[From Manx Quarterly #13 1913]
[Opening of Villa Marina Kursaal]
The following are extracts from some of the many descriptions of and references to the Villa Marina Gardens which have appeared since the opening ceremony on Saturday in newspapers published on the mainland:-
" DAILY NEWS AND LEADER."
Douglas, the great Island playground beloved of the North, has become imbued with the spirit of municipal enterprise. Quietly and unobtrusively, while the rest of the world was at work, and months before even the people began to think of holiday-making, a number of municipal pilgrims set out from Douglas and, crossing the water, visited places like Margate and Eastbourne in search of ideas for amusing the masses.
Douglas feels, like other watering places, that holiday tastes are changing. The whirlwind forms of recreation and the nerve-racking rush from morning to night may suit the young lads and lasses from the industrial towns, but what about the middle-aged tripper who feels that he cannot keep pace with the modern method of rushing through the holidays?
Besides, Douglas has her jealous eye on other watering places, and she wants to be like the staid queens of the south. So when the Douglas pilgrims returned they laid before the Mayor and Corporation a beautiful vision of a continental kursaal. The Kursaal materialised on Saturday, just when Douglas was preparing for the great August invasion.
Lord and Lady Raglan made a special journey from London during the weekend to open this new resort for the Douglas tripper. There was an invasion of holiday-makers from Scotland, something like 50,000, and most of them honoured the opening ceremony with their presence.
The Douglas Kursaal gives an atmosphere of charming continentality to the picture of the bay, with its fringe of fashionable boarding-houses. It cost nearly £20,000, is eight acres in extent, and there is a rising fringe of trees at the back of the Villa Marina Gardens, which form part of the Kursaal. It seats 3,000 people, and it can be used for any kind of entertainment.
The old Villa Marina used to be the residence of the Governor of the Island, and there is an interesting history connected with the present scheme. Nearly a century ago there went to the Isle of Man from the North of England. a young man who made a fortune of £200,000 out of the Island. He simply reversed the tradition that every Manxman who crosses the Irish Channel makes his fortune in England.
That man, who died ten years ago at the age of 87, was Henry Broom Noble, a Manx Croesus, who enriched the Island with his investments and benefactions. He bought the old Villa, Marina. for £7,500, and it was worth £80,000 when he died. Eventually the Douglas Corporation bought it from the trustees and paved the way for the new beauty that adorns the promenade at Douglas.
The interior of the Kursaal is uncommonly beautiful, and the successful design by Mr Percy Robinson and Mr W. Allan Jones, of Leeds, was chosen in competition by Professor Adshead, of the Liverpool University Department of Civic Design.
" DAILY MAIL."
The new Kursaal erected in the Villa Marina Gardens, Douglas, at a cost of £25,000. was formally opened on Saturday by the Governor General (Lord Raglan).
The Villa Marina, a beautiful estate bordering on the sea front about midway along the marine promenade, came into the market some years ago. The property was then owned by the trustees of the late Mr Henry B. Noble's will, and they were bound to realise it and distribute the proceeds among charitable and public objects. They agreed to sell the estate to the Douglas Corporation for £60,000 and to return to the purchasers £20,000 for the erection and furnishing of a hall on the estate, the gift being subsequently increased to £25,000. In competition the designs of Messrs Robinson and Jones, architects, Leeds, for a kursaal were selected, and the contract for carrying out the plans was secured by Mr Paul Rhodes, of Leeds.
The new hall includes an octagonal-shaped concert-room, with seating accommodation for 3,000, the roof having a larger span without internal support than that of any building in the British Isles. There are also provided a restaurant, a reading-room, lounges, promenades, and cloakrooms.
It is proposed to utilise the building in conjunction with the delightful grounds for purposes of high-class entertainment, and already several important engagements have been made, these including Mme. Albani and concert party for August Mme. Melba. and concert party for August 19th and 21st. During this week Little Tich and Ruth Vincent will be among the Kursaal artists.
" LIVERPOOL COURIER."
Lord Raglan, the Lieut.-Governor of the Isle of Man, opened the Villa Marina Kursaal at Douglas on Saturday.
The Villa. Marina Gardens and Kursaal are situated in the centre of the promenade, and face the bay. The grounds occupy some eight acres, and with their background of trees possess a natural charm not always found in connection with similar places of public resort. About half the site is occupied by a lawn beautifully shaded by some old trees.
The bandstand itself is an example of unconventionality, and is really an open-air theatre on a small scale. It is so arranged that the audience seated in lounge chairs on the sloping lawn, with the panoramic sea view in front, may take tea while listening to the concert.
A raised walk runs parallel with the sea along the entire length of the terrace. Thus, while the gardens are sheltered from the noise and activity of the sea front, the spectators may watch the passing show while remaining in perfect seclusion.
The Kursaal, which holds 3,000 people, consists of a large concert hall, primarily intended for orchestral concerts. This can be adapted to other forms of entertainment, and in inclement weather the outdoor band and other performances can be transferred to the hall, which is a light and airy apartment, surrounded on all sides by a raised promenade. A somewhat similar promenade, connecting with a series of roof gardens, extends round the gallery level.
On the ground floor the raised promenade extends into the concert hall, and here one ma c sit at tables and take refreshments while listening to the entertainment, as is done in Continental kursaals.
" YORKSHIRE POST."
Mirth and sunshine are synonymous terms in this happy holiday Isle of the Sea. Even this morning, when Scotch mists shrouded the beauties of Douglas Bay, a cheerful temperament seemed everywhere in the ascendant, and the watery visitation was accounted merely an appropriate incident in the invasion of Manxland by canny folk from the Clyde ports. Despite the sound of the Northern brogue of the Glasgow Fair which has been wafted hither, there is no joking with difficulty. A large party of journalists have arrived in the Island to witness the inaugural function in connection with the Douglas Corporation's latest provision for the entertainment of visitors. Besides taking part in the opening of the Villa Marina Kursaal by the Lieutenant-Governor (Lord Raglan) and Lady Raglan, we are incidentally, by rail and electric tram, seeing something of the natural charms of Ellan Vannin, and noting with judicial eye the exuberant spirit that animates the festive throng of holiday-makers at this busy season of the year.
Almost everybody who is familiar with the Isle of Man knows that umbrageous plot of ground overlooking the centre of Douglas Bay called Villa Marina. Rather more than forty years ago, when the house which stood there was rented by the Government as a residence for the Lieut.-Governor, it was purchased by the late Mr H. B. Noble for £7,500. On his death in 1903, the estate was valued at £80,000, such was the appreciation in value. Fortunately Mr Noble had consideration for the people among whom he lived so many years, and he devised the residue of his property for charitable purposes. Accordingly, in addition to the benevolent regard which has been shown by his trustees for various deserving objects, the Corporation have secured the estate upon terms which will help materially in providing for the cost of the new building which they have since erected here. The idea is to meet the needs of people who prefer rest and quiet to the distractions of the ordinary amusements with which Douglas is so well supplied. The grounds of eight acres in extent, nicely wooded as they are, offer opportunities for seclusion and restful recreation. The new Hall, or Kursaal, as it is called, is adapted for high-class concerts and light entertainments, at which one may enjoy the maximum of comfort in an atmosphere that is neither too frivolous nor too boisterous to be elevating. The building itself presents something novel in this class of public provision. A similar type may be seen in the new Opera House at Berlin and the New Theatre at Manchester. Internally the style is nee-Greek, and externally you get a suggestion of the Italian Renaissance, with overhanging eaves casting shadows-the sore of reposeful feature, in fact, that is characteristic of the old Italian villas. Messrs W. Percy Robinson and W. Alban Jones, of Leeds, are the architects, and a Leeds man, Mr Paul Rhodes, has carried out the general contract. On the whole, it is freely admitted the effect is most pleasing, and the work admirably done. The plans, by the way, were chosen in open competition, the assessor being Professor Adshead, of the Liverpool University Department of Civic Design, and before completing the arrangements the Corporation Committee visited Harrogate, Margate, Eastbourne, Bournemouth, and Torquay to investigate and inspect the methods in those resorts.
The hall, designed to accommodate 3,000 persons, is octagonal in shape, measuring 100 feet in diameter, and the height from the floor to the ceiling of the lantern is 65 feet. The internal arrangements give a sense of lightness and spaciousness as well as elegance at every point, from the ornamentation of the sloping roofs to the tastefulness of the protruding stage, with its dove-tinted curtains and ripe peach-coloured cornice and hangings. Decorative filling, too, has been used with neat effect, as, for example, in the ornate central chandelier and railings of the upper promenade corridor, while the fever, floors, and staircase walls are rendered imposing with marble. Over a series of spacious rooms adjoining, used as cafe, lounges, reading and writing rooms, access may be had to roof gardens affording splendid views of the grounds and bay. The circular corridor connecting allows for a promenade 300 feet long, and through arched openings it is possible to see and hear all that goes on below. Fully one-half of the garden site consists of a verdant, sloping lawn, where in fine weather people may recline at their ease) in deck chairs, and partake of afternoon tea as they listen to the band discoursing music from an, open~air orchestra. To the rear of this outdoor theatre a grove of trees hides the upper part of the town, and on the sea-front side a raised promenade terrace screens the view of the bustling parade. A self-contained electric lighting system is another feature, the power station being tucked away in a corner of the grounds, and quite a moderate charge for admission is a further recommendation to the average holiday seeker. As to the class of entertainment, today's opening concerts may be taken as a fair criterion. Besides performances by Herr Simon Wurm's Viennese capable orchestra, we had the excellent local talent of Miss Carrie Tubb and Mr Joseph O'Mara, also happily rendered " Songs at the Piano " by Miss Lois Barker and Mr Percy Tarling. For the remainder of the season the programme includes such varied names as Mme. Melba, Miss Margaret Cooper, Mr Nelson Jackson, Little Tich, George Robey, Miss Ruth Vincent, and the Imperial Russian Ballet.
" LIVERPOOL DAILY POST AND MERCURY."
Enterprise on the part of the Manx authorities has done much to supplement those abundant natural charms of the Isle of Man that have served to confer upon it the title of " The Gem of the Irish Sea." Saturday saw another instance of this spirit of constant adaptation and advance, and in this case it set at rest a frequent assertion that amid all their progress the Islanders have in one direction been possibly a little neglectful. It has reference to the attractions offered to what, for want of a better term, may be called the more staid and better-class holiday-maker. The Lieut.-Governor, who had broken his holidays purposely in order to attend the inaugural function, pointed to this aspect of the matter with characteristic pleasantry. " We are here to provide," said Lord Raglan, " for a class of people towards whom in past years we Manxmen have been a little too idle and a little too forgetful. After all, we are not all five-and-twenty, and we don't all want to dance through the night and to be watching the cinematograph on Sundays." Needless to say, the new rendezvous will neither be, nor is it intended to be, in any measure an exclusive retreat, but at least it will be a haven for those who have no temperamental kinship with the hordes of buoyant spirits who pour into Douglas at the time of the " wakes."
The Villa Marina and Kursaal is the name of this latest addition to Douglas's multiple attractions, and its location is that familiar plot which, as visitors know, is practically the only interruption to the long line of hotels and boarding-houses that sweep round from the old harbour to near Onchan Head. For many years these eight acres have been put to no public or private use, though formerly the now demolished house was the home of that Manx worthy, Henry Bloom Noble, who acquired it originally as a residence for the Lieutenant-Governors. When Mr Noble died about ten years ago, a trust was formed to administer his princely philanthropic bequests, and this property was valued at £80,000. So large a figure would doubtless have precluded any chance of public ownership, and it was the concessions of the trustees themselves that made this possible, and so saved the land from the vandal hands of the builders. Eighteen months' work has now effected a transformation. The Villa Marina estate has been laid out as a fine lawn, facing the expansive bay in a most advantageous position, and having a rich sylvan background of singular charm. Situated near the middle is the bandstand, but this does not accord to conventional circular designs, for it is in the form of an open-air theatre, and wooden trellis-work and flower baskets give it a garden-like appearance, and lounge chairs and tables have been placed on the gentle slope. Parallel with the sea front is a raised promenade terrace, the effect of which is to impart a sense of peaceful seclusion from the bubble and bustle of the outside thoroughfare.
Still more novel is the new Kursaal, a building which can seat 3,000 people. It has been erected on the north end of the site, on the corner of Broadway. Not only is this unquestionably a handsome building, but it strikes quite a new architectural note, and is claimed to have no compeer anywhere in the United Kingdom.
Cast in the classic style, it represents a distinct departure from the form of most similar seaside structures, and it offers an artistic pattern well worthy to be followed. From the grounds its appearance, is reminiscent of some of the old stuccoed Italian private palaces, and the overhanging roofs and deep, cool shadows form reposeful features. Octagonal in shape, the central hall is surmounted by an imposing dome, the roof of which is said to be the largest of the kind without internal support. Grey and red are the colours adopted in the ornamentation and equipment, a blend which is at once restful and warm, while the acoustic properties of the hall render it well adapted, as tests have already shown, for orchestral performances. Continental ideas have been followed further in the provision of two promenade corridors, the lower of which communicates with tastefully-furnished foyers and coffee rooms, while the upper one has entrances on to a series of roof gardens with sheltered recesses. From all of these outer apartments the music can be heard, and the outlook from the over-head balcony is peculiarly pleasant, inasmuch as it commands a fine view on to the beauties and the activities of Douglas. So far as the architecture is concerned, it is a matter of interest to know that the designs of Messrs Robinson and Alban Jones, a Leeds firm, were selected in competition with others by Professor Adshead, of the Department of Civic Design of the Liverpool University. The estimates place the cost of building and appointments in the vicinity of £20,000.
To the numerous attractions of Douglas, Isle of Man-which, by the way, are well-known to thousands of Glasgow people-there has been added a beautifully situated and beautifully constructed concert and entertainment hall, surrounded by delightful gardens and woods, called the Villa Marina Kursaal. It occupies a commanding site near the centre of the four mile promenade which skirts the bay, and its opening on Saturday by Lord Raglan, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Island, and Lady Raglan, was attended E by circumstances that augur well for its future success.
Facing the bay from the very, centre of the promenade, the Kursaal and gardens occupy eight acres of delightful ground. The Kursaal is octagonal in shape and has seating accommodation for 3,000 people. It has a diameter of a hundred feet, and a height of sixty-six. There are several galleries and promenades and refreshment, reading and writing rooms in the building, and there are roof gardens extending round the gallery level; from which visitors may listen to the open-air concerts r or view the bay and surrounding scenery.
In the centre of the gardens is a band-stand designed in Chinese style, resembling an open-air theatre on a small scale. The back is enclosed, and ornamented with trellis work and floral baskets. In front there are lounge chairs on the sloping lawn, from which the audience may command the panoramic sea view, and enjoy afternoon tea while listening to the concert or entertainment. On one side there is a wall, which separates the audience from the busy promenade, while at the back there is a rising wood, the trees in k which are illuminated in the evening with myriads of fairy lamps. Altogether, it is a most charming place.
In connection with the opening on Saturday, a large number of Press representatives from London in the south to Aberdeen in the north, and Dublin and Belfast in tl.e wea;t, travelled to Douglas and spent an enjoyable week-end under the care of Mr Austin Brereton. On Friday evening they were received by the Mayor and Town' Council, and entertained to supper in the new Kursaal. Lord Raglan was present, and his health was enthusiastically pledged. Greetings were also exchanged between the Mavor and Town Council on the one hand and the guests on the other.
On Saturday forenoon, the Manx Flectric Railway and the Isle of Man Railway were at the disposal of the visitors, who, in the afternoon. attended the opening of the Kursaal. On Sunday they enjoyed a tour round the Island in glorious weather, proceeding first by electric railway to the summit of Snaefell, and then to Ramsey, where luncheon was served. The return journey was made by the Isle of Man Railway, an hour being spent at Peel, a quaint old fishing village with a quaint old castle.
On every hand surprise and admiration were expressed by the guests, many of whom had not visited the Isle of Man before, at the numberless excellent facilities afforded for the enjoyment of visitors to Douglas. Facing the bay there is a three-mile crescent of boarding-houses, the popularity of which may be judged from the fact that at the present moment there are some 15,000 Glasgow visitors there. -
" DAILY TELEGRAPH."
Douglas, Isle of Man, has numerous charms for the holiday-seeker. One is that you have to go by water some of the way, and the average Britisher likes a sca-trip-if it is not too long. Arrived at Douglas, you find yourself surrounded by every attraction which makes for popularity. Should you forsake these allurements for awhile, impelled by a hunger to explore beyond the beckoning hills which arise so majestically behind the town, you will find that you have alighted on a pleasure island indeed.
For the moment, however, our concern is with the latest addition to the catalogue of delights of Douglas itself. In a word, it can now boast a kursaalhow Contineatal we are getting!-which is worthy to rank with anything of its kind anywhere. Villa Marina. Kursaal-to give the place its full title-is a name to be lived up to, and every earnest has been given by its owners, the Douglas Corporation, that it shall be. Artistic taste has guided its construction, and if the class of entertainment continues on the level of that arranged for this season no loophole will be left for criticism. To crown all, it has been opened by their Excellencies the Lieutenant-Governor (Lord Raglan) and Lady Raglan, who are ever ready to support anything which the Corporation undertake for the welfare of the Island.
It would certainly have been a thousand pities, as Lord Raglan said, had the site upon which the Kursaal has been erected fallen into the hands of the private builder, for, set in a beautiful framework of trees and verdant slopes, it serves to break at its very centre the monotony of hotels and boarding-houses which sweep in an otherwise unbroken line along the entire sea-front.
The site of the Kursaal was formerly occupied by the Villa Marina-, which was rented by the Government as a residence for the Lieutenant-Governor. The gardens, about eight acres in extent, have been adapted to the use of the public, and this without disturbing their natural charm, not the least of which is the magnificent background of trees. Half of the ground has been laid out as a lawn, in the centre of which is a bandstand-an elegant structure in the form of an open-air theatre, designed in the Chinese style. Seated in a deck-chair the visitor may partake of afternoon tea, screened from the bustling promenade, yet able to enjoy the fine panorama of Douglas Bay.
And now, to give completeness to this centre of enjoyment, there is the Kursaal -a thing of beauty both outside and within. The besetting sin of such structures is generally tawdriness and garishness. In this case those blemishes are conspicuously absent. Instead, the edifice gives the onlooker a sense of repose, and, viewed from the grounds, there may well be claimed for it a resemblance to some old stuccoed Italian private palace. The size is much larger than a view of the outside leads the ordinary observer to suppose. It is, indeed, easily capable of holding 3,000 people. The large hall-primarily intended for orchestral concerts, but readily adaptable to other forms of entertainment -will answer every test which an audience can wish to apply. It is in the highest degree tasteful to the eye, it gives comfort, and its acoustic properties are a matter for special congratulation. The hall is surrounded by a promenade corridor 300ft. in length, through the arched openings of which an admirable view of the stage can be obtained. Another promenade connecting with roof gardens extends round the gallery level. There are refreshment rooms, foyers, reading and writing rooms within the building, the decoration and furnishing of which are of a most pleasing nature. From every point of view, then, the Kursaal is entitled to rank, after the natural claims of Douglas, as the principal attraction of this favourite watering-place. That such an event as the opening ceremony should have been attended with considerable ëclat is, therefore, not surprising.
The inaugural proceedings began with a civic procession, and afterwards, in the presence of a large company, Lady Raglan having rung a dainty silver souvenir bell, declared the Kursaal open in a thoughtful and graceful speech.
Bearing in mind that the whole population of the Isle of Man is only a trifle over 50,000, and that during the year more than ten times that number have been known to descend on its hospitable shores, it is natural that the wants of visitors should form the main consideration of those who are concerned in the prosperity of the Island. Every beauty spot has been made easily accessible by the excellent systems of the Isle of Man Railway and the Manx Electric Railway. Every little wayside station serves the purpose of those in search of the picturesque in nature, and a tour of the Island leaves one with the impression that here is a land in which pleasure alone is everybody's aim.