IT was once the largest of its kind in Europe and cost 25p just for visitors to look inside the state-of-the-art leisure centre.

Thousands of families from across Scotland flocked to Irvine and some of the world’s most popular bands trod its hallowed floorboards.

World champions were crowned at bowls and boxing and Scots of a certain generation still fondly recall gliding among a sea of bodies at Frosty’s ice disco, But after 40 years as Irvine’s entertainment epicentre, the end has come for the Magnum Leisure Centre with demolition work beginning this week.

It brings to an end a spectacular 42-year career that brought stars such as Chuck Berry, Thin Lizzy and The Clash to a stretch of Ayrshire coastline which is better known for golf.

Built in 1975 at a cost of £3.2million, the centre was constructed as the crown jewel of the New Town’s Beach Park development.

The Magnum officially opened on September 18, 1976.

Punters were charged 25p just to look at the facilities the New Town could boast. Swimming pools, an ice rink, cinema and theatre, indoor bowls halls, squash courts and a licensed bar were all there.

It was an immediate success with an annual average attendance of more than one million people. At one point, only Edinburgh Castle surpassed the Magnum for visitors.

The Herald:

Ice skaters at the Magnum in 1976

But that success didn’t come cheap as the Magnum’s high running costs meant the centre relied heavily on subsidies from the local taxpayers.

The facilities were exceptional and the Magnum quickly became synonymous with simply unmissable nights of entertainment.

Willie Freckleton, Irvine’s “Mr Entertainment”, was the visionary behind the Magnum’s live music boom in the 80s and 90s.

Mr Freckleton, the local entertainments officer, offered up what was at the time the largest indoor concert hall in Europe to the promoters and band managers rent-free.

There are a multitude of stories connected to the Magnum, from local folk who were so familiar with the warren of corridors and passageways in the changing areas they could sneak from the ice disco into the UB40 gig without paying.

Nicola Sturgeon fondly reminisced about Frosty’s ice disco during an appearance on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. The first major concert at the Magnum took place on May 5, 1980 when, at the height of their popularity, Madness rolled into town.

That show ignited Irvine’s reputation as Ayrshire’s home of live music which saw icons such as The Jam (1981), The Clash (1982), The Smiths (1985) and Chuck Berry play to packed houses.

Theatre was also a big part of the Magnum’s box office appeal alongside the Borderline Theatre Company where Billy Connolly, Karen Dunbar and Alan Cumming all performed.

Joe and Sandra Wayne’s “Whatsitsname” show became a legendary fixture while the Magnum became a home from home for kids favourites The Singing Kettle.

Despite a severe cut in funding from North Ayrshire Council, Mr Freckleton – who famously brought Oasis and Radio 1’s Roadshow to Irvine in the 90s – still managed to attract the likes of The Waterboys, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, The Proclaimers and Midge Ure before his retirement in 2008.

The main hall also hosted perhaps Irvine’s greatest sporting night as boxer Paul Weir was roared to victory over Paul Oulden to win the WBO minimumweight title in November 1994.

Craig Smart worked in the Magnum’s events department between 1988 and 1998. He said: “One of the best stories which I heard from the horse’s mouth that Chuck Berry got paid in American dollars when he performed . When he came off Willie said ‘Chuck, that was amazing will you go back out for an encore?’ but he replied ‘That’ll cost you $500’ “People took the great bands Irvine was getting for granted, it was all down to Willie’s character and ability to connect with people. There used to be a queue to get into the Magnum all the way down to the Ship Inn, it’s crazy to think about it.

“It’s going to be heartbreaking for some people seeing it close but what an achievement it was keeping that level of bands coming for so long.”