THE cinema that was at the heart of Bournemouth life for generations opened 90 years ago this week.

Originally called the Regent, it would later be known as the Gaumont and then the Odeon, and would entertain the town’s film lovers for 88 years.

Its opening on May 13, 1929, came just a couple of months after the unveiling of the grand Pavilion on the opposite side of Westover Road.

The Regent was among the last examples of an Italianate style that was about to disappear in favour of the Art Deco of the 1930s.

It was designed by William Edward Trent, collaborating with local architects Seal & Hardy, and featured Renaissance style marble staircases and decorated ceilings and wall.

At its heart was a domed auditorium seating 2,300 people.

James Weir of Bournemouth Civic Society, who covered some of the original features in 2016, has said Trent was “never again to reach the heights of originality and elegance he attained with the Bournemouth Regent”.

The cinema was kitted out to project talking pictures, which were spreading across Britain that year, but its first film was silent – Two Lovers, starring Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky. Reginald Foort played the Wurlitzer organ that first night, with other entertainment including music and dancers.

The Regent was a prestige destination throughout the golden era of film-going. It was renamed the Gaumont in 1949.

But in the 1960s, cinema visits were falling, and the Gaumont increasingly subsisted on live shows, including a week-long residency by the Beatles in August 1963, during which the Fab Four introduced audiences to their new single She Loves You.

As the decade went on, wider screens and bigger sound were used to try and draw people away from their televisions, and the Gaumont was closed for “twinning”.

A VIP launch took place on July 15, 1969, as the Gaumont unveiled its two screens. Upstairs was a 70ft Cinerama screen for showing the latest “roadshow” movies with their superb sound and picture quality.

A special train brought VIPs from Waterloo station to Bournemouth for the launch. At the Gaumont, a stage was built to represent a conning tower from its first Cinerama presentation, Ice Station Zebra. At the railway station, another set was peopled by models dressed as native Americans in reference to the first film in Gaumont 2, the western MacKenna’s Gold.

Guests included Keith Fordyce of Ready, Steady, Go and Tony Booth of Till Death Us Do Part. They were initially taken to Southbourne, from where they were transported to Bournemouth beach by hovercraft. A parade then took place to the cinema, including a marching band, an open top bus and a procession of classic cars from Beaulieu’s National Motor Museum, with Lord Montagu at the wheel of one.

Identical twins from Poole, 11-year-old Kim and Caryn Coleman, took pride of place after winning a “top twins” competition.

Gaumont 1 presentations were so good that some people were said to have run up the aisles in panic during the Cinerama epic Krakatoa East of Java.

In February 1978, cinemas were desperate to show Star Wars. The Gaumont was treated to two prints – so the film could run on both screens, playing to 1,850 people.

In the 1980s, the Gaumont 2 auditorium was divided into four screens, and the cinema was rebranded as an Odeon. A sixth screen was added in 1995 in the former upstairs bar.

But there was already talk of new multiplex cinemas in the town. After years of debate, work began on the BH2 leisure complex, on the site of Bournemouth’s former bus station – with a 10-screen Odeon as the key tenant.

The old Odeon finally closed on February 9, 2017, after a 3pm screening of La La Land. Members of the Cinema Theatre Association came from as far as London and Manchester for the occasion.

Last week, the latest bid was revealed to put an eight-storey block of 68 homes plus shops behind the Odeon frontage. But on its 90th anniversary, the former Regent remained sadly boarded up.