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James Miller’s Art Deco Leyland Motors


Gliding southwards on the raised railway lines from Central Station you’ll spot an intriguing modernist tower peeping up amid the post-war jumble and gap sites on the right just after you pass the 02 Academy (formerly the New Bedford Cinema) on the left.

A semi-derelict building largely cut off from humanity by the M74 flyover and hostile feeder roads that throttle its environs, you’re looking at the corner elevation of the Category-B listed Leyland Motor Company Ltd on Salkeld Street, completed in 1933 to the designs of architect James Miller.


Leyland Motors in late afternoon light


Borne of the 1930s, this building’s origins however are rooted in the long timespan of the 1890s to 1920s, in the Beaux Arts, Chicago, and PWA Moderne styles and the American branch of the international Art Deco movement.

James Miller was seduced by American twists on international architectural trends in that period – although he never visited himself. Instead, it was a case of succumbing to an irresistible bug wholesale, caught from his colleague Donald Alexander Matheson following Matheson’s fact-finding tour Stateside in 1902. The result was a series of show-stopping buildings in Glasgow city centre.


Ancjor Line building by James Miller 1906-1907
Category A-listed Anchor Line, 1906-07


This involved Miller fashioning a series of landmark buildings heavily influenced by a range of American styles (especially the Chicago School movement) for Glasgow on a scale far grander than the roadside Americana we find off Eglinton St – but bar one close competitor Leyland Motors is still my favourite of his US-influenced works.


McLaren warehouse and repository, James Miller 1922-24
Category-B listed McLaren warehouse and repository, 1922-24


Union Bank of Scotland, James Miller 1924-1927
Category A-listed Union Bank of Scotland, Miller & R. Gunn, 1924-27


The cinematic car showroom


The mood exuded at Salkeld St builds on these foundations but, showing Miller’s close attention to the times, has moved on trend-wise and is far more cinematic. It’s as if an unused fragment of a movie set oozing Jazz Age glamour has mysteriously materialised in industrial Glasgow, an enigmatic character that threatens to outstage its starring cast (the cars inside), posing and preening from every angle as it waits for its climatic scene… its close-up.


Leyland Motors graffitied corner elevation
Leyland Motors’ graffitied corner elevation


This was no idle fancy but designed to move minds precisely to fulfil a commercial purpose – a siren structure that channelled the zeitgeist, captivating the 1930s Glaswegian’s dream-fuelled gaze when they went to buy that prized after motor vehicle.


Leyland Motors double doorway
Leyland Motors’ recessed double doorway and Art Deco canopy


Every time I see Leyland Motor Company’s corner tower, the fluted pilasters, ribbed faience and balconies that decorate it, and the optical illusion fashioned of a double doorway with its multi-layered recessing (sadly the tower windows have been cemented over), I think of Irish-American Cedric Gibbons’ late 1920s Hollywood film sets which themselves influenced later 1930s cinema architecture and interior design worldwide.


Still from the Single Standard, 1929, art direction Cedric Gibbons
Still from The Single Standard, 1929


Still 2 from The Single Standard 1929, art direction by Cedric Gibbons
Still 2 from The Single Standard, 1929


Geometric and curvilinear, minimalist but dramatic, Leyland Motors corner energy is both magnetic and propulsive, drawing you in while giving the appearance of itself going somewhere. The playful aerodynamic design invites multiple readings; it’s a ship ploughing forward, a plane taking flight… but it’s also a building as a rocket, primed to go stratospheric, and maybe even a teleporting machine to the silver screen. Beam me up Scotty…


Leyland Motors with M74 motorway flyover behind
Leyland Motors with M74 motorway flyover behind


In the business, the skyline flourish topping the tower is called a “fin” or “storm prow” [McKean, The Scottish Thirties]. You can find them on Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings worldwide and they’re highly adaptable. Two examples show their plasticity: austerely restrained at the Dominion Cinema, Edinburgh (1938) and cartoonishly exaggerated at the Loma Theatre, San Diego (1945, now a bookstore) where it forms the theatre marquee.


Dominion Cinema, Edinburgh, 1938
Dominion Cinema Edinburgh, opened 1938. Photo: Scottish Cinemas


Loma Theatre marquee neon at night in 2010. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0 by flexibe fotography on Flickr
Loma marquee. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0 by flexibe fotography on Flickr


The Loma also typifies many ‘moderne style’ buildings that were transformed nocturnally by neon lighting which also often formed the signage, and its lights still operate. Cinemas, bars, restaurants and shops everywhere including dark, dreich Glasgow embraced this new night-time ambience and self-advertising opportunity.

Fittingly, while it didn’t originally have external neon (as far as I know), through the use of transient neon lights Leyland Motors briefly rematerialised in miniature over its own doorway, when it doubled as an American-themed bar and restaurant backdrop in the 1990 BBC Scotland TV drama series Your Cheatin’ Heart penned by Paisley artist and playwright John Byrne.


Tweet by ahaufstop showing neon decorated Leyland Motors in BBC drama Your Cheatin' Heart
Tweeted screenshots of neon decorated Leyland Motors in BBC drama Your Cheatin’ Heart


The Roaring Twenties and Art Deco’s double-decade centenary


As the Centenary of the 1920s gets underway – the decade modernism swept through much of the world, and the style we now call Art Deco came into being – I wanted to start taking a closer look at Southside “moderne” buildings beginning with my favourite. Although many are already lost, these beacons to a period of super-charged change are still more numerous, and more varied, than you’d think…


Drapery store and warehouse, Oxford St, CJ McNair 1928
Drapery warehouse, Laurieston, CJ McNair 1928


Art Deco, what it is and what it isn’t, still provokes debate – the term was only coined by design critic Bevis Hillier in 1968, is blurred around the edges and acts as something of an umbrella concept. It derives from the Paris Exposition Internationale de Arts Decoratifs of 1925 which ran for 6 months attracting 15 million visitors.

Art’s influence was to the fore in this emergent pan-design shift that had its first dedicated showcase in the French capital:

“movements such as German Expressionism, French Cubism, Italian Futurism, Russian Suprematism, and English Vorticism were making their presence felt. The artists associated with these “isms” shared an interest in deconstructing and abstracting the appearance of the world… and their endeavours had a profound influence on design and architecture.” [Hans van Lemmen, 2012]

What we now call Art Deco was, in van Lemmen’s view: “an eclectic style that drew on many stylistic influences, such as European avant-garde (particularly the work of abstract painters such as Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian), classical architecture, the ancient civilisation of Egypt and South America and exotic cultures from the Far East.”


Was Mackintosh an influence on Art Deco?


I can’t help wondering though if the pared-back abstractionism of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s architecture (reworking much older Scots Baronial and Japanese influences) shouldn’t be included in that list? It tends to get bracketed solely with Glasgow Style Art Nouveau. Elements of CRM and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s interior design works certainly have Art Deco resonance.

Below are two of his lamps from The Glasgow School of Art, rescued and restored from the debris of the library, displayed at an ICON Scotland event I attended at GSA in November 2019 – looking just like little Art Deco skyscrapers.


Glasgow School of Art restored Library lamps at ICON Scotland event 28 November 2019
Glasgow School of Art restored library lamps


Industrial chic and everyday escapism


Art Deco shared with Art Nouveau the quality of being a “total design” movement, present in many spheres of the made world. Where it differed was that mass production driven by manufacturing efficiencies led to cheaper costs and rapid innovation in materials, causing Art Deco style and its younger sibling Streamline Moderne to become democractised and accessible to almost everyone to some extent.

It became the must-have style in many walks of life, from cinemas, factories, banks and civic buildings through to furnishings, ceramics, jewellery, clothing and poster design. Indivisible from consumerism and a faster, more frenetic and increasingly robotic pace of life, clocks, radios, trains – and even laundry vans made by Holland Coachcraft in Govan – embraced the signature moderne look.


Laundry van made by Holland Coachcraft Govan, via @GlasgowPast
Laundry van made by Holland Coachcraft Govan, via @PastGlasgow


In turn, an industrial edge defined Art Deco as it shrugged off the soft, nature-inspired sensuality of Art Nouveau. It was a more pared-back aesthetic, but never without its decorative details, hence the Deco moniker. Machines, mammon and a faster speed of life were in but art – in the form of geometric patterns, zig zag motifs, coloured tiles and various exotic (for example Egyptian-themed) ornaments – was still there co-habiting with it. The presence of the “decoratif” element showed this machine still had a beating heart inside it.

Charlie Chaplin’s character was literally trapped in the wheels of industry in his 1936 movie Modern Times, but in the same period Art Deco counterbalanced and offered transcendence from the recent horrors of WWI, the grinding poverty of the Great Depression and the anxiety of looming conflict in the 1930s.

Escapism, dynamism, glamour, exoticism and a slinky, noirish mood were the watchwords. We were doomed but we’d have a good time en route and hell mend anyone trying to stop us. Buying a car in the jazzy surrounds of Leyland Motors, if you had the cash, was certainly one way for the growing Southside middle class to sedate those gloomy feelings and get a serotonin hit.


The birth of Art Deco and Glasgow’s moderne appetite


Art Deco architecture drew its visual energy from analogies with the artefacts and currents of the human-made world: electricity, cars, ships, neon light, aeroplanes… even science fiction space rockets and robots themselves. Compare the Salkeld St premises to this from the iconic poster range for Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis… Leyland Motors is Glasgow’s equivalent icon.


Metropolis (German three-sheet) film poster, copyright WP:NFCC#4
Metropolis film poster. Copyright (WP:NFCC#4)


Indeed, Glasgow has considerably more moderne era buildings – Chicago Style, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne – than Edinburgh not because of its larger size but due to its industrial focus and, allied to that, greater readiness to embrace the new. Equally, despite its distance from New York and Berlin, many in the architectural “demi-monde” of 1930s Scotland championed ‘style moderne’ as it was then known, particularly through the RIAS Quarterly journal which was edited by a notably younger set of professionals in the inter-war period than beforehand.


Leyland Motors 1996, photo Canmore Historic Environment Scotland
Leyland Motors 1996; photo HES Canmore


The ferment this created in Scottish architectural circles saw many public clashes between advocates and sceptics of the moderne style, in conferences and the letters pages of publications. Typically, James Miller didn’t involve himself in these debates. As a distinguished RIBA member, politically conservative and older by several decades than the new cohort he stayed aloof, but as frequent judge in the competitions that ran for building design selection, he clearly observed them closely. Ironically, he’d already got a head start on them all with his fast-evolving take on American trends. He just quietly and industriously got on with it.


James Miller’s five-decade legacy in Glasgow


It’s striking that Miller completed the ultra-modern Leyland Motors when he was 73, one of his last sequence of buildings in a career that had seen him change the face of Glasgow and leave an indelible mark across Scotland and elsewhere. Born in Auchtergaven, Perthshire in 1860, his architecture career spanned five decades and numerous changes in period style, influences and approach, each twist of which he mastered leaving his own highly varied and original stamp.


James Miller portrait photograph
James Miller


Miller’s agility means he defies pigeonholing and the lazy label. Commercially savvy, his output and readiness to please his clients was prodigious. The art emerged in his ability to simultaneously serve commercial imperatives while also creating landmark buildings that have won hearts across decades, and indeed centuries, and are celebrated today.

Unlike his contemporary Charles Rennie Mackintosh, you couldn’t point to a certain structure and say “typical Miller” but the Glasgow (and Scotland) we know is unthinkable without him. Among many of his railway related commissions, Miller’s Wemyss Bay railway station (1903), Turnberry Hotel and Railway Station (1903) and the massive extension to Glasgow Central railway station (1901–1905) are renowned. His Botanic Railway Station on Great Western Rd (demolished after a fire in 1970) revelled in exotic Russian orthodox-styled domed towers and according to Fergus Sutherland a broader ‘Orientalism’.


St Enoch Subway Station, James Miller 1896, photo CC-BY-SA-2.5 by Túrelio, Wikimedia Commons
St Enoch Subway Station 1896, photo: Túrelio CC-BY-SA-2.5


When compared out of context, it’s hard to believe the same person designed St Enoch Subway Station (1896) and Leyland Motors 37 years later, but if you trace through his American-influenced works between those years you can detect the thread connecting them.

Many iconic buildings of his give Glasgow city centre its energetic New York / Chicago feel, as mentioned above. My favourite is the Commercial Bank Of Scotland on Bothwell St (1934), which also boasts an amazing set of 6 (front and side) relief sculptures by Gilbert Bayes.



Commercial Bank of Scotland Bothwell St, James Miller 1934
Category B-listed Commercial Bank of Scotland, Bothwell St, 1934


So why are all these buildings feted and cherished while Leyland Motors is left to languish? Is it because its Art Deco, or because of its hostile setting in the Southside interzone, away from the tourist haunts and on the wrong side of Eglinton St, all blighted by motorway “convenience” and the related depopulation and demolition derby?


Leyland Motors Salkeld St view 1st March 2021
Leyland Motors Salkeld St 30th Jan 2021


Dereliction doesn’t have to be its destiny. After debuting as a temple of consumerism, and then transitioning to become the world’s most unlikely stable for police horses (now stationed in Pollok Park), it follows that it could adapt in endless ways.

Apparently there’s nothing left inside to restore (though I’d like to get a look to check) – and the exterior needs largely cosmetic but increasingly urgent attention. An audacious survivor of Glasgow’s moderne era it’s bursting with potential in need of a purpose.


The Art Deco makeover and its relevance today


Prior to the 1920s buildings had always been adapted but in more occasional and less frenetic ways. In the inter-war period, mass-produced materials and new techniques fuelled an unstoppable trend that changed our streets radically. Suddenly any little shop of Victorian or Edwardian origin could afford a makeover. Moderne style exteriors and interiors, especially at ground level, started to appear everywhere including Glasgow’s Southside.


Queen's Cafe Victoria Rd; photo: Glasgow City Archives
Queen’s Cafe Victoria Rd; photo: Glasgow City Archives


The very same trend meant, ironically, it contained the seeds of its own destruction. What had been lasting became disposable. Shopfronts were now transient playthings, and as the fashion for Art Deco and Streamline Moderne passed they were often scrapped for the next in-vogue look. Take this café frontage on Pollokshaws Road, a Victorian tenement with a moderne street level frontage that even boasted the style’s name. Long gone, it’s now Café Buongiorno.


Cafe Moderne 1012 Pollokshaws Rd, photo copyright Glasgow City Archives
Cafe Moderne Pollokshaws Rd; photo: Glasgow City Archives


Dereliction & demolition vs. retrofitting & reuse


Leyland Motors has (so far) only escaped this fate by being a holistic Art Deco building rather than a discrete ground-floor premises, but its visible decline shows it’s at risk and raises issues of sustainability in the context of the climate emergency. Why do we let viable buildings rot? Why do we enable the carbon waste that comes of demolishing rather than retrofitting?


Billboard poster on Eglinton St, by Frank Boyle, for Friends of the Earth Scotland's community campaign to stop the M74 extension through the Southside of Glasgow
Billboard poster on Eglinton St in 2006, by Frank Boyle, for Friends of the Earth Scotland’s community campaign to stop the M74 extension through the Southside of Glasgow


The consequences of enabling dereliction and relentlessly prioritising new build  – and indeed new motorways as seen in the above poster, regarding the recent M74 extension which passes close to Leyland Motors – were starkly addressed in a Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland article ‘The importance of adaptive reuse’ from 15th February 2021.

“As things currently stand, according to the United Nations environment programme, buildings and their construction account for 38% of global energy use and 39% percent of energy-related carbon emissions annually… 28% of these carbon emissions come from the operational emissions of a building, such as heating and ventilation. The remaining 11% are ‘’upfront’’ carbon emissions, that is, associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole building lifecycle (Abergel et al. 2017).

“Adaptive reuse reduces the amount of raw material required to produce a new structure. This construction process adapts the materials already available at hand, using more minimal interventions in order to retain the historic fabric. As well as this, the absence of the demolition of a structure further saves energy. Demolition is an energy intensive construction approach which is required for a new build. Adaptive reuse must also encapsulate a revaluing of the building stock we currently have.”


Leyland Motors looks forwards
Leyland Motors looks forward to its next role


As a functional building first and foremost, with no remaining interior worth preserving to speak of Leyland Motors is also – interior-wise – something of a blank canvas. The opportunity to adapt inside while keeping the present exterior and scale of the building intact is enormous. Just as Miller was chameleon-like in his adoption of architectural styles, the inner life of this building can also change for the better.


Heritage, history and regeneration


Last but not least, Miller’s building speaks to the story of the area in the last chapter of its heyday – once a bustling hive of activity across the commercial-cum-industrial hub of Tradeston, the Garment District of Laurieston and the manufacturing and residential locale of Hutchesontown and the Gorbals.

There’s an Art Deco cluster locally too if you look closer: New Bedford Cinema (1932), Cumbrae House (1937-8), the Art Deco extension to Kinning Park Co-operative Society Drapery Warehouse (1935), and Alexander Sloan & Co drapers store and warehouse (1928). Leyland Motors’ neighbouring Category-B listed Park’s Motor Works – though dating from 1913 – also deserves honorary inclusion. Built using the innovative Kahn system by Truscon Ltd, Detroit, it’s one of only three such Kahn system buildings in the UK. Taken together this amounts to some serious moderne clout.


Park Motor Works, Kilbirnie St, R. Henderson using Kahn’s System, 1913)
Park Motor Works Kilbirnie St, 1913


Multiple purposes beckon for reviving Leyland Motors and reanimating the area. Nearby, creative coalition Lateral North are pursuing temporary usages of abandoned and hostile public spaces as part of their After The Pandemic initiatives.

They recently staged an orchestra playing under the M74 and have a major project underway to transform a 3000sqm disused site by the Clyde in Tradeston into a creative and community-curated hub to coincide with the COP26 United Nations climate change conference at the SEC this November. Their mission is to “to RETHINK, REIMAGINE and REDESIGN our spaces and places to be greener, more vibrant and more resilient at COP26 and beyond”… but what about rethinking the re-use of derelict buildings?

The audacity of Leyland Motors’ corner elevation and how it animates the building as a whole both asks and answers key questions: can art be industrious, can commerce co-exist with culture, can utility have ornament and flair? By squaring these circles Leyland Motors radiates the undimmed appeal of Art Deco and its enduring relevance.


Leyland Motors seen from under the M74
Leyland Motors seen from under the M74


What if Miller’s building could become a hive of creative, community and commercial activity? The Covid-19 pandemic and environmental crisis frame our present time as one to urgently re-imagine our cities and their landscape. How do we define and support prosperity in this context? Finding a future for this building and bringing life back to the motorway-scarred hinterlands of the inner Southside seems an obvious pathway in local terms – but how do we get there?


Connected futures: Leyland Motors & Glasgow’s sustainability


There’s more than little irony in the fact that Leyland Motors has been orphaned from the streets we habitually roam by the primacy put on the very thing it was designed to sell – the car.

The railway has been much kinder to Miller’s architectural legacy, albeit with losses like Botanic and Kelvinbridge Stations, because mass transit is (to a degree) less destructive and definitely more efficient, affordable and sustainable than the ubiquitous automobile – which often carries just one person.


Bridge Street Station, James Miller, 1889
Former Bridge Street Station, James Miller, 1889


As it turns out, Miller’s first commission upon moving to Glasgow in 1888 was in the Southside – for the new Bridge Street Station of 1889. Part of it is still there, though the building now services flats, offices and shops. There’s no sign indicating what it was, just as in Salkeld Street. Built 44 years earlier, the building abides unobtrusively in a rather low key but re-used form.

Looking beyond Glasgow, much larger Art Deco buildings have been rejuvenated with innovative technologies (like this in Fort Worth, Texas), with respect for the original design (in London), and in Glasgow city centre they’ve never gone out of style (apart from the occasional fire)…  so why not here? The story of Leyland Motors Southside moderne landmark is waiting for its next chapter to begin.


By Deirdre Molloy

Published: 4th March 2021



McKean, Charles; The Scottish Thirties, Scottish Academic Press (1987)

Kenna, Rudolph; Glasgow Art Deco, Richard Drew Publishing (1985)

Kenna, Rudolph; Scotland in the Thirties, Richard Drew Publishing (1987)

van Lemmen, Hans; Art Deco Tiles, Shire Publications (2012)

Lennie, Lindsay; Scottish Traditional Shopfronts, Historic Environment Scotland (2017)

Lennie, Lindsay; CPD: Conserving Interwar Shopfronts – Materials and Methods Glasgow City Heritage Trust event, 5th June 2019

Sutherland, Fergus; James Miller (1860-1947): talk for the AHSS, 23rd January 2020 (later repeated for GCHT)

Virtual Mitchell: Glasgow City Archives online – images kindly reproduced with credit

Glasgow, 140 Salkeld Street, Garage; Canmore, Historic Environment Scotland

Edwards, Anne; Designing Films: The Art Déco Years, Architectural Digest, 1st March 2006, photography by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (online)

Dominion Cinema, Edinburgh; photograph copyright of Scottish Cinemas and Theatres

Act Now: Stop The M74 billboard poster by Frank Boyle for Friends of the Earth Scotland on Eglinton St, 21st June 2006

St Enoch Subway Station, photo CC-BY-SA-2.5 by Túrelio

Holland Coachcraft of Govan laundry van via @PastGlasgow; original photo source unknown

Follow the #SouthsideModerne hashtag on Twitter


Read the next articles in our #SouthsideModerne series:

Renewing Lyceum Govan’s faded ambition

Art Deco fragments of Shawfield Stadium


2 replies added

  1. Brian McKenna March 5, 2021 Reply

    Fantastic read.
    James Miller deserves more recognition in Glasgow and Scotland in general than he has been given.

  2. Hilary_Lucky_Cat March 6, 2021 Reply

    Brilliant article, thank you so much! Would love to see this magnificent building saved! And it’s blown my tiny mind that he also did the st enoch subway station!

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