The Dome, an icon of Whitley Bay’s seafront, has stood empty for a number of years but now major renovation works are underway.
It comes after North Tyneside Council successfully bid for a £3.47m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund marking the culmination of years of hard work by the council, its partners and the community to secure its future.
Teams of experts from building firm Robertson Construction have now moved on site to carry out the specialist restoration work needed to prepare the historic structure for the next chapter in its rich history.
The work will safeguard the Dome, restore it and enable it to be run in future by a commercial operator.
Initial works will see the first floor ceiling removed to open up the rotunda area as well as demolition of a disused building.
Norma Redfearn, Elected Mayor of North Tyneside, said: “I am delighted that this latest part of our plans to transform the inside of the Dome is getting underway. Essential structural repairs have already been completed to the building and this latest work will see the magnificent interior beautifully restored with many of the stunning original features retained.
“The Dome is such an iconic building and perceived by many across the borough to be the jewel in the coast’s crown. So many people have happy memories of time spent there and I know they will be keen to watch the work progress over the coming months and witness the changes as they take shape.
“This is such an exciting time for Whitley Bay and for the whole of North Tyneside. The council is successfully delivering massive regeneration along the coast, the riverside and in our towns. We are absolutely determined to make the borough the destination of choice for business, for tourists and where people want to live.”
The £10m Spanish City project is part of the council’s £36m Seafront Master Plan to reinvigorate the stretch of coast between St Mary’s Island and Cullercoats Bay through a mix of local authority and private investment.
Since the council purchased the Dome it has invested more than £3m in ensuring the building is wind and water-tight.
The restoration work will feature a range of building services companies, including joiners, plumbers, grounds men, glaziers, roofers and many more, creating new construction jobs and apprenticeships. In addition, up to 100 jobs will be created for local people when the Dome opens.
Previously removed historic features dating back to when the building first opened in 1910 will be rebuilt and put back in.
Master craftsmen will refer to historic photos to rebuild loggias, which were removed in the early 1970s, in a similar style. Once rebuilt, the loggias will be enclosed with glass so they can be used all year round.
They will also recreate tall decorative tops and cupolas in their original 1910 design, allowing the famous ‘dancing ladies’ statues to return to their rightful place on top of the cupolas.
Traditional Edwardian-style shopfronts, doors and windows will be installed using joinery details from the few salvaged original doors and windows.
New modern extensions will be added at either end of the building and there will be a new rear entrance with a lift to the upper floor.
The rotunda area will be restored to its original splendour by removing the first floor ceiling and putting the central columns back in, opening up the double height space, while the balcony and balustrading will also be reinstalled.
The Plaza area outside the Dome is being reshaped to make it more accessible and pedestrian-friendly, linking Spanish City to the wider changes taking place along the seafront as part of the Master Plan.
Chris Price, Operations Manager for Robertson North East, said: “The team at Robertson are very proud to support North Tyneside Council in the delivery of this iconic project. The Spanish City is very much part of the region’s cultural history and future.
“From a personal point of view, it is quite surreal for me to be working on the restoration because I am a local resident. As a young boy I spent a lot of my free time at the Dome enjoying the amusements with friends. I made a lot of great childhood memories there and it is a real privilege for me to be able to create something that will be enjoyed by people from all over for many, many, years to come.”
Chris Holmes, Director of project architects ADP, said: “Spanish City is an early example of a seaside pleasure building with a dome constructed from Hennebique reinforced concrete, which was very innovative for its time.
“It’s going to be very exciting to see our design proposals realised on site, where we will be using some of today’s innovative construction techniques to sensitively restore this culturally significant landmark so that it can be enjoyed by the local community and those who visit Whitley Bay.”
The first phase of work is expected to be complete in autumn 2017 when the Grade II listed building will be handed over to commercial operator Kymel Trading Ltd to run as a high-quality leisure, wedding and conferencing venue. The second phase will involve an internal fit out by Kymel with the aim of opening in 2018.
Kyle Mackings, CEO of Kymel Trading, said: “We are delighted that work has now begun at Spanish City. Having worked so closely with the project team on this important scheme we can’t wait to see the grandeur of the past emerge and ‘wow’ a whole new generation of visitors.
“We think people are going to be amazed and reassured when they again step inside this magnificent North East icon.”
The council has always had the Dome’s rich past at the forefront of its ambitious plans for the future of the site.
Chief Executive Patrick Melia said: “We understand what the Dome means to people in terms of its important historical and cultural significance. This work will result in a fitting and sympathetic restoration to create a truly unique visitor destination for the region as a whole.”
Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, added: “This iconic building holds an incredibly special place in the hearts of all of us who live in the North East and beyond. Thanks to National Lottery players, we’re delighted to celebrate this major step forward for the Spanish City Dome and its potential to act as a catalyst for wider regeneration.”