The solarium at Summerland
Where the sun always shines
The Summerland building in Douglas was the first of its kind in the world. The state-of-the-art facilities put the Isle of Man on the map as one of the most important tourist destinations in the British Isles. But the dream was short lived.
Two years after its completion in 1971 the high tech promenade venue was the scene of devastation after a fire ripped through the building killing 50 people.
Enjoying a pool-side drink
The 3.5 acre Summerland resort, claiming to be the biggest and most innovative indoor entertainment centre in the world, was hailed by the British Tourist Authority as “An outstanding tourist enterprise”.
It was the brain child of Douglas architect, Mr James Phillips Lomas who had been commissioned by Douglas Corporation to design a building which would attract visitors to the Isle of Man whatever the weather.
His solution was to design an artificial centre of sunshine and it had to be spectacular enough to compete with the growing threat of cheap foreign holidays.
Dancing the night away at Summerland
Inside the centre he included plans for an indoor heated swimming pool, saunas, Turkish baths, an artificial sunshine zone, a children’s theatre, an underground disco, cascading waterfalls, restaurants and bars all with live entertainment throughout the day.
Lomas wanted to create the illusion of being outside and to this end he planned to cover exposed cliff faces with tropical plants while allowing wild birds to live and fly throughout the building.
Enjoying the outdoor life...inside
The latter idea was eventually scrapped when it was discovered some of the birds were poisoning themselves by eating the plastic foliage.
The plans took years to finalise. The first drawings materialised in 1965 but hundreds were drafted out before building work actually started.
Douglas Corporation, aided by grants from the Isle of Man Government, spent £1.5 million on the building and more cash was provided by The International Trust House Forte group who had taken Summerland LTD on as a subsidiary.
Sweating it out on holiday
In “The Summerland Story” written by Robert Kelly he promotes the centre as “a holiday town where it never rains, the wind never blows and the temperature never gets chilly. Outside it’s raining yet here you are relaxed in your shirt sleeves, gently perspiring in a tropical 80 degrees.”
Much thought was given to bringing a sunshine-feel to the building. The transparent roof was composed of 6 ft acrylic bronze-tinted sheets so that the natural light filtering through would appear like golden rays.
There were 7 floors in total and the building had a capacity for 5 thousand people.
The Summerland solarium
For just over two years the centre attracted visitors from all over the world. While children were entertained in the theatre, parents could relax upstairs.
Summerland was fulfilling its promise of taking Manx tourism into the future. On the evening of Thursday 2nd August 1973 an estimated 3,000 people were enjoying themselves at the resort.
Meanwhile a group of three school boys on holiday from Liverpool was hanging around at the back of the building next to a section of a dismantled fibre-glass kiosk.
Swimming at Summerland
The rest is of course history. The Summerland fire, according to the independent report into the blaze, “will remain a permanent scar in the minds of Manxmen.”
A report commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor in 1973 stated that the blaze was the worst peacetime fire disaster in the British Isles since 1929.
last updated: 04/04/2008 at 15:38
Have Your Say
What are your memories of Summerland?
jimmy kitchin onchan
Noel Skillicorn, Liverpool
Ricky Rooney, Douglas
janice gale from dreghorn scotland
Crazy Carol, Onchan