Recalling Prestatyn’s Much-Loved Silver Screen
The oldest one-screened cinema in North Wales, Prestatyn’s Scala Cinema closed its once welcoming doors for the last time in 1999 accompanying an end to a community’s romantic attachment with what was a highly popular, well used, well attended and much loved family cinema, plundering from the community and its future generations a rich and irreplaceable part of Prestatyn’s heritage and history a valuable and important asset to its future.
The older cinema-goers among us who visited the Scala in the early days will remember with affection when uniformed staff, a well dressed dickey-bowed manager and a bevy of usherettes greeted an elated public to a world of escapism from the then often dull and drab routine of the real world and into the glitter, glamour and fantasy world of the silver screen. In the days when going to the cinema was a great adventure.
A regular to the Saturday matinees at the Scala as a teenager during the 1940’s was John Parry of Gronant when they were showing films of Flash Gordon and Laurel and Hardy and when the Saturday matinee and a bag of chips after would amount to sixpence (3p). On his way home John would take off his shoes and roll up his trousers to collect duck eggs from Prestatyn’s duck pond. He told me that his mother made “cakes to die for” with them, fond memories of happy days!
The first manager of the Scala was “Saronie“. Born in Liverpool in 1872 his real name was James Roberts but he changed it to Saronie as it sounded more imposing in the world of cinematography. He started his career in Birkenhead where he was thought of as a pioneer of something that was almost magic. He once recalled that audiences were so astounded at the sight of a train rushing at them from the screen that they all jumped from their seats and ran to the back of the building.
Saronie was married to South Walian photographer Jane and they lived at “Hillcourt”, Mount Ida Road, Prestatyn. By 1910 Saronie was showing films at Prestatyn’s Town Hall for what was advertised as an “Exhibition of animated pictures” including the funeral of the late King.
In 1913 Saronie took over the Town Hall semi permanently turning it into a cinema, later naming it as the Scala. During the 1930’s the Scala was modernised with the removal of the old stage and screen, the roof raised to double the height and width and seating installed for 400 people.
The monster movie King Kong had its North Wales premier at the Scala in 1933 with queues extending halfway up the High Street. A colourful character, Saronie would always greet the queues with a friendly chat and handshake. On seeing an attractive female on her own he would hold her hand and whisper to her “come with me my dear, I have a seat for you.”
Saronie ended his career in 1963 and died of a stroke in 1967. He is buried with his wife at Meliden: they had no children. They may have closed the doors of the Scala Cinema but the doors to our memories of the Scala will always be open.
From Harry Thomas’ Memory Lane Volume 1
A collection of Harry’s Pictures and Stories from the Rhyl and Prestatyn Visitor Newspaper Column, Memory Lane.
©2003 Gwasg Helygain Ltd
Article courtesy of local historian Mr Harry Thomas who kindly gave The Friends of the Scala permission to share these previously published Memory Lane articles (now sadly out of print).
The Friends of The Scala was set up in March 2001 to lobby councillors and to get the cinema re-opened. They were dedicated to maintaining public awareness of both the history and the need for a replacement cinema and arts centre in our town.
Although the Friends disbanded in January 2016 after their work as a registered charity was completed, they kindly consented for me to retain the historical information content on this, their former website.