Glasgow’s reputation as “cinema city” was nowhere more clearly evident than in the Woodside area, with numerous buildings showing films during the first half of the 20th century. Not all were in purpose-built cinemas, but a variety of premises including halls and workshops were utilised.The earliest to open in the area was the Electric Picture Palace, known locally as the “Wee Electric”. Opened in 1910, it was little more than a corrugated iron shed, built in a small back court and entered via a shop front in Maryhill Rd near St George’s Cross (a picture framers today).
The Wee Electric was soon followed by many more – some lasting longer than others. Just a few of the long-forgotten names include the Empire Electric in Napiershall Street, the Sun Picture House in Hopehill Road, the Phoenix just off Garscube Road, and the Gem on Great Western Road.
One name that is well-remembered is the Seamore, opened on a prominent corner site on Maryhill Road in December 1914. The cinema was built for the flamboyant and eccentric Glasgow businessman A E Pickard, the advertising slogan being “You’ll see more at the Seamore!”
It was a large, fan-shaped and windowless building seating nearly 2000. In 1926 a revolving windmill was added to the roof, illuminated at night with coloured light bulbs, and the ceiling of the auditorium decorated with a series of female nude paintings! When “talkies” were introduced, Pickard refused to allow them to be shown in the Seamore. His preference was for silent films and variety acts, which included his usherettes engaging in a song and dance routine!
Films being shown during that first month included “Mabel’s Married Life – A splendid comedy with the famous Charles Chaplin as the husband”. The printed programmes also assured patrons that the management desired “to pay special attention to the Entertainment, Comfort and Convenience of Ladies”. Also, that one of the conditions attached to the purchase of a ticket was that Ladies and Gentlemen occupying seats in the stalls were “respectfully requested to remove their hats”!
Sold in 1935, the new owner modernised the building – removing both the windmill and the nude paintings in the process – and introduced talkies. A former projectionist recalled the visit of the boxer Benny Lynch around that time, to watch a newsreel film of himself in a world championship match – “he was just a wee Glasgow man in a brown trench coat peering excitedly at the screen”.
In 1953 the Seamore became the first cinema in the area to be modified for CinemaScope. The cinema changed ownership again in 1955, but by this time television was in many homes and audience numbers were dwindling. The Seamore eventually closed in 1963 and was demolished, after a fire, in 1968.
The Blythswood was just along from the Seamore, at the corner of Trossachs Street. A privately-run business, it was smaller than its neighbour, but showed the latest films. Local man John Gray recalls being taken by his big brother to see Gone With The Wind at the Blythswood when it first came to Glasgow and people were queuing in the streets. The commissionaire was a man named Nicholson, known locally as “Big Nicky” – he would keep seats for people who gave him a ‘bung’!
The Astoria opened in 1931 in Possil Road, just at the Round Toll. Built on a filled-in quarry, it seated 3000 people and was described as “the largest working class sound cinema in Scotland”. Prior to WW2 it ran both films and variety shows, but then operated solely as a cinema until 1962, when it became one of the first Glasgow cinemas to be converted to a bingo hall. The building was demolished in 1995.
E. H. Bostock, owner of the Scottish Zoo and entertainment complex in New City Road claimed to have been one of the earliest film exhibitors in Glasgow: “I ran films as a sideshow from July 1897 onwards and, that winter, I showed them in the circus as part of my programme………. in August 1901, I exhibited the first fight film in the city, Fitzsimmons v Jeffries, which was a very big success.”
In 1911 Bostock opened a purpose built cinema on the premises, known as the Zoo Electric Theatre, later renamed the Joytown Grand Electric Theatre. Despite the showman’s claims to be providing “the cheapest attraction in the civilised world”, the cinema was not a success and closed in 1918.