Spanish City

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The Spanish City
photograph
Photographed in September 2010 by Adam G. Bell
Alternative namesWhitley Bay Pleasure Gardens
General information
StatusGrade II listed building (the dome)
AddressWatts Road, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, England
Coordinates55°02′51″N 1°26′51″W / 55.047616°N 1.44747°W / 55.047616; -1.44747Coordinates: 55°02′51″N 1°26′51″W / 55.047616°N 1.44747°W / 55.047616; -1.44747
Opened7 May 1910
Renovated2011–2018
ClientWhitley Bay Pleasure Gardens Ltd[1]
OwnerNorth Tyneside Council (June 2011)
Dimensions
Diameter180 ft long, 275 ft deep [1]
Design and construction
Architecture firmCackett and Burns Dick[1]
Structural engineerL.G. Mouchel[1]
Main contractorDavidson and Miller[1]
Renovating team
ArchitectADP Architects[2]
Renovating firmRobertson, Gateshead
Website
Spanish City

The Spanish City is a dining-and-leisure centre in Whitley Bay, a seaside town in North Tyneside, Tyne & Wear, England. Erected as a smaller version of Blackpool's Pleasure Beach, it opened in 1910 as a concert hall, restaurant, roof garden and tearoom. A ballroom was added in 1920 and later a permanent funfair.[1]

Located near the seafront, the Spanish City has a 180 ft-long (54.8 m) Renaissance-style frontage and became known for its distinctive dome,[3] now a Grade II listed building.[4] There are towers on either side of the entrance, each of which carries a half-life-size female bacchanalian figure in lead, one holding cymbals, the other a tambourine. The building's architects were Robert Burns Dick, Charles T. Marshall and James Cackett.[5]

The band Dire Straits immortalized the Spanish City in their 1980 hit single, "Tunnel of Love", which from then on was played every morning when it opened.[6] By the late 1990s the building had fallen into disrepair, and in the early 2000s it was closed to the public.[7] A regeneration project was announced in 2011.[6] The building re-opened as a dining-and-leisure centre at the end of July 2018.[8]

Architecture[edit]

The Spanish City faces the sea, with a 180 ft-long front and a depth of 275 ft. The dome rises to 75 ft above the foundation and has a diameter of 50 ft, supported on 46-ft-high concrete columns. It is made of a reinforced-concrete shell, five inches thick, which is supported by 12 (10 in x 18 in) internal ribs.[1]

The architects were Robert Burns Dick, Charles T. Marshall, and James Cackett)[5] of Cackett and Burns Dick. J. Coulson was a design consultant and L. G. Mouchel were structural consultants. Davidson and Miller were the contractors.[1]

History[edit]

photograph
One of the building's two female figures in lead

Charles Elderton of the Hebburn Theatre Royal originally established an amusements arcade and dance hall on the site. His Toreadors Concert Party had entertained visitors with an open-air theatre in Whitley Park every summer since 1907, with the awnings decorated in the Spanish style. To provide a permanent fixture, he founded Whitley Amusements Ltd.[9] In 1909 the Whitley Pleasure Gardens Company Ltd. was formed and established a large fairground. The dome was erected in 1910.[1]

The building was formally opened by Robert Mason, chair of the local council, on the evening of Saturday, 7 May 1910, as The Spanish City and Whitley Bay Pleasure Gardens.[10] The Union Jack was flown at half mast because King Edward VII had died the previous day.[11] There were shops and cafes inside, a roof garden,[10] and the Empress Theatre, with seating for 1,400 on the floor and 400 on the balcony.[12] The Empress Ballroom was added in 1920, and the Rotunda in 1921. In 1979 the Rotunda was converted into the Starlight Rooms for live entertainment.

External video
"Spanish City, 1967",
filmed by Frank and Norah Wardle

The funfair was extremely popular, with fairground rides and amusements, including a "corkscrew" roller coaster—which was at Flamingoland in Yorkshire from 1983 to 2011, then at Luna Park in France—ghost train and waltzers, the House that Jack Built, and the Fun House.[10] The Dome also housed an amusement arcade and later a Laser Quest Laser Tag arena. It was used as a classroom for pupils of Whitley Bay High School during a caretakers' strike in the 1980s, and later became a live music venue, playing host to several bands, including Ash in 2001.[13]

Dire Straits songwriter Mark Knopfler and the musician Sting talked about their memories of the Spanish City. Knopfler, who was born in Glasgow but grew up in Blyth, Northumberland, a few miles from the Spanish City, said it was the first place he had ever heard really loud rock and roll.[6] Sting, born near Newcastle, spent his afternoons and evenings in the Spanish City when he should have been studying for his A levels.[14] On Sunday, 27 July 2014, Newcastle-based performer Chris Cross became the last person to perform in the original Spanish City dome, before developers entered the building on 28 July 2014. Cross performed magic stunts with support from Doctor Diablo. There was a fire show outside on the piazza by a local performer, Charlie Burns.[15]

Regeneration[edit]

Tunnel of Love

And now I'm searching through
these carousels and carnival arcades
Searching everywhere
from Steeplechase to Palisades
And any shooting gallery
where promises are made
To Rockaway, Rockaway
Rockaway, Rockaway
From Cullercoats and Whitley Bay
Out to Rockaway.
And girl it looks so pretty to me
Like it always did
Like the Spanish City to me
When we were kids.
Girl it looks so pretty to me
Like it always did
Like the Spanish City to me
When I was a kid.

 — Dire Straits, 1980
(YouTube, from 00:04:51)

In June 2011 ADP Architects won a commission to regenerate the Spanish City with a plan that included a 50-bed, four-star boutique hotel, 20 apartments, a 1950s diner and a pleasure garden.[6][2] The completion date was announced as 2014, but work was halted in 2013 because of a lack of funds. The project received a grant of £3.7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund in November 2013.[16] The building re-opened in July 2018.[17][18][8]

In popular culture[edit]

Dire Straits refer to the Spanish City in their 1980 song "Tunnel of Love", which became the fairground's unofficial theme song, played every morning when it opened.[6] The town mentioned in the song, Cullercoats, is a stop on the train line (now part of the Tyne and Wear Metro) along the coast from Whitley Bay. The song refers to other permanent funfairs: Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, New York, open from 1897 to 1964; Palisades Amusement Park in Bergen County, New Jersey, open from 1898 to 1971; and Rockaways' Playland in Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York, open from 1902 to 1982.

Other pop-culture references include Spanish City (2002), a novel by Sarah May, set in the fictional north-east town of Setton, home to an amusement park called the Spanish City. The Spanish City also features in the video that accompanied Tina Cousins' song "Pray" (1998).[19]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Rennison, Robert William (1996). Civil Engineering Heritage: Northern England. London: Thomas Telford, p.  41, citing Cackett, J. T. Dick, B. (1911). "Spanish City, Whitley Bay". Ferro Concrete: A Monthly Review, 2, pp. 168–175.
  2. ^ a b "Spanish City", ADP Architects; "Spanish City: ADP to Put the Heart Back into Whitley Bay", press release, ADP Architects, 8 June 2011.
  3. ^ Stratton, Michael (1999). "New Materials for a New Age: Steel and concrete construction in the north of England, 1860–1939". Industrial Archaeology Review, 21 (pp. 5–24), p. 20ff.
  4. ^ Hedley, Jeanette (12 May 2006). "Duncan's amusements demolished", North Tyneside Council.
  5. ^ a b Usherwood, Paul; Beach, Jeremy; Morris, Catherine (2000). Public sculpture of North-East England. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, pp. 218, 319.
  6. ^ a b c d e Glancey, Jonathan (10 June 2011). "Constructive criticism: the week in architecture", The Guardian.
  7. ^ "Exhibition marks Whitley Bay's Spanish City centenary", BBC News, 9 September 2010.
  8. ^ a b Oldfield, Lesley (21 July 2018). "Whitley Bay's Spanish City opens at last at—and here is how the completed project looks inside & out", ChronicleLive.
  9. ^ "A Miniature Earl's Court—Toreadors and Fairgrounds", North Tyneside Council. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  10. ^ a b c "A History of the Spanish City", local history project, YouTube, accessed 1 July 2011.
  11. ^ Sonia Sharma, "Bay on display," Evening Chronicle (Newcastle), 20 April 2010.
  12. ^ "Empress ballroom", North Tyneside Libraries, accessed 2 July 2011.
  13. ^ Casey, Alison (7 May 2015). "Spanish City Remembered: Enjoy these nostalgic pictures from our archive and send us yours", ChronicleLive.
  14. ^ Sting (2003). Broken Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 91.
  15. ^ Marsh, Michael (25 July 2014). "Magic, escapology and comedy to bring down curtain at iconic Spanish City Dome", ChronicleLive.
  16. ^ Warburton, Dan (26 November 2013). "Whitley Bay's Spanish City saved with £3.7m cash injection", ChronicleLive.
  17. ^ "A New Beginning for the North East's Most Iconic Venue", Kymel Trading Ltd.
  18. ^ Sharma, Sonia (28 June 2018). "Spanish City in Whitley Bay finally has an opening date after extensive restoration work", ChronicleLive.
  19. ^ Cousins, Tina. "Pray", YouTube.

Further reading[edit]