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The Summerland building disaster
The Summerland building was completed in 1971

The Summerland building in Douglas was the first of its kind in the world and its state-of-the-art facilities put the Isle of Man on the map.

At the time Summerland was 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.

A fire ripped through the building killing 50 people.

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.

Phillips designed Summerland to be 'an artificial centre of sunshine'

'Artificial centre of sunshine'

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.

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.

The latter idea was eventually scrapped when it was discovered some of the birds were poisoning themselves by eating the plastic foliage.

The seven floor building had a capacity for five thousand people

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 £1.5m on the building and more cash was provided by The International Trust House Forte group who had taken Summerland LTD on as a subsidiary.

'It never rains'

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 six foot acrylic bronze-tinted sheets so that the natural light filtering through would appear like golden rays.

There were seven floors in total and the building had a capacity for 5000 people.

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.

The state-of-the-art centre attracted visitors from all over the world

Summerland was fulfilling its promise of taking Manx tourism into the future.

On the evening of Thursday, 2 August, 1973 an estimated 3000 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.

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.

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