Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Saved Olympia at Bridgeton Cross

It’s quite a while since I made it past Bridgeton Cross and the former Olympia, which had been closed and derelict for the best part of 20 years, and threatened by vandalism and possible demolition.

Originally known as the Olympia Theatre of Varieties, the venue opened on 18 September, 1911, designed by the architectural practice of George Arthur & Son, specifically John Arthur, who continued the practice following his father’s death in 1899. The interior was designed by Frank Matcham (1854-1920), describes as the most prolific theatre architect of all time. The theatre originally sat around 2,000 in the stalls and dress circle, and was equipped to show films from its opening. In 1924, acquired by Scottish Cinema and Variety Theatres (later ABC – Associated British Cinemas), after which the ‘variety’ aspect was dropped, and it became a full-time cinema. By 1938,  new Art Deco interior by McNair & Elder (Charles J McNair and Henry F Elder) incorporating concealed lighting, decorative grilles and other architectural elements of the 1930s replaced the original lavish plaster scrollwork of French Renaissance style, resulting in a vastly changed auditorium with seating for 1,689 which reopened on 21 November, 1938.

Like many cinemas, the Olympia eventually succumbed to falling numbers, and closed it doors on 9 March 1974, having had its name changed to the ABC in 1963. The building came back into use for a time, after being converted into a bingo club in 1978, operated by County Bingo. It ended its working days as a furniture store, although that only survived until 2000, after which the building became vacant and derelict.

It came to the notice of the media in 30 November, 2004, when a serious fire took place within the building, which resulted in the death of which a man who had been sleeping rough within, and who died of smoke inhalation.

Period views of the building and its interior can be seen on the excellent Scottish Cinema web site page: Olympia, Bridgeton


Work began on the £10 million project by Clyde Gateway – the regeneration agency responsible for the East End – to bring the historic B-listed Olympia Theatre back into use exactly 100 years after its first opening in 1911.

Probably the most impressive part of this work was the removal of the building’s 5 ton wooden cupola  for restoration, and its return some eight months later, when the restored dome was lifted back into place by a 60 foot crane.

The building has been transformed externally, using areas of glazing to open up the existing façade with a new glazed frontage onto Orr Street, which allows activities on the ground floor and in the first floor sports training areas and the upper floor offices to be seen from the street. A new granite plinth runs along the ground floor on Olympia Street before wrapping up and over the large curtain wall opening on Orr Street. Primary access to the building is from the corner of Orr Street and Olympia Street, via the original theatre entrance, covered by a new canopy which recreating the original (lost over time) of the Olympia Theatre. More glazing on the ground floor library allows the interior to be viewed from Olympia Street. The foyer now allows access to all levels via a new spiralling timber clad stair.

The regenerated building opened on 3 December, 2012, when the public library and a café opened on the ground floor, with the sports area on the floor above operated by Amateur Boxing Scotland. Office spaces are to follow in the remainder of the building.

You can read a more extended description of the building, its past, and its regeneration here: Bridgeton Olympia : January 2013 : Features & Reports : Architecture in profile the building environment in Scotland – Urban Realm

When I stopped to take a photograph, I was reminded that this was one of the most irritating places where one may try to take what is arguably the ‘best’ picture of the building, showing the entrance in the centre, and the two wall leading away and to either side. Without a ladder, or perhaps access to one of the upper flats on the facing building, you can’t avoid a set of traffic lights planting themselves right in the middle of the pic, in front of the door. The only way to avoid it is to offset the view, and that just wastes the symmetry.

Still, it’s better than no pic at all, and looking at nothing more than a gap site, which I really thought was more likely than not a few years ago.

Seriously though… somebody needs to do something about that damned traffic light!

Bridgeton Olympia Theatre

Bridgeton Olympia Theatre in 2013


February 16, 2013 - Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , ,


  1. Try and come back down to the Cross and see Millars lino shop next to the Olympia to the right.. its been taken back to its oridinal state as it was in 1930s. looking good ..


    Comment by donna robertson | June 8, 2014

  2. Would that be the one painted white in the above pic?

    I’ve been past recently, and seem to recall that the paint was gone, and it looked as if some work was about to start, but not been back.

    Wonder if they would let someone in to take pics of it as it is now.


    Comment by Apollo | June 8, 2014

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