Auditorium demolished as iconic Leith cinema embarks on new lease of life

Artist impression of the redeveloped State cinema which will feature 36 Scandinavian-style flats. Picture: Glencairn Properties/ISA Architects
Artist impression of the redeveloped State cinema which will feature 36 Scandinavian-style flats. Picture: Glencairn Properties/ISA Architects
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FOR generations of Leithers it provided a means of escape from the daily grind, firing imaginations both young and old and whisking the masses off to new worlds.

But now those silver screen dreams are firmly confined to memory as demolition work proceeds at the landmark former State Cinema on Great Junction Street.

Demolition of the old auditorium is well under way. Picture: TSPL

Demolition of the old auditorium is well under way. Picture: TSPL

The Leith icon is set to embark on a new lease of life which will see it renovated and transformed to incorporate 36 Scandinavian-style apartments.

Under the plans the auditorium of the 81-year-old cinema complex will be razed to the ground, with its B-listed foyer block and former snooker hall to be retained as well as the existing commercial units housed within the main frontage.

Fronting the development is Edinburgh-based Glencairn Properties, who acquired the building in 2017 and obtained planning permission soon after. Fellow Capital firm ISA Architects is the appointed architect for the development and it has drawn up plans that are sympathetic to the building’s art deco heritage.

The entrance to the flats, which will be a mixture of studios, 1-3 bed flats, duplex flats and penthouses, will be through the original art deco foyer with new terrazzo flooring and timber panelling as per the original specification. A number of flats will have balconies overlooking the Water of Leith.

Picture: Glencairn Properties/ISA Architects

Picture: Glencairn Properties/ISA Architects

A spokesperson for Glencairn Properties said: “The building has been lying derelict for a while and as a design-led developer we have seen the huge potential this building offers. It is a great opportunity to renovate the B-listed element back to its original design while adding on a modern extension which opens the new building up to the Water of Leith.

“By doing this development we have rescued this building from the Buildings at Risk register and restored this once great icon back to its former beauty.”

Opened in 1938, the 1700-seater cinema has lain empty and in a half-derelict state since it was used as a bingo hall, nightclub and church more than a decade ago.

The State ceased operation as a picture palace in 1972, but was triumphantly brought back to use just last year by the Hidden Door Festival.

Picture: Glencairn Properties/ISA Architects

Picture: Glencairn Properties/ISA Architects

The volunteer-run arts group, which has made headlines for injecting new life into derelict and unused buildings, hoovered up the mothballs and hosted a screening of Disney classic Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, which was released the same year the State cinema opened. Rather poignantly, the one-time screening was the last motion picture to illuminate the old auditorium.

READ MORE: Derelict Leith cinema being brought back to life for final screening

Evening News Entertainment Editor and lifelong Leither, Liam Rudden, says he’s glad a new use has been found for the historic building.

He commented: “While it’s sad to see the pictures of the demolished auditorium, it will be good to see the old State bringing new life to the area.

“I recall as a kid we didn’t go there too often as it had a reputation of being a bit of a ‘flea-pit’ even then. That said, it had a great community feel and was always full.

“I remember one occasion, going to see The Jungle Book, and the entire cinema was in hysterics as my baby sister who would only have been about four at the time kept shouting out a warning to Mowgli every time Shere Khan tried to sneak up on him.

“The entire cinema thought it was hilarious as my dad tried to reassure her Mowgli would be okay.”

Demolition at the former State cinema will continue over the next few weeks before building work begins on a new extension to the art deco frontage.

State cinema timeline

The former State cinema has a history stretching back 81 years.

1938: The State cinema opens its doors for the first time.

1972: State cinema closes its doors as a picture house and later reopens as a Mecca bingo hall.

1995: The former cinema is given B-listed status by Historic Scotland, though no original features remain.

2002: The building is turned into Babylon nightclub and is latterly used by the Kingdom Church.

2018: The Hidden Door Festival screens the final ever film in the auditorium.

2019: Demolition begins on the auditorium as the former cinema embarks on a transformation for residential use.