Scala Theatre

Lord Street and Kingsway,
Southport, PR8 1JR

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Additional Info

Architects: George Edward Tonge

Firms: J. & A. Burroughs, Maxwell & Tuke

Previous Names: Pavilion, Albert Hall Palace of Varieties, Empire Theatre, Empire Picture Theatre, West End Cinema, Scala Cinema

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Scala Theatre

In the seaside resort of Southport, Merseyside, in 1874, eight acres of land became an all year round entertainment complex called the Winter Gardens. One of the buildings was a 2,500-seat concert hall, called the Pavilion.

Restricted space at the Pavilion resulted in the building of the separate Opera House in 1891, by famed architect Frank Matcham. There were 1,492 seats, spread over boxes, stalls, dress circle, upper circle and gallery, and a 50ft deep stage. The opening attraction, on 7th September 1891, was “The Dancing Girl”.

In 1905 the Pavilion was rebuilt as the 1,200 seat Albert Hall Palace of Varieties, which opened on 26th December that year. In 1906 bioscope presentations became part of the variety programmes.

In 1908 it was rebuilt again to the plans of architect George Edward Tonge, reopening as the Empire Theatre, but closed in February 1913. It re-opened on Monday 10th March 1913 as the Empire Picture Theatre. The main attraction was a drama entitled “When the Heart Speaks”.

By around 1920 the Empire Picture Theatre had been renamed the West End Cinema. In September 1921 it was acquired by Alfred Levy, who renamed it the Scala Cinema. There were by then 1,200 seats.

By this time, the Scala Cinema was a separate building. The Frank Matcham designed Opera House had been destroyed by fire in December 1929, and this led to the demolition of most of the rest of the Winter Gardens by 1933.

As part of those works, it was necessary to take down the Scala’s entrance and bar, which were replaced by a new splayed frontage constructed of Portland stone.

The Scala Cinema closed on 20th November 1938 for modernisation to the plans of Liverpool based architectural firm J. & A. Burroughs. It was re-seated, which reduced the seating capacity to 1,043.

The Scala Cinema re-opened on Christmas Day 1938 with Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.

It operated as a cinema until February 1939. That was followed by another period of closure while the stage block was rebuilt to provide a 34ft deep stage with a 40ft wide proscenium. There were nine dressing rooms. The Scala Theatre re-opened as a ‘live’ theatre on Easter Monday 1939 with “Arcadian Follies”, which ran until the outbreak of World War II in September 1939.

A period of cine-variety followed, culminating in the final film show, “Yellow Sky”, starring Gregory Peck, on 4th October 1953.

Southport Repertory Company moved in, until the theatre finally closed in January 1962. Four months later it had been demolished, to create a large car park.

Contributed by David Simpson
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