Look back at one of Glasgow’s iconic buildings guide, West Scotland Architecture

A Look Back At One Of Glasgow’s Iconic Buildings

28 July 2022

Glasgow’s landscapes are home to different types of architecture, from Victorian tenements and Scottish baronial to modern, cutting-edge designs like the Riverside Museum, designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Not only are the buildings in Glasgow unique in their design, but each has its own history and story, such as the Glasgow Empire Theatre. In today’s article, we’re going to look at the fascinating history of what used to be one of Glasgow’s major theatres.

The History Of The Glasgow Empire Theatre

Opened in 1897 at 31-35 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow Empire Theatre was one of the major theatres in the city until its final curtain on March 31, 1963. British architect Frank Matcham designed the building for the Moss Empires theatre company, and both Matcham and Moss Empires eventually became household names. They went on to design and own several other renowned buildings in the United Kingdom, such as the Victoria Palace Theatre, the London Palladium, and the London Hippodrome.

For example, the London Hippodrome was designed by Matcham and built for circus and variety performances before being reconstructed for multiple purposes. Since 2012, the building has been the Hippodrome Casino, which features four gaming floors, a restaurant, and a cabaret theatre. The Hippodrome Casino also has a digital platform that allows gamblers to play live and virtual table games like online roulette while replicating the setting and atmosphere that land-based gamblers get when playing in-person at the famous London venue.

Without Matcham, neither the Hippodrome building would exist as beautifully designed as it does, nor the Glasgow Empire Theatre, which became known as the “The English comic’s grave.” This was because the theatre’s audience was known for jeering the acts of English comedians, such as Des O’Connor, who reportedly pretended to faint to get away from the mocking crowds. Welsh singer Dame Shirley Bassey received a similar reaction when she made her debut at the Glasgow Empire Theatre in 1959 before asking the audience to give her a chance. She finished her set with welcome applause.

In 1931, Sunderland-based architects W & TR Milburn redesigned Glasgow Empire Theatre, this time styling the theatre with major influences from the Art Deco movement. Also known as style moderne, Art Deco originated in the 1920s but didn’t develop fully in western Europe and the United States until the 1930s. Today, Glasgow is full of Art Deco buildings, including The Luma Tower and the Beresford Building, which is famous for being where John F Kennedy made his first official speech as a representative of the United States in 1939.

Almost 25 years later after this redesign, Glasgow Empire Theatre closed its doors. Its final cast included Robert Wilson, Albert Finney, Andy Stewart, and Duncan Macrae. Macrae is considered one of the greatest Scottish actors of his generation. In 2022, the Glasgow Empire Theatre has been replaced by Empire House, an office and retail development.

Glasgow has so much history, and the city is filled with stunning architecture where each building and monument tells a unique story. While it may not be as well-known as some other buildings in Glasgow, the Glasgow Empire Theatre is another gem in the city’s rich architectural history.

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