Illus 1: North elevation and plan of the Picture House at Corbiehall in 1920. 1 – vestibule; 2 -entrance hall; 3 – cash office; 4 – toilets; 5 – auditorium; 11 – orchestra pit; 14 – manager’s room.
The first church in Bo’ness was erected on this site at Corbiehall in 1638. It was replaced in 1776 but in 1820 the S wall and part of the E wall had to be rebuilt, and galleries were constructed. When the congregation moved to their new building in Panbrae Rd in 1888 the old one was used by the Episcopalians until 1919. When they moved to Cadzow Avenue they sold the old building to a new company called The Bo’ness Cinema Ltd with Hugh Stirrat of 22 St Vincent Street in Glasgow as secretary. It applied for planning permission to make a low-cost conversion of the church into a cinema. This meant ripping out the existing loft and seating and putting in a sloped floor with new seats. The proscenium arch was placed on the west wall, with no stage and only a small orchestra. No balcony was proposed at this time and the old windows were merely boarded up.
However, a new single storey entrance block was added along the street frontage to provide the necessary paying booth and toilet facilities. This had a curved front conforming to the boundary of the property and was of brick with a simple cement render finish. In the centre, under the main sign, was a recessed set of six doors giving access to the vestibule. Beyond this, along the front of the old building, was the hall or corridor. Immediately opposite the vestibule it had a pay box and at each end of the corridor was an entrance into the auditorium. These made use of existing entrances, though that to the rear of the auditorium had to be raised because of the sloped floor in the hall. To either side of the vestibule were toilets and a manager’s office. It was intended to append a small operating chamber for the projector onto the exterior of the east gable, but this was not permitted as it would have blocked public access to the old graveyard. Instead, a concrete projection booth was built on the inside, elevated on cast iron columns. To provide quick egress from the building a set of double doors were placed at either end of the street façade. The plans were drawn up by Charles McNair of Glasgow.
Illus 2: Corbiehall looking west with the belfry on top of the old church conspicuous in the distance, c1920.
The belfry, which should have been removed, was allowed to remain. It was opened on Christmas night 1919 by Lothians Star Theatres Ltd as the Star Cinema. Prices at the time were 5d and 1/9d. It was the only cinema in the Falkirk district to have human bodies buried beneath the floor!
A new grander façade was designed by Mathew Steele in 1925 retaining much of the existing single storey building. It was a modernistic two-storey foyer block containing staircases to a new balcony. The centre of its shallowly convex front is marked off by piers with pantiles on the sloped coping of the front wall. Lothians Star Theatre Co was incorporated in 1929 with its registered address at the Regal Theatre in Bathgate
Fire broke out in the premises in the early hours of 7 April 1944. It was so fierce that the occupants of neighbouring premises to the west had to be evacuated. The interior and roof were gutted. The manager, TC Wallace was transferred to the Bathgate Cinema, one of the Star Circuit. Although the proprietors wanted to rebuild it straight away, due to the war they were unable to get permits for the release of materials. These finally arrived in late February 1945. The architects for the restoration were Haxton and Watson and it re-opened in 1947 with a new roof and steel framework for the balcony, increasing the seating capacity. The cinema could seat 720 people and boasted cushioned seats and continuous shows. The cinema closed on 27 May 1967.
Illus 5: The Star Cinema building looking south.
For a short time it operated as a bingo hall. It was then used by a removal and storage company. The original entrance was replaced by a garage door so that the van could be safely locked away. The balcony was converted into a residential flat and the operator’s booth became the kitchen.
Illus 6: The Star looking south-west with the steel braced operating box protruding from the gable.
Bo’ness Old Parish Church (Star Cinema) SMR 283 NS 9966 8150