Grangemouth La Scala

At the end of May 1916 the Empire Electric Theatre Grangemouth closed for a few weeks for re-decoration and cleaning.  It re-opened on 19 June as La Scala under the new management.  As well as the modern decorative scheme the work had included placing the stalls at the back and the pit right at the back of the orchestra.  Subdued lights were introduced so that the place was not flooded with light immediately after the end of a picture.  The quality of the films was also improved by fitting a new screen and installing two new projecting machines which obviated the long waits between pictures. 

On 19 June 1916 Andrew Buchan, the local manager, employed James Bruce of Grangemouth as the cinematograph operator at La Scala.  At his interview Bruce had stated that he had been declared as unfit for military service, but this turned out not to be true.  On 5 September he was arrested and the Lanarkshire Cinema Company was charged with employing an absentee.  As King and Buchan had been making enquiries about Bruce at the time they were only fined £1 instead of the possible £20 (Falkirk Herald 23 September 1916, 5).

As with many cinemas the continuous performance routine was adopted at this time from 6.45pm to 10.45pm.  Among other films viewed was one showing Lord Kitchener inspecting the troops in France.  War charities continued to be supported with wounded soldiers from Wallside Hospital and Falkirk Infirmary who attended the special concerts given free cigarettes.

Illus 1: Wounded soldiers and auxiliary nurses in front of La Scala in November 1917. The Charlie Chaplin film being advertised was appropriately “The Cure.”
Illus 2: The children’s matinee.

Children were not forgotten and the Saturday matinee cost only 1d each. After the war William Gilbert took over as the manager of La Scala Picture House. He was fined 5s in January 1922 for allowing a chimney there to catch fire. At the court hearing he questioned whether the policeman had actually seen it on fire as it was reported to have been very early in the morning, only to be told that the judge had also seen it! By this date Albert Henry Faulkner, who had acquired an interest in La Scala in 1916, had purchased the building outright. Faulkner was a native of Birmingham but lived at 52 Talbot Street in Grangemouth. In 1911 he had rented the old Parish Church in Grangemouth from the Caledonian Railway Company and adapted it as a cinema.

Illus 3: A.H. Faulkner.

Faulkner continued La Scala’s role in the community.  A particular favourite was the campaign to raise funds for the Falkirk and District Infirmary, for which many events were staged.  In 1923 the Redding Pit Disaster Fund was also a beneficiary.

As with many of the theatres he encouraged local talent and the Grangemouth High School Former Pupils’ Dramatic Society staged some of its shows in La Scala, such as “Quality Street” in December 1928.

Illus 4: Stage show at La Scala (Falkirk Herald 19 December 1928, 1).

In 1930 minor alterations were made.  The door of the operating room which abutted the lower part of the stairway was closed and an outside wooden stair erected on the east of the building to provide access to it.  The building was wired throughout, especially on the stage, for the talkies.  W Munnoch of Falkirk, upholsterer, recovered most of the seats in velvet.

AH Faulkner was also the proprietor of the Picture Palace in Stenhousemuir and in the 1930s William Gilbert became the general manager of the two with L B Truman as resident manager at the Palace and Stephen Thom the manager of La Scala.  Thom was the son-in-law of Faulkner.  AH Faulkner died at his Grangemouth home on 24 April 1942 at the age of 77.  His youngest daughter, Hilda Thom, became the proprietrix of La Scala Cinema.  During the Second World War La Scala continued to be used for public information films, talks and fundraising events.  Money was raised for the Falkirk Hospital, mobile ambulances, the Red Cross, POWs, Comforts, Earl Haig Funds, Aberlour Orphanage, and so on.  In order not to disrupt the regular programming many of these activities took place on Sundays, with the permission of Grangemouth Town Council.  However, towards the end of the war various Christian bodies in Grangemouth asked the Town Council to refuse Sunday performances.  The Council compromised and licensed only one performance each Sunday.  Due to staffing rotas this became financially unviable and so all future charity events had to be cancelled.  It was at this time that a number of hearing aids were installed at the cinema.

At the end of the war La Scala was taken over by Caledonian Cinemas Ltd of Inverness and in February 1948 it sought permission to make alterations.  These were to include a new operating room, toilet facilities and a general office accommodation, as well as a boiler house and fuel store with an entrance from the lane between the bank and the cinema.  Stewart Liggat stood in as a temporary manager.

Caledonian Cinemas seem to have wanted to maintain good relations with the church and Rev. Hugh Thom, the minister of the Old Parish Church, was permitted to give an Easter message in 1948 from the stage at the La Scala Cinema to the first-house audience on Easter Friday. Although it was an innovation locally, such religious practices had already occurred elsewhere in Scotland.  April 1948 also saw the start of a children’s cinema club on Saturday mornings at 10.45, when special films were shown.

In June 1948 Stephen Thom took over as manager of La Scala Cinema.  He was the grandson of AH Faulkner.  He had served in the Burma campaign and after his return home had undergone a course of study in cinema technique – times were changing.

Early in 1949 the promised alterations and improvements were made.  A three-storey extension was made to the east wall.  On the ground floor were a staff room and a gent’s toilet; on the first floor the ladies toilets; and on the second floor the projection and re-winding rooms which cantilevered over the street.  The projecting apparatus was also replaced with a Gourmont 20ins machine to give a clearer sharper picture and a greater range of vocal production.  This was accompanied by a new type of arc lamp to prevent fade-outs during screening.  The toilets were accessed by two passages under the stage.  In the auditorium ventilators were fitted to the roof and additional fire safety measures were incorporated.  Fitting glass swing doors at the entrance was seen as an improvement to the façade.

Illus 6: La Scala looking up Station Brae with the 1949 extension on the east gable.

After the death of Stephen Thom, Ian Calder was appointed manager in 1951.  Calder had been in charge of a cinema in Grantown on Spey for four years.  In 1955 La Scala installed cinemascope and showed “The Robe.”  A small fire occurred in 1962 and in 1971 the cinema closed permanently.  The owners wanted to demolish the building and replace it with a supermarket building but could not get planning permission.  Instead it was converted for use as a bingo hall and operated as the Carlton Bingo Club until 2006, when it was closed.

One of the reasons given was the new law banning smoking in public places.  In 2008 Carlton Bingo sold La Scala to Cabri (Three) for £450,000, who subsequently applied to demolish the building, but this was turned down as it was now a Listed Building.  Since then it has remained empty.

La Scala Cinema          SMR 1299                   NS 9275 8210

G. B. Bailey, 2021