Campbeltown Picture House revives and charms the seafront

Words:
Hugh Pearman

Burrell Foley Fischer’s restored art nouveau cinema on the seafront helps Kintyre regeneration

Scotland’s oldest still-functioning cinema – Campbeltown Picture House is an Art Nouveau charmer.
Scotland’s oldest still-functioning cinema – Campbeltown Picture House is an Art Nouveau charmer. Credit: Keith Hunter Photography

The MacEwen judges were enchanted by both the look of this historic little seafront cinema and by what its reinvention, by a committed community business and a practice with long experience in cinema design, meant. As Julia Barfield remarked: ‘The revival of a little building like this jewel can do something really important to a town.’

Campbeltown Picture House has the joint accolade of being one of Europe’s few surviving ‘atmospheric cinemas’ and Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema still in operation, opening in 1913. The conservation project restored the art nouveau exterior and historic 1930s main auditorium while also providing a new state-of-the art second screen, café, education room and other facilities.

  • Inside the original auditorium with its Wee Houses is restored.
    Inside the original auditorium with its Wee Houses is restored. Credit: Keith Hunter Photography
  • New second auditorium is provided behind.
    New second auditorium is provided behind. Credit: Keith Hunter Photography
  • A special place on the waterfront and key to its regeneration.
    A special place on the waterfront and key to its regeneration. Credit: Keith Hunter Photography
  • A community meeting room is part of the project.
    A community meeting room is part of the project. Credit: Keith Hunter Photography
  • Ground floor plan.
    Ground floor plan.
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Designed in two phases by Albert V Gardner, one of the most celebrated cinema designers in the first half of the 20th century, the auditorium ceiling of the Picture House has a blue sky with moving white clouds projected across it, and two plasterwork buildings (the ‘wee houses’) on either side of the screen that give the ambiance of a Mediterranean courtyard. These features have been meticulously restored with other elements of the original design, such as 1930s lamps recreated by contemporary craftspeople.

The impetus for regeneration in the town was the high level of deprivation in this remote area, with decreasing population, rising unemployment, deteriorating buildings and a lack of inward investment. Since reopening in December, the cinema has been well received, bringing back old audiences and attracting new ones across the age range. Extended opening hours make it accessible to islanders on Gigha, as well as to residents of Campbeltown and across the Kintyre peninsula.