my early years. Memorable productions ranged from The Last of the Mohicans to The Ten Commandments"
Left, the State in Castlmilk Road in the late 1930s. One of the films showing on the billboard is Marked Woman, starring Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart., released in 1937. Image credit: The Glasgow Story
At night the entire building was vividly outlined when the red and blue neon strips lit up. It must have been quite a sight!
The State closed in 1971 and almost inevitably, became a bingo hall. Demolished in about 2008, there are flats at the spot in Castlemilk Road where the State stood.
Above left, the flats in Castlemilk Road where the State used to be. The bulk of the cinema building actually occupied the site of the car park behind the flats, above right..
© 2020 by Rutherglen Heritage Society.
Many thanks to David Jackson for his contribution to this article.
The Glasgow Story
Rutherglen Reformer/Daily Record
The Dictionary of Scottish Architects