We’re delighted by the initial reaction to our Cinematic Edinburgh walking trail – and the most common comments so far are:
“What about the Playhouse?”
“What about the Dominion?”
“What about the Odeon Clerk Street?”
Don’t panic! We didn’t forget about them – there simply wasn’t enough room on the paper map to fit them (or a huge number of other cinemas) in. But of course we love those buildings, so here they are now, in a director’s expanded edition…
Odeon / New Victoria
7 Clerk Street
The New Victoria opened on 25th August 1930 – exactly the same day and date that Sean Connery was born. It was designed for the Gaumont company and was intended to be the most luxurious in Edinburgh. The auditorium sat over 2,000 people, with several private boxes at the rear of the stalls, and the walls were decorated in a tartan pattern. Later on, lights were added in the ceiling to help with the feeling you were outside watching a film under the stars…
Renamed the Odeon in the 1960s, the building was also a venue for live music shows – including the Clash. In the 1980s, it was split into smaller screens, and finally closed in 2003. It is currently sitting empty awaiting its fate, but behind the boarded up entrance, its unique auditorium is surprisingly intact, and awaiting a chance to come back to life …
18 – 22 Greenside Place
The Playhouse is the largest and most opulent cinema ever built in Scotland that still survives today in its original form – originally seating over 3,000 people. This is the best surviving example in Scotland of the ‘super-cinema’, built when a combination of maximising the number of seats, and creating an expensive and pleasant experience for the patron was the most important factor in cinema design. No other cinema auditorium of this scale and type survives in Scotland.
Opening in the late 1920s, when variety shows were still part of the cinema experience, the Playhouse was designed from the beginning with a large stage and full-height fly tower; this has proved key to its survival and re-use as a live theatre venue.
The building has a unique design, making best use of its steeply sloping site, with a small low facade giving little indication of the scale of the auditorium concealed behind; the grand circle is entered from street level, with stairs down to the stalls, and stairs up to the upper circle.
18 Newbattle Place, Morningside
Opened in January 1938, much of the original decoration by architect T Bowhill Gibson survives, including the central ceiling ‘spine’ in Screen 1, that draws the eyes towards the screen. Twinned in 1972, the original circle was extended fully forward to form Screen 1. An additional screen was added in 1980 in space above the foyer.
Now with four screens and a restaurant, the Dominion focuses on providing comfort and ‘gold standard’ service, including reclining armchairs and complimentary drinks to entice customers, while watching the latest films projected with the latest technologies.
Long may it continue!
All three buildings have one other thing in common – they are all listed buildings. The Dominion is Category B, meaning it’s considered to be of above local importance, while both the Playhouse and the former Odeon are now Category A listed buildings – putting them on a par with places like Edinburgh Castle for their national or international architectural value.
Listing doesn’t mean they can’t be changed or altered or demolished, but it does provide an extra check when changes are proposed, meaning that owners have to show they understand what is special about the buildings before making any changes that might affect their character.
You can see more of Edinburgh’s former and current cinemas over at our sister site, ScottishCinemas.org.