Glasgow & West Scotland

Glasgow fire: How the O2 ABC entertained a city for 143 years

Image copyright ScottishCinemas.org
Image caption The O2 ABC building was first built as a diorama theatre in 1875

The Glasgow School of Art was gutted after a fire broke out in the building late on Friday evening.

But the blaze also severely damaged the O2 ABC music venue next door.

The building is actually older than the Mackintosh and during its 143-year-old history has been a diorama theatre, a circus, a dancehall and a cinema.

From the air, the O2 ABC building is probably more recognisable than the Glasgow School of Art.

The roof of the Sauchiehall Street venue has a distinctive turquoise colour, with a 180-degree fan shape at one end. It's easily spotted in satellite images of the area.

But now the turquoise roof has gone, and only the outline of the elegantly curved roof remains.

A photograph from a Police Scotland helicopter taken the morning after the fire shows a smoking ruin, with the roof completely collapsed in.

It's under this roof that countless Glaswegians have been entertained during the building's many guises.

Image copyright Google Earth
Image caption The distinctive turquoise roof of the O2 ABC is easily recognisable in aerial images
Image copyright Police Scotland
Image caption The roof of the O2 ABC has completely collapsed

"The O2 ABC is a building that's always survived to serve Glasgow as an entertainment venue", says Gordon Barr, who runs the Scottish Cinemas website.

"The building's been through a lot of change, a lot of adaptation. There's an accretion of layers in its history. It's done it all."

It first opened as the Diorama in 1875 and featured a canvas of paintings which told the story of the Battle of Waterloo.

Three years later it became the Panorama, with the images animated as a large canvas scrolled around the circular end of the auditorium.

The building's first reinvention came in 1885, when it reopened as Hubner's Ice Skating Palace. A visit in "midsummer warmth" was a "pleasant atmospheric experience", according to the Glasgow Herald.

In 1888 it became one of the first buildings in Glasgow to be fitted with electricity and eight years later was the site of Glasgow's first public film.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The O2 ABC has reinvented itself several times during its 143-year history

"What's interesting is that it's always been an entertainment venue throughout its life," says Mr Barr.

"The building has adapted itself depending on what people were interested in and what the latest technology was."

For much of the first quarter of the 20th Century, it was home to Hengler's Circus, complete with a large circus ring and a water tank.

Next door, Charles Rennie Mackintosh's new home for the Glasgow School of Art was under construction, the first half opening in 1899 and the second half in 1909.

Mr Barr says having an art school move in next door to a circus created an unusual link between the two buildings.

"While the animals weren't performing they were taken around to the art school so the students could make life drawings of them.

"So there are connections between the buildings."

In 1927, there was another reinvention - this time into a dancehall. Or to be more precise, a ground floor car park, with a dancehall constructed above.

But the dancehall incarnation lasted just two years and in 1929 the mezzanine level built for dancing became the stalls floor of the cinema.

The Regal, as it was now known, opened in November as ABC's flagship cinema in Glasgow with seating for 2,359 people.

It remained as a cinema for 70 years, although it went through several large-scale refurbishments along the way.

The last film was shown 14 October 1999 and the building was closed for several years.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption It's not clear whether the O2 ABC will be able to reopen as a music venue

In 2005 it was reinvented again, when a pub, restaurants and a music venue opened on the site.

But the ABC name and logo lived on - which is telling says Mr Barr.

"The name really meant something to Glasgow. It's another sad loss to the heritage of the city."

Like the School of Art next door, there is uncertainty over the future of the O2 ABC following the fire.

Academy Music Group (AMG), which owns the venue, said in a statement that the building was still "under the control of the emergency services".

The group is trying to move or reschedule forthcoming events to other venues in the city.

'Horrible weekend'

"The messages of support we have received has been incredibly overwhelming and we are grateful to everyone for their understanding and patience at what is a difficult and challenging time, in exceptional and unforeseen circumstances," the statement added.

AMG said it would not make "any further comment" about the long-term future of the venue.

But Mr Barr is still hopeful that a venue which has been at the heart of Glasgow's entertainment life for so long could reinvent itself one more time.

"It's been a horrible, horrible, sad weekend. All we can hope is that what's been lost can be rebuilt and saved for Glasgow."

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