Spanish City Dome Regeneration


By William Kish

The revival of the Spanish City Dome is a key component in Whitley Bay’s coastal regeneration strategy.

A wide range of projects are planned as part of the wider coastal regeneration of Whitley Bay by North Tyneside Council, but none are quite so iconic as the Spanish City Dome.
Historically, Spanish City has always been a pleasure destination in the region and its architectural symbolism has been used on many occasions to promote Whitley Bay as a desirable place to visit and stay. Originally the entrance to the Empress Ballroom and the pleasure gardens behind, Spanish City Dome contained some specialist shops on the coast road, amusement rooms and promenade decks at first floor level.
Designed in the Edwardian Baroque style, the building is a masterclass in creating architectural theatre and is crucial to understanding the local history of Whitley Bay. It stands shoulder to shoulder with other seaside pleasure buildings around the country, giving it high historic significance at a local, regional and national scale. To many, Spanish City Dome is synonymous with Whitley Bay and the histories of the town and ‘the City’ are inextricably linked.


©North Tyneside Council

Warmly welcomed at the time of construction, Spanish City was the linchpin around which Whitley Bay’s seaside holiday heydays of the middle decades of the twentieth century turned. Compared to other north east resorts, its supreme accommodation and attractions such as the Social Whirl were an irresistible draw for holiday makers from across the country (and particularly Scotland) for decades. Its simple monochrome appearance holds an interesting place in the history of the building type, at a point when the ornate, gaudy pleasure palaces of the Victorians would soon give way to the cleaner lines of the 1920s and 30s modern seaside pavilions. Spanish City also has a celebrated place in local dancehall history.
The last amusement operator closed in Summer 2002, and subsequent development plans have been many and varied but all failed to come to fruition. Finally, after many iterations, the current scheme design proposals supported by HLF, obtained Planning and Listed Building Consent in 2016.
Recently, the coast road was realigned and diverted around the back of the building complex with the original road route pedestrianised and incorporated into the promenade redevelopment. This has resulted in a site directly linked to the promenade, seaside beaches and the links adjacent, creating a safe environment once again to ‘perambulate’ and ‘cycle’, a great passion of the Edwardians.
The Grade II listed building requires much restoration and reinstatement of lost fragments and was the subject of a successful bid for Heritage Lottery Fund support from its Enterprise Initiative Fund. The successful outcome of the bid is largely due to the perseverance of the council and its consultant team to evolve the scheme proposals along with engaging with a private sector operator who will run the new facilities.
Sadly, The Empress Ballroom could not be part of the proposals as it was in private ownership. However, other adjacent sites formed by the road diversion has presented an opportunity to gain interest from private hotel chains to build a new hotel and food/restaurant facility alongside the Spanish City.
The North Tyneside regeneration team have published an ambitious seafront masterplan to regenerate the coastline between St Mary’s Lighthouse and Cullercoats Bay. The proposals are a mix of council and private sector developments with Spanish City as a key driver in the delivery of their masterplan.


Spanish City 1930s ©North Tyneside Council

The private sector operator tenant will run the Spanish City as a wedding and conferencing venue, with high quality restaurant catering and evening events spaces available for bookings. Multi-use rooms and facilities for various activities, from cinema clubs to tea dances, will be available. Specialist high quality seafood dining offers, tea rooms and ice cream parlours are also planned with a tourist information point and heritage displays.
Work started on site in 2016 for key demolitions, removal works and stabilisation of the existing building structures and fabric. This stage is nearing completion with rebuilding and restoration work starting in earnest next month. Work on the hotel is well advanced on the adjacent site.
All this activity has stimulated renewed interest from the local community and local traders, as evidence of delivering the Councils aspirations for regeneration is growing. Local shops and traders, restaurants etc. are investing in refurbishments and facelift work which can be seen currently taking place all along the coast. Recently guided tours of the building site were organised, offering locals a chance to see the construction works in progress. These were heavily oversubscribed, which is a good measure of local interest and support for the project.
The buildings construction is an unusual and early form of reinforced concrete, and it includes what was at the time of building the largest reinforced concrete dome in Britain. It’s well informed architecture and clever layout creates a striking group of palatial buildings with great intricacy and delight, designed to provide grand spirited spaces in which to enjoy the pleasures of the Whitley Bay seaside.



3D visualisation of the proposed interior
Adjacent to the Spanish City site the promenade works are well progressed with further work planned for the Northern promenade and its connection to the links. Day Stay beach huts are being considered by North Tyneside at points along the Northern Promenade. A coastline land train is also planned to travel up and down the coastal route in summer months stopping at various points along the way.
A license has been granted to an operator and the service is due to start in 2017. A land train stop and turning area is proposed in front of Spanish City.
Regeneration projects along the masterplan route are all slowly gaining impetus, stimulating private sector interest, all eyes are on the Spanish City restoration project as a symbol and indicator of investment growth and confidence. Once more Spanish City has the potential to encourage the regional growth of Whitley Bay as a visitor destination and remain high in the hearts, mind and spirit of the people of the North East.
Spanish City, Past, Present and Future
An exhibition telling the story of Spanish City’s past, present and future will be running until the end of March at the Old Low Light heritage centre, Clifford’s Fort, North Shields Fish Quay, Tyne and Wear.
The exhibition will showcase photographs from the recent hard hat tours at the Dome, memorabilia and photographs through the decades, including images of the dancing that used to take place there.
To find out more click here.



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