Liverpool, L1 1JQ
Original owners: The Scala (Liverpool) Ltd. Directors- Sol Levy and E Haig.
Architect: J S Bramwell.
Building contractors: B Cromwell Ltd.
Building notice granted: 6th April 1915.
Building cost: £14000. (estimated).
Original seating capacity: Stalls 400 seats. Circle 220 seats. Total= 620 seats.
First General Manager: Vivian van Damm
Date opened: Monday 31st January 1916.
First silent films shown: “John Glayde’s Honour” and “Chip Off the Old Block“.
First sound feature shown: Monday 8th July 1929: “Lucky Boy” starring George Jessell and Gwen Lee.
Bomb damaged: May 1941. Re-opened: 17th June 1941.
Leased to 20th Century Fox: Sunday 10th April 1955. First Fox film shown: “Carmen Jones”.
Acquired and re-branded by ABC/EMI Cinema Circuit: Monday 3rd July 1967.
Date Closed: Tuesday 24th August 1982.
Final film shown: “Firefox” starring Clint Eastwood, Freddie Jones, and David Huffman.
The building was demolished in January of 2017.
Opening his first cinema during 1914 in Birmingham, named The Scala, Sol Levy, the well-known Midland businessman, together with a fellow director, E. Haig, went on to form the Scala (Liverpool) Ltd with the prospect of securing a central site on Liverpool’s Lime Street.
Architect, J S Bramwell was commissioned to design a modestly sized cinema within a generous building budget of an estimated £14000. Once the plans were passed and a date of notice to build was given on 6th April 1915, the main building contractors, B Cromwell Ltd commenced construction. Despite the turmoil of the WWI Sol Levy was determined that this building was to be known as Scala “The Super Cinema of the Mersey City”. A boast that was more than justified when the cinema was completed.
The three-storey white terracotta Classical style façade was sandwiched between Liverpool’s first purpose-built cinema, the Lime Street Picture House, and another building. Its dominating height more than made up for the lack in width. A deep, white opaque metal and glass canopy displayed a permanent Super Cinema sign. Above were clusters of windows at first and second floor levels, with a wide stone panel that featured the Scala name in bold letters with decorative concrete swags on either side. Above this arrangement was prominent and elaborate coping. At the highest part of the frontage was a balcony complete with an iron balustrade and columns that supported a central arch that was integral to a gable. All these features would eventually be picked out with copious neon tubing creating a stunning night time spectacle, as seen in the picture below. Three sets of double entrance doors led customers into a tastefully decorated foyer. On either side of the white marble faced cash desk were the doors to the stalls. The sumptuous first floor balcony lounge was accessed via side staircases also located in this foyer.
The ornate plasterwork in the auditorium was decorated in rich and vibrant colours. Large Egyptian-styled murals covered the walls and proscenium, giving the audiences plenty to look at during the intervals.
The balcony could accommodate 220 patrons with a further 400 seats in the stalls area.
Licensee and first General Manager was Vivian Van Damm who later became the manager of London’s famous Windmill Theatre in Soho when it opened in June 1931.
The Scala “Super Cinema” opened on 31st January 1916. The first silent films screened were “John Glayde’s Honour” starring Aubrey Smith, plus “A Chip Off the Old Block”. The Scala Gazette was included in the opening line-up, showing local events and other newsreel items. All accompanied by the splendid Scala Grand Orchestra, conducted by Harry Freeman.
The ticket prices for stalls seat ranged from 6d (two and a half new pence) to 1/6 (seven and a half new pence). Balcony seats cost 2/- (10 pence). The seating capacity altered with seats being added and taken away during the cinema’s lifetime.
In 1920 a new company was formed (Futurist Liverpool Ltd). The Scala and the Lime Street Picture House, which was next door, came under the control of the Levy Circuit. The Lime Street Picture House was renamed The Futurist.
During the silent movie era, music accompaniment continued with the Scala Symphony Orchestra. In the 1920s, it also boasted Jules Gaillard, violin virtuoso and his orchestra.
On the 29th of November 1926 Talking Pictures began a one week run of the Lee de Forest Phono films (a series of short films). The following year sound was made a permanent feature when the RCA Photophone sound system was installed.
The Scala became the first cinema in Liverpool to introduce the first full sound feature. “Lucky Boy” starring George Jessell was shown to repeated capacity audiences on Monday 8th July 1929.
However, as the major cinema circuits arrived with their own brand of large “Super Cinemas”, both the Scala and Futurist admissions started to drop as they began to lose first run status with new competitors taking first pick of product.
Badly damaged by German bombs in 1941, the Scala was forced to close for six weeks while repairs were carried out, re-opening on 17th June.
In the early-to mid-1950’s, the Scala Cinema screened mainly second run programmes, together with ‘X’ certificate films. It was leased to Twentieth Century Fox in 1955. The auditorium was altered to accommodate CinemaScope, destroying most of the original Egyptian decorative scheme, enabling a wall-to-wall screen to be installed.
It re-opened on Sunday 10th April 1955 with “Carmen Jones” starring Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pearl Bailey.
By the end of the 1950’s there was not enough Twentieth Century Fox product to keep the cinema viable for TCF requirements.
The Scala’s lease was taken over by Gala Film Distributors, screening Continental ‘X’ certificate films, and opened with “Sins of Youth” and the nudist film “Travelling Light”.
The façade was ‘modernised’ to a plain design, with new windows. Gala left the building in 1962.
The adult film policy continued under independent management until taken over by ABC on Monday 3rd July 1967. Re-branding the cinema with ABC/EMI signage.
When ABC/EMI tripled the ABC ex-Forum Cinema across the street, they closed the Scala Cinema on Tuesday 24th August 1982. The final film shown was “Firefox” starring Clint Eastwood, Freddie Jones, and David Huffman.
Five years later it re-opened as a nightclub and was followed by a succession of similar businesses before closing for the final time in October 2015.
The building was demolished in January of 2017.