Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Famous last notes as Aberdeen’s historic Astoria cinema came tumbling down

The Astoria cinema was knocked down in April 1967.
The Astoria cinema was knocked down in April 1967.

An icon from Aberdeen’s golden age of cinema reached its final reel in April 1967 when the historic Astoria was reduced to rubble.

Stone by stone, and girder by girder, Aberdeen’s only suburban super cinema was pulled down to make way for a £150,000 shopping development.

In its day it was recognised as acoustically the best cinema in Scotland.

The Astoria cinema was pulled down in 1967.

Had it survived the Astoria might by now have been declared a listed building.

All removable fittings and materials were salvaged from the Kittybrewster landmark including its Compton organ with its illuminated glass-sided console.

It would provide the soundtrack as the building was razed to the ground after becoming an early victim of the decline in motion-picture admissions.

Life and times

So let’s go back to the start of the 20th century.

Here we find Aberdonians caught up in a love affair with the movies.

The city got its first permanent cinema, the Gaiety, in 1908, which marked the beginning of a boom which would turn Aberdeen into the cinema capital of Britain.

Aberdeen eventually boasted one seat for every seven people and the Talkies at the end of the 1920s were the sensation of the silver screen.

When the avant-garde, Art Deco Astoria opened on a vast site called Central Park in Kittybrewster in 1934, it was a trailblazer for cinema design in Scotland.

The cinema was another from the vision of architect T Scott Sutherland and was built for a group of local businessmen who traded as Aberdeen Astoria Cinema Ltd.

The magnificent entrance to the Astoria.

Kittybrewster cinemagoers could see Britain’s and Hollywood’s biggest names.

Everything for the luxurious Astoria, except the organ sound equipment, was built or handmade in Aberdeen to the tune of £3 million in today’s money.

Around 30 tonnes of castings were needed to make 2,060 tipping chairs for the main auditorium, and it took 102 local men and women five months to upholster them.

The Astoria interior is pictured before the cinema opened in 1934.

The whole frontage was electrifying – illuminated day and night in blue, yellow, green and orange neon lighting which continued under the canopy and into the foyer.

The colour scheme was light pink, ivory and brown to complement walnut wall panelling and two miles of green and brown plush, patterned carpet covered the floors.

The jewel in the crown was the huge proscenium – the archway framing the stage – which was dressed with opulent green curtains and silver screen made of satin.

The sound-recording system was the first of its kind to be installed in Scotland with high-fidelity horns and an RCA super-simplex projector.

It also became known nationwide through the regular radio broadcasts of its Compton theatre organ by Bobby Pagan between 1939 and 1946 and its last resident organist George Blackmore from 1950 to 1957.

The organ was the first in Scotland to be illuminated.

Opening ceremony

The honour of opening the Astoria in December 1934 was bestowed to 72-year-old Robert Gibb of nearby Cattofield Terrace who was well-known locally.

The local pensioner had taken such an interest in the construction of the Astoria that he had visited the building site daily – including Sundays – since work began.

The first film shown was ‘I Give my Love’, starring Paul Lukas, with the Astoria’s Harold Titherington accompanying on the organ.

The Astoria opened in 1934 and closed in 1967 after four months as a bingo hall.

Those who played the organ had not only to be masters of a most difficult and demanding instrument, but they had also to be entertainers, song-writers and public personalities.

However, lack of film-booking power forced its owners to seek a link with a larger concern and in 1936 a majority interest was sold to James F. Donald (Aberdeen Cinemas) Ltd, who thereby gained their first modern super cinema and took a major step towards their eventual pre-eminence in the city’s entertainment circles.

For a time the Astoria was managed by Dick Donald when he was not playing for Aberdeen FC!

The Astoria escaped a near-miss during the Aberdeen Blitz when a 500-kg explosive detonated just west of Kittybrewster Station on the other side of Great Western Road.

The brief boom of cinema in Aberdeen was brought to a shuddering halt by the rise of television and the silver screens suffered widespread closures.

The cinema’s last film was Harper, with Paul Newman and Lauren Bacall, which was shown in August 1966 before the venue reopened as a bingo hall.

Their attempts to save the cinema failed.

At the end of the year the Donald’s sold the site for redevelopment and demolition work started in April 1967 to make way for a shopping precinct.

Final performance

Michael Thomson, author of Silver Screen in the Silver City, was given permission to try the organ and played to an audience of workmen who were dismantling the building.

The instrument was saved for reinstallation.

The organ was offered for sale to nearby Powis Academy and music master Robert Leys, along with 10 senior pupils, dismantled and removed the instrument.

The youngsters restored the organ to working order where it carried on providing music for school assemblies and events for 14 years.

Fire struck Powis Academy in 1982.

The irreplaceable organ was tragically destroyed when a former pupil with a grievance set fire to Powis Academy in November 1982.

It was a sad closing chapter in the history of the Astoria.

More like this:

End of the reel: The long-lost Victoria Cinema in Inverurie

Remembering the closure of Aberdeen’s Grand Central and Queen’s cinemas