Galashiels’ Pavilion Cinema – celebrating 100 years of cinema in 2020 – opened its doors as “The Playhouse” in the town’s Market Street in June 1920 with a performance of “The Mikado” presented by the Amateur Operative Society.
The Playhouse was owned by the Galashiels Playhouse Company and became the home of opera in the town, alternating with cinema performances and concerts.
At the time, Galashiels already had a Pavilion Cinema (demolished in 1970), reported to be a ‘tremendous fillip’ when it opened in Channel Street in 1911 as the town’s first purpose-build cinema. Prior to that, cinema shows were provided in the Volunteer Hall, known as Scott’s Empire.
Shortly after the opening of the original Pavilion, the foundations of a second and more luxurious cinema were laid in Market Street. The outbreak of war in 1914 resulted in the suspension of building operations and the Playhouse Cinema didn’t open its doors until 1920.
When it eventually did open, it was a thing of beauty.
According to ‘Galashiels – a Modern History’, the Playhouse, which also had a dance hall, was “beautifully equipped with a magnificent stage, a proper orchestra pit, dressing rooms and boxes.”
Over time, the building’s character was forcibly altered and tradition and grandeur were replaced with fashion and functionality.
In the 1930s, the Playhouse was sold to ABC Cinemas who made extensive alterations. It was soon unrecognisable.
When it was subsequently bought by Kingsway Entertainments Ltd., the spacious auditorium was divided into two, one as a cinema and the other as a bingo hall.
Internally, the floor was extended and a new proscenium was installed to form the screen wall. Externally, bold black and white cladding – contemporary, but also controversial at the time – was fixed to the front of the beautiful 1920’s art-deco façade, shrouding its beauty until an extensive multi-million-pound refurbishment of the building began in 1993.
The welcome restoration of the cinema included the installation of three additional cinema screens, two of which were created out of the cavernous space of the old theatre fly tower, stage area and orchestra pit left behind in the 1960s alterations.
Most pleasing however, was the removal of the black and white cladding which returned the façade to its glorious art deco splendour.
The cinema was renamed the Pavilion, a sentimental reference to Galashiels’ proud cinematic history.
Today, the Pavilion is a four-screen independent family-run cinema, operated by the Poole family, which sits proudly at the heart of Galashiels.
Cinematically, it offers a terrific mix of the latest Hollywood blockbuster movies and the best internationally recognised event cinema productions; historically, it offers a glimpse of the past with its beautiful 1920s façade overlooking the town’s Market Square.
The only four-screen entertainment venue in the Borders, the Pavilion provides a modern, clean, accessible and professionally operated mini-multiplex cinema.
It remains a ‘fillip’ for the town.