Capitol Cinema, Aberdeen

Until 2014 the Capitol was an outstanding intact survivor from the era of the super cinema, and among the first British cinemas built in the moderne style. It was always considered to be Aberdeen’s most prestigious cinema with annual pantomime seasons and other regular live shows. It hosted concerts from the 1950s, but, after failing as a rock music venue, then fell into disuse be the late 1990s, except for the former caféhich functioned as a bar. It reopened in 2002 and for a few years operated as a nightclub. The Capitol was threatened with  demolition with redevelopment schemes approved in 2010 and in 2013 (and demolished save frontage in summer of 2014).

Throughout, Mackenzie’s innovative design was heavily influenced by contemporary European cinema and theatre design (such as the Savoy in London). The dignified façe is of classical proportion and is in unadorned dressed granite. It is eight bays wide with three tall windows in the centre, soaring above the entrance canopy to a simple pediment, which originally carried the name in neon letters. Neon was also used to outline the roof line and the façe was floodlit in white, an early use of German-inspired ‘Night Architecture’ in Britain. The entrance, flanked by shop units, had a V-shaped canopy and doors in mahogany with bold half-circular glasses and stainless steel inlays. Each set closed to form a dramatic ‘target’ design. The remainder of the structure was faced in plain brick with a pitched slate roof. Within, the building was almost entirely symmetrical and was originally decorated throughout in modish pale blue with silver leaf (reflecting Aberdeen’s status as the ‘silver city by the sea’). Following protests that it appeared too cold, it was quickly re-decorated in a pink and gold scheme. The outer foyer had elegant full height wood veneered walls and terrazzo flooring with typically enigmatic abstract patterns of mosaic.

Through another set of doors was the inner foyer, with its original streamlined confectionery stall in veneer with chrome and etched glass trimmings. Grand staircases with chromed balustrades swept up to the lofty circle and stalls foyers, which were complete with tinted mirrors and contemporary wall and ceiling light fittings. The powder room in the ladies’ toilet was pure Hollywood, with a swirling carpet, bevelled mirrors and fluted make-up tables in black, cream and mint green. Nothing had been radically altered since the 1930s. The auditorium had one balcony with truncated slips fairing into the side walls, which were splayed to the rectangular proscenium. To either side, there were elegant organ and ventilation grilles and tableau panels with stylised foliage. Otherwise, the space was largely unadorned and relied on an extensive scheme of concealed Holophane lighting for its effects, one of the first and best installations of its kind. In 1998, it glowed seductively in orange. The organ was a Compton.

The Capitol was unique, considering its size and city centre location. It was an outstanding building deserving of a full restoration - which was not to be!. Although the stage was of restricted depth and a road behind would have precluded its enlargement, the Capitol still had potential as an unaltered, commodious building with good acoustics and sightlines. It could have hosted stand-up comedy and folk or rock concerts. The Capitol was demolished in summer of 2014 (save facade).  In 2010 approval was granted to demolish the auditorium and construct a seven level hotel, but this scheme did not proceed. On 7 November 2013 a new redevelopment scheme was approved by Aberdeen City Council. This latest scheme will refurbish the Union Street elevation, foyer, staircase and former tea rooms and the historic proscenium arch and organ will be removed and stored for possible reuse elsewhere. The auditorium/ stage will be demolished to make way for a 10 level office tower.

Text from The Theatres Trust Website (modified to reflect 2014 demolition)


Note: Most of photographs are historical archive and there are third party copyright interests included for research purposes only.  See links below for further research 



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