If ever there was a contrast between the high hopes of a project’s designers and that project’s eventual outcome, the Summerland entertainment complex on the Isle of Man surely affords an all too sobering example.
When this indoor holiday center on the seafront at Douglas opened in 1971 it was the last word in design and innovation in the leisure industry. Summerland was going to do nothing less than confront head-on the challenge of cheap package holidays in the Mediterranean. Why bother to go to the Costa Brava when all your holiday needs could be met at home – and under one roof? You could spend the whole day at Summerland if you wanted – swimming in one of the two indoor pools, ‘sunning’ yourself in the Sundome, even pretending you were on a cruise ship with a game of deck quoits, or just enjoying the rides, amusement arcades and other traditional attractions of the British seaside.
The Summerland center had been open only two years when on a cool, drizzly evening in early August 1973 the unimaginable happened: it caught fire. The fire started outside but spread rapidly through the interior of the building, where 3,000 people were thought to have been at the time. The fire alarm failed, there was no sprinkler system and little in the predominantly open-plan design to impede the flames. Survivors spoke afterwards of locked fire exits and inadequate evacuation routes. The building was completely destroyed in the blaze.
The police investigation established that the fire had been started accidentally by three lads who had been smoking outside the center. The inquest into the deaths was highly critical of elements of the building’s design and many of the construction materials but eventually returned a verdict of death by misadventure.
When was the Summerland Holiday Center Fire: August 2 1973
Where was the Summerland Holiday Center Fire: Douglas, Isle of Man, UK
What was the Summerland Holiday Center Fire death toll: 50 people, mostly holidaymakers from northern England, died in the fire; a further 100 needed hospital treatment for their injuries.
You should know: The tragedy traumatized the tight-knit island community, in its report the Fire Commission said that it ‘would leave a permanent scar in the minds of Manxmen.’