Many local people think of the Alhambra as either a new theatre or ‘the old cinema’ – but in fact it has a long and varied history and has served a variety of different functions.
Local architect John Fraser designed the Alhambra, which was built by G. Stewart of Blantyre in 1922 as a dual-purpose entertainment venue for theatrical performance and cinema. Upon completion, the Alhambra turned out to be the largest brick building in Dunfermline, and remains very visible upon entering Dunfermline from the south. After a difficult build period of two years, it eventually commenced its illustrious life when its doors were first opened on the 22nd August 1922, with a screening of the silent film Over the Hill (1917) starring Gladys Hulette.
Over its illustrious history the Alhambra has hosted live performances by artists as diverse as Harry Gordon, Jimmy Logan, Jimmy Shand, Andy Stewart, The Alexander Brothers, The White Heather Group, The One O’clock Gang, O’Mara’s Travelling Opera Company, The Bachelors and Ricky Valence. However, one of the most noted dates in the history of the theatre is 11th August 1928, when the then Duke & Duchess of York, later King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) were given The Freedom Of Dunfermline on the Alhambra’s stage: the fourth largest in Scotland.
Despite the prestige of this massive stage, many Fifers will remember the Alhambra as a cinema rather than as a theatre: it was operated as such from August 1924 until January 1965. Thereafter, the popularity of bingo began to sweep the land!
The introduction of bingo has saved many a theatre building from the wrecker’s ball. The conversion did not require major alteration to the interior fabric and features, and means that the Alhambra’s Category B-Listed Egyptian, Classical & Art Deco interior survives largely intact and unaltered from its glory days.
If you take a look through some of the photographs in the our gallery there are fascinating shots of the largest neon sign in Fife which was erected on the Alhambra’s New Row aspect in November 1950. It was green, orange & cerise in colour and its 30″ high vertical ‘ALHAMBRA’ lettering resulted in a sign of approximately 20 feet in height. This spectacular landmark was reinstated in June 2011 and once again towers high over the town, a shining beacon to the success of the Alhambra restoration project.
Over the years, a number of different operating companies have made The Alhambra their home, including original owners Alhambra (Dunfermline) Ltd, AB King in the mid 30’s, JB Milne in the mid 40’s, Caledonian Associated Cinemas from the 50’s to the 80’s, and Carlton Bingo until February 2006, when they moved to purpose-built bingo premises in Duloch Park.
Despite a brave campaign by local entertainment historian Brian Nobile, most then thought that the end of the line had finally come for the building, until the opportunity came to the notice of Bill Fletcher of property developers Linklever Ltd, who now own the building.
A public awareness campaign called ‘Alhambra in the Raw’ saw fundraising events taking place in the building to raise the money required for the refurbishment. The hard work of many dedicated individuals has now paid off, resulting in a vibrant, exciting entertainment space of which Dunfermline should be very proud.
The 7th of June 2008 saw the re-launch of the Alhambra as a theatre and live music venue, and the programme that has been presented so far has proved to be hugely successful. We hosted the first West End touring production (Bill Kenwright’s Blood Brothers) to visit Dunfermline for 77 years to great local support and enthusiasm. Since then the Alhambra has gone from strength to strength, establishing itself as a number one touring house and bringing some of the most well-known names in entertainment to Dunfermline. Since the reopening the theatre has played host to the likes of Thriller Live, An Evening with Sir Alex Ferguson, Frankie Boyle, Morrissey, Biffy Clyro, Peter Pan on Ice, Jason Manford, Brendan Cole and Paolo Nutini.
The transformation is as astonishing as it is pleasing to all who visit, whether it be for live music, theatre, dance or comedy. The Alhambra is a top class theatre for the people of Fife, and this is just the start of the next chapter of its exciting history!
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