Hengler’s Circus was established by Charles Hengler and carried on by his son Albert. Hengler’s first circus building in Glasgow began it existence as the Prince’s Theatre at the corner of West Nile Street and Buchanan Street (nowadays West Regent St.). The 2nd circus opened in 1885 and was constructed at Wellington Street across Waterloo Street from the site that would become the Alhambra Theatre.
The third circus started out as a Diorama, opened 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.
Hengler’s Grand Cirque had the Ice Rink transformed into a circus, complete with circusring and water tank, and moved there in 1904. 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. Having a circus next door came in handy for the art school. Often enough while the animals weren’t performing they were taken around to the art school so the students could make life drawings of them.
Hengler’s enjoyed further success but its productions were expensive and when audiences dwindled in the face of competition from cinemas and other forms of entertainment they were forced to close in 1924.
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.
In 2005 it was reinvented again, when a pub, restaurants and a music venue opened on the site as the name ABC was still well-known in Glasgow the music venue was named O2 ABC Glasgow.
In the night of June 15, 2018 a big fire completely gutted the Glasgow School of Art. But the blaze also severely damaged the O2 ABC music venue next door. In February 2019 plans were submitted to demolish the burned remains of the O2 ABC.
A nearby Wetherspoon’s Pub still reminds of the circus days gone by.
300 Sauchiehall Street
Glasgow G2 3JA
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