The correspondence columns of last week’s Herald carried a letter from Suzan and Sandy Wilson full of praise for the Hippodrome in Bo’ness.
They were right to be so enthusiastic because this fantastic picture palace which celebrates its 100th birthday next week is not only one of Falkirk district’s finest buildings it is Scotland’s first ever purpose-built cinema.
Moving pictures first hit the world’s screens in Paris in 1895 and yet less than 20 years later the new sensation was thrilling the folk of Bo’ness in their own brand new picture house.
Elsewhere the public if they had any provision at all, had to make do with abandoned church buildings and converted halls.
Bo’ness was of course at the height of its prosperity during those Edwardian years with shipping, coal mines, foundries and potteries bringing wealth and power to the local businessmen.
With it came a sense of municipal pride that inspired many new fine new buildings and among them the Hippodrome stands out as the most imaginative and unusual both in terms of design and purpose.
Two men take the credit.
The first was Louis Dickson, entrepreneur and modernist who recognised right away that the ‘movies’ were the entertainment of the future and a sure fire money spinner for himself!
He was an electrical engineer by profession and a keen photographer and in 1908 we find him acting as the official ‘kinematographer’ at the national exhibition in Edinburgh.
To create his Bo’ness picture palace he turned to the celebrated architect Matthew Steele whose brilliant buildings are dotted all over Bo’ness.
Steele came up with the idea of a theatre in the round with seating for over 1000 patrons and, as our photograph shows it was completed in time for its official opening by Provost Grant on March 11, 1912.
Thereafter Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the Keystone Cops and Douglas Fairbanks Junior shuffled and swashbuckled their way across the silver screen as the Hippodrome became the place to be for that first generation of film buffs.
For the next 60 years it continued to bring the very best of the movie world to the area but along with cinemas everywhere it fell before in advance of television.
It closed in the mid 1970s and for a few years was home to that other popular entertainment, bingo, before closing in 1980.
After that it lay empty and abandoned.
Its importance brought it into the ownership of the Historic Buildings Trust and in 2002 they began the process or bringing it back to life.
Falkirk Council took over responsibility for the restoration and three years ago the magnificent auditorium was ready for its second official opening.
It is the perfect place to sample something of the magic of those early silent days and beginning next week we the Hippodrome hosts its week long Festival of Silent Film.
Last year’s event was a great success and the organisers have produced an excellent programme for this anniversary year.
The ‘silent’ piano players are limbering up and the projectionists standing by with reels of Laurel and Hardy, Keaton, Chaplin, Fairbanks and much, much more.
In this day and age when we are still losing well-loved historic buildings it is a real pleasure to see this amazing place thriving and doing what it was built to do a century ago.
With our support it will go on doing that for a very long time to come.