Bradford - Scala Picture Hall

Scala Picture Hall
East Parade,

Scala Picture House

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Situated on the eastern side of East Parade. A purpose-built stone and brick with pebble-dash cinema erected in 1913 on a site adjoining (quite literally) the huge and lofty St Mary's RC Church close to the (even then) busy crossroads with Otley Road and Barkerend Road and East Parade.


Proprietors were the Tivoli Picture Hall Company (Joseph Stephen McFarlane, JP) and the Catholic Church who had built the Tivoli in Leeds Road on land owned by the Catholic Church and adjoining the RC cemetery. Following the success of this venture, they went on to build the larger Scala in this prime location surrounded by closely packed terrace housing. Both picture halls were run in conjunction with one another under a joint manager, Stanley Murphy.


Original Concept
Scala elevation The architects were Ed. Simpson & Son of 12 Cunliffe Terrace in Manningham. Their original plans of 1912 showed a slightly different front elevation to East Parade as shown in the picture. An amended plan of 1913 showed the recessed half-moon centre part above the main entrance.


Building Exterior
The three storey building has some unusual characteristics not seen in other picture halls of the period. The three stone steps lead up to the double doors of wood and glass still in situ. A half-moon theme surrounds the first floor centre triple windows with the entrance and window surrounded by plain white glazed ceramic tiles with green horizontal bands giving a rather clinical appearance.

The second floor culminates in a central pitched roof whilst on the left of the frontage is the internal staircase and, unusually, a rectangular tower topped by what is thought to be a water tank. A simple canopy extended the full width of the frontage. The main body of the hall has a pitched slate roof and a flat gable end at the rear with a lower level full width extension to house the proscenium and screen.


The entrance lobby has a single stairway on the left to the first floor front offices and down a short passage to the front balcony. The steps continue further up to the rear balcony and projection room. The lobby has a small central paybox and to the right was the entrance to the stalls. A small full-width cellar was constructed under the front entrance part of the building; original plans showed only a void under the raked floor of the rear/centre stalls area. The cellar provided the boiler with flue to chimney and a large coal store. Another cellar room housed a motor generator.

The auditorium originally seating 700 people with "tip-up seats in all parts". The auditorium was approximately 33 feet wide and 92 feet long to back wall and 24 feet high at the side walls. An arched proscenium housed the screen approx. 16 feet wide and 14 feet high mounted on the back wall 8 feet above floor level.

The stalls floor was raked for two-thirds of its length with a flat area at the front. seating was arranged in three central blocks separated by two cross-over aisles to side exits on the left side. A full length aisle ran down each wall side.

Former Scala Interior 2007

The straight fronted balcony, with evidence of its red plush top still to be seen, was accessed by a single width door at the front left-hand side with another similar door at the higher left-hand rear balcony. The stepped balcony accommodated ten straight rows of seats all offering a clear view of the screen.

Scala Balcony Box

An unusual feature of the rear right-hand balcony is a half-moon opening in the rear wall and four steps up to the private Priest's Box with its own wooden rail and curtains from where he could also observe the behaviour of the balcony patrons. Another interesting feature is a wood moulding at head height along the back wall and sloping down both sides of the balcony supporting a large number of coat hooks - a rather thoughtful idea.

The balcony has two small windows either side whilst the main body of the hall had five windows set in vertical rectangular panels with ornate plaster garland decoration all of which was still visible in 2003.

The decorative scheme was in beige, cream and pink. Looking down the length of the hall there is a very plain inverted 'V' shaped ceiling following the external pitched roof with ventilation ports. Steel trusses supporting the roof are openly visible and currently also support the new suspended ceiling of the ground floor area.

The original proscenium has all been removed long ago. It was customary in those days to fix the screen (or sheet) on the wall. There is still evidence of secondary gas lighting on the balcony walls.


Projection Room
Scala Projection Room 2007 The projection room ('operators room' on the plans) central at the rear of the balcony, accessed by a short flight of four steps and through a steel sliding door, is about 12 feet square with a large rectangular cut-out into the auditorium. The cut-out is covered with a fireproof steel plate with two pairs of shuttered ports suggesting two projectors were installed for the silent films of the era. Ample daylight was available from a large window. A rewind and storage room to one side and behind the rear balcony half-moon viewing box.

On the first floor, ie. between the entrance level and the projection room was the manager's office with large fitted cupboards and a large storeroom on the right-hand corner of the building. On the extreme left corner was a toilet in the tower part of the building.


The Opening
The day before, the new luxurious Elite Picture House in Toller Lane had been opened by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Fred Foster, with some ceremony and much publicity in the newspapers. By contrast the Scala opened rather quietly on Saturday 2nd August 1913 without any wide publicity or ceremony. The opening programme included . . .

"The Deerslayer" - 1913 USA B/W Silent
starring Wallace Reid, Florence Turner and Hal Reid.
"The Test" - 1913 USA/UK B/W Silent
Starring Fred Paul, Blanche Forsythe and Rolfe Leslie.
Plus a "Full Programme of Pictures for Bank Holiday Week".

Almost lost in the very small type, the Bradford Daily Telegraph reported . . .

"The new Scala Picture House, in East Parade, which opened today promises to become extremely popular with the populous neighbourhood in which it is situated. Judging by the Bank Holiday attractions, the management are leaving no stone unturned to secure the best for their patrons".

Musical accompaniment for the silent films was provided by a pianist - a Miss Gladys Greenwood being one such popular name. Film programmes were booked in conjunction with the Tivoli Picture Hall and overseen by the RC Church for their educational, family and moral value.

The nearest competition in those early days for film entertainment was the Hippodrome, a little further up Barkerend Road, which provided a nightly mixture of variety acts on stage mixed with short films, the Temperance Hall in Chapel Street showed films and, of course, the Tivoli in Leeds Road.


Tragedy Strikes
On New Year's Day, Saturday 1st January 1916 just before 7.00pm, during very strong gales, the large stone cross weighing about three hundredweights and perched high on the apex of the gable end together with a portion of the corner roofing of the adjoining St Mary's RC Church became dislodged and crashed down through the roof of the Scala landing in the right hand side of the stalls where the audience were just taking their places for the evening performance; there were about 100 people in the hall at the time.

Sadly young Albert E. Rawse, only12 years of age, was instantly crushed to death and at least two others badly injured with several more with injuries from the falling slates and other debris from the huge hole in the roof. A woman was also struck by the flying fragments. A man sitting next to the boy was busy reading his newspaper and though injured himself, he carried the badly mutilated body to the manager's office where an ambulance took him to the mortuary. A crowd had collected outside the hall as the rest of the audience fled.

The performance was immediately cancelled as were subsequent performances until the roof was repaired. The stone cross was never replaced on the church.

The gales of that evening will go down in Bradford's history as much damage was caused all across the city with people blown over, tram services disrupted and even a tram being blown over near Five Lane Ends.


Period after the Great War
By 1920 the Scala was showing film programmes twice nightly at 7.00 and 9.00pm (except Sundays, of course) with two changes weekly. Typical prices were 4d to 8d compared to city centre prices of 7d to 1/6d at, for example, the Bradford Picture House in Morley Street or the Regent on Manningham Lane.

The Scala closed as a cinema in 1922 but there is no record of the final film programme. Like its opening, the closure did not attract any publicity.

This was still the era of silent films and competition was strong from other picture houses such as the Tivoli, Hippodrome and several city centre cinemas. The old Temperance Hall Picture House in nearby Chapel Street suffered the same fate and also closed its doors in 1922.


1923 Modifications
Secondary Gaslighting Plans were approved in January 1923 for the conversion of the Scala Picture Hall to a Parochial Hall for Dean Schreiber. Main features were the removal of the stalls raked floor by lowering to the level of the existing flat floor of the former front stalls. The proscenium and screen were removed and opened up to the back wall where a raised platform 25 feet wide and 6 feet deep was erected. Entrance and exit from the front lobby was now via a short flight of steps from both the left and right hand rear corners. The balcony remained unaltered.


Re-opens for New Use
The Scala was to re-open in 1925 as a Concert Party Theatre with "Crowther's Popular Concerts" run by George Crowther and Kit Scarr (later to be his wife) but this did not last very long which was surprising as other concert party venues had been very successful at Undercliffe "Swiss Chalet" Pavilion, Mechanics Institute and Arcadian Pavilion.

In 1926 Canon Schreiber decided to drop the Scala name and it became St Mary's Parish Hall so providing space for its expanding activities including church concerts on its small stage and popular dances on the sprung maple floor of the former stalls area. The stage was removed and the ceiling lowered in 1980 when the Church raised £30,000 to modernise the centre with the building work provided free by the churchgoers.


New Lease of Life for 21st Century
St Mary's Centre For many years the old cinema building has looked as though it was disused as the front entrance was shuttered and the paintwork peeling. In fact, it was being used and almost hidden by a large tree, a single door entrance from the church grounds provided access to the fading hall used for various community activities and as a sanctuary for homeless people. Internally, a central single set of steps were built to enter the hall from the former lobby.

Now known as the St Mary's Centre but early in 2003 the kitchen area to the left of the hall was declared unsafe on health and safety grounds and the hall promptly closed. Luckily monies were found from a Regeneration Scheme, Streetsmart Project and the Telegraph & Argus to enable refurbishment to a high standard to take place.

Parish Hall 2007

The suspended ceiling at front balcony level was modified with new lighting plus a new kitchen, redecorating and new furniture to again make this a multi-purpose hall providing food for the refuge, church and community group facilities including the elderly and Bradford Youth Players.

Meanwhile above the suspended ceiling, the upper part of the old Scala, its balcony and projection room are still in tact (minus seats and equipment) and is a time capsule of the silent film era almost a 100 years ago. In 2005 permission was obtained to remove the now unsightly boarded-up canopy across the frontage now to reveal the façade in greater detail.


Final Closure
Former Scala 2007 By 2005 the upgraded ground floor level had been closed and the adjoining church was also suffering small attendance and rising costs due to its colossal size. In October 2006 the church closed and along with its adjoining presbytery, schoolrooms and former cinema were expected to be placed on the market for redevelopment.

In September 2008 a planning application was made for the Church and Presbytery to form the Emmaus Centre for the homeless providing accommodation, cafe and workshops. Crucially, the former Scala was to be demolished to provide an open frontage to the new development from Barkerend Road. By May 2010 no work has yet started and the cinema hall is still providing food and facilities for those in need.


Was it the Oldest Cinema Building?
There is a well rumoured story (from Church sources) that the Scala is (or was) Bradford oldest cinema - this is quite incorrect. Several cinemas were built or converted from existing halls prior to 1913, details of which can be found elsewhere in these history pages. In fact, almost 20 picture halls were operating in Bradford before the Scala opened.

For the record, the King's Hall Picture House in White Abbey Road was the first purpose-built picture hall in Bradford (as opposed to a conversion job) and opened in February 1911. Perhaps the Scala can possibly claim to be "the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema with most original features still in tact".

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