OVER THE YEARS, many cinemas that were opened in the first half of the 20th century have either been closed or converted to be used for other purposes. A substantial number of them were built in the Art Deco style, which flourished in the 1920s and ‘30s. Some cinemas, such as the Ionic and the ABC in Golders Green and the Odeon in Temple Fortune, have been demolished. Others became bingo halls or meeting places for religious groups. The Coronet in Notting Hill Gate began life as a theatre, then became a cinema, and is now a theatre again. During a recent visit to Christchurch in Dorset, I saw a cinema, designed in the Art Deco style, which is still in business.
The Regent Cinema stands on Christchurch’s High Street. It is in pristine condition – a fine example of Art Deco architecture and internal design – it looks as if it has been built recently. Opened on Boxing Day 1931, it continued showing films until it closed in July 1973. After that, like so many other cinemas, it was operated by the Mecca company as a bingo hall and social club. This functioned until it closed in 1982. Late that year, the building was purchased by Christchurch Borough Council.
The local authority together with over 100 volunteers restored the Regent to its original Art Deco glory. In June 1983, the Regent Centre with its cinema were opened for use. Since then, the restoration of the cinema has continued and technological improvements have been made (e.g., digital cinema has been introduced). Very recently (in 2021) further work has been done to recreate the original cinema (e.g., the cinema’s seats, carpet and colour schemes, have been restored to their original appearance, and 35 mm projection has returned). Given all this loving care the cinema has received, it is no wonder that it looks like new. Now, it is mainly run by keen volunteers. It is very heartening to discover a cinema that has survived closure and repurposing and lived to return to being used for the purpose it was originally designed. On the Sunday morning that we visited it, we were unable to enter the auditorium because it was filled with children enjoying the screening of a film. However, the ticket office contains a good set of photographs of the restored cinema’s interior.