Spanish City: From boom to bust and back again for the Whitley Bay landmark

Helen Carnell has been hearing how Spanish City is thriving after a century of highs and lows for ITVX

Through wreck and revival, Spanish City has held a special place in the hearts of people on North Tyneside for more than 100 years.

Famed as an entertainment venue, the iconic domed building has been on a rollercoaster ride over the last century.

Built on Whitley Bay's seaside to house a traveling troupe called the Toreadors at the turn of the 20th century, it flourished, with fairground and ballroom attracting visitors young and old in the post-war years.

Since then, Spanish City has played a starring role in many of the stories of the people who have grown up with and alongside it.

From fine dining to a "Ritzy" fish and chips, the domed building hosts fabulous service once again. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Love at first sight for teenage sweethearts

Alan and Patsy met on the rides at Spanish City's 1950s peak.

"All the girls used to go there and we had a good time", said Patsy.

"We would listen to rock'n'roll records, hang around the jukebox and the amusements. It was a really good fun time.

"I used to sneak here because Alan was a 'Teddy' boy. Me and my bouffant hairstyle, stiletto shoes and frilly skirts. It was lovely happy days."

For this couple, the chance meeting at Spanish City led them from waltzers to wedding bells.

Alan and Patsy have now been married for more than 60 years and still enjoy spending time at the place they first laid eyes on each other.

Patsy and Alan met at Spanish City and have been married for 62 years. Credit: Patsy and Alan Storey

'It was like a miniature Blackpool'

One man who spent his childhood roving the iconic landmark in its heyday was Major Omar Lee. His parents were palm readers, and his first job was maintaining the fairground rides.

Major Lee said: "Up to the age of 17 it was my life and everything surrounded it.

"My parents' business was reading bumps which people used to believe a lot in those days. There used to be a lot of young children coming in to have their bumps read, get advice on their futures and what they should do."

He continued: "People used to come on holiday to Whitley Bay, it was like a miniature Blackpool.

"On Bank Holiday weekends there'd sometimes be 30 buses queuing up on the Bournemouth Carpark. It was just a lively place to be."

The Omar family were well known in Spanish City throughout the 1950s. Credit: British Pathé

But by the time Major Lee was a young adult, Spanish City was declining and by the late 90s, the once-admired location fell into disrepair.

A long-running refurbishment of the domed building and surrounding area was a passion project for Whitley Bayer and local elected Mayor Dame Norma Redfearn.

According to Ms Redfearn, it took a lot of hard work to get the site up and running again.

She said: "It took a lot of persuasion because a lot of people used to say to us 'just knock it down, get rid of it, demolish it,' but for a building like this which means so much to every person.

"They all have good memories of coming here when they were youngsters."

In July 2018 Spanish City reopened following a major regeneration. Since then, more than 100 businesses have moved into the area surrounding the site.

Spanish City holds magic and memories for generations on Whitley Bay seafront. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Ms Redfearn continued: "Doing this, and improving the seafront has actually said to people that it's worth coming to Whitley Bay, it's a great place to be and the economy of Whitley Bay has just shot up. It's been a great journey."

The site is now a thriving food and entertainment hub with a visiting fair. At its helm is Chris Marsh, who manages the venue.

He told ITV Tyne Tees: "We're very lucky to all be working here, it's a fantastic building with lots of things going on all the time."Spanish City was built on music and it is still hitting the right notes with tourists and locals embracing its new era and seeing it rise again.

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