The oldest one-screened cinema in North Wales, known as the "Scala Cinema"opend its doors in 1913.
Saronie brought the first movie to Prestatyn on Monday, January 9th, 1899, when the first film show in the village was held at the old British School in Caradoc Road. An original poster described the film as 'Animated Photography, The Greatest Wonder of the Nineteenth Century. The entertainment will include talks, songs and whistles'. Saronie also showed films out in the open air in Sandy Lane.
J.R. Saronie was born in Liverpool in 1872 but spent his boyhood in Prestatyn, where he attended the old Congretional School near the Victoria Hotel, (today's Old Church Hall) and the British School, Caradoc Road from 1876 to 1882, before leaving with his family for Birkenhead.
Saronie's original name was James Roberts, but he changed it to James Roberts Saronie by Deed Poll in 1912, because he felt Saronie would sound a better name in the world of business entertainment.
Saronie started his career in films at Birkenhead where he was regarded as a pioneer of something that was almost magic. Later he made films of local events and showed them at the Coliseum Tranmere. They each lasted two minutes. These thirty foot films, after being shown, were then rushed by cyclists at breakneck speed to his other cinema at the Park Tranmere, where a show was already in progress. In those days the show was interspersed with live entertainment. Some of his earliest films shown to a wondering public were, launching a ship from Camell Laird's Shipyards, Mersey River Scenes, Soldiers embarking for the Boer War, scenes on Mafeking Day, and the visit of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) to Ruthin. Saronie said at the time, people were so startled at the phenomenon of a railway train apparently rushing at them from the screen, that they jumped from the front seats and bolted to the back of the hall. Eventually he left Birkenhead to live in his new bungalow at Prestatyn in 1920.
Eventually in 1913, Saronie took over the Town Hall, on a semi-permanent basis and converted it into a cinema. The opening event on July 5th was announced as, 'Grand re-opening of the Town Hall with Saronie's World Famous Electric Pictures. The programme will be changed twice weekly'. By now Saronie was described as, 'The only, as well as the pioneer cinematographist in North Wales'. The changes of programme took place on Mondays and Thursdays, and there were matinees on Saturdays and rainy days. Later he held cinema shows at Rhyl, Denbigh and Ruthin.
In 1915, he was showing films at the Town Hall which included, 'A series of fine war pictures direct from the front that would appeal to everyone with patriotric instincts, also Adventures of Kathleen, Two Step Children (Drama), Daring Young Man (Comedy), When Villains Meet (Comic), and Naval Battleship in Action. Prices 6d., balcony 9d., children 3d.'. At the same time he was showing films for the troops at Kinmel Camp throughout the 1914-18 War.
In 1915, Miss Hardman became his Manageress at the Town Hall (Scala Cinema) where she remained for the next thirty one years and was said to have discharged her duties with great courtesy and efficiency.
As early as May 1915, Saronie was showing the first colour film in Prestatyn, described as, 'A three part Drama in nature's colours entitled 'A Queen's Love''. It was said to be one of the first coloured films ever shown. Later in July 1915, there was great fun and games at the Town Hall when several competitors tried their best to impersonate Charlie Chaplin. Their efforts were described as most amusing and the first prize for the contest was awarded to Percy Woodfine and the second to a soldier, Private Buckley.
The first talkie was shown by Saronie at the Scala Cinema in March 1930. The advertisement described it as, 'A great hundred per cent talking picture for three days only, Glen Tryon in Broadway. Original play dialogue with songs, gorgeous dance numbers, gaiety runs riot, spectacular scenes, big cast. Admission 1/- and 1/6d.'. During the same month the Scala was modernised with the removal of the old stage and screen. The roof was raised to double its height, the width was also doubled and seating for 400 was installed. Later in November 1930, 'All Quiet on the Western Front' was shown.
The Scala's rival cinema, the Palladium, which once stood on the site of today's Boots, was opened in the 1920s and was also showing talking pictures by 1930. The Palladium's first advertisement for silent films with sound effects occurred in May 1925 - 'Palladium, Moon over Israel. A magnificent drama of the Pharoahs. Augmented Orchestra with full effects'.
Saronie finally ended his career in 1963, when he retired and sold the Scala Cinema to Prestatyn Urban District Council. With his shock of white hair, he was a familiar figure to generations of residents and visitors alike as he stood outside shepherding the queues at the Scala Cinema. He died on June 16th, 1967 at his home 'Hillcourt', Mount Ida Road, after a lifetime in the world of public entertainment.
During the 1960s, the Scala sadly lost the old building fascias, and gained the present frontage. The site is today owned by Denbighshire County Council.