Historic building finally to disappear

THESE are some of the last photos you will ever see of one of Felixstowe's best-known landmarks.The Herman de Stern centre - which has been an eyesore on the seafront since a devastating fire more than a year ago - is being demolished piece by piece, brick by brick, lintel by lintel.

THESE are some of the last photos you will ever see of one of Felixstowe's best-known landmarks.

The Herman de Stern centre - which has been an eyesore on the seafront since a devastating fire more than a year ago - is being demolished piece by piece, brick by brick, lintel by lintel.

While progress is slow because of potentially-dangerous asbestos on the site, for many the work cannot be done quick enough - they would rather see bulldozers or demolition balls raze it to the ground in a few dramatic minutes than this slow, painful death.

This dramatic aerial photograph - taken from a helicopter kindly provided courtesy of Ipswich businessman Graeme Kalbraier - shows just how the blaze ravaged the building and the work done so far by the demolition gangs.

There is no dispute that it is a sad sight.

The Herman de Stern in Sea Road was a fine Edwardian building in its heyday, and dominated the skyline at the southern end of the resort.

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It provided a place for men from London to convalesce from serious illnesses, with Felixstowe's bracing and clean sea air - in complete contrast to the smog-clogged capital - the perfect tonic.

Its two large wards and 12 single rooms were pristine, staffed by caring nurses, devoted to their patients. Most of the rooms had superb sea views.

Now it is just a shell, a ragged mess where fire has removed its roof and demolition gangs from Erith Group have clawed open front walls and removed its upper windows.

Inside can be seen fire-blackened walls in some parts, and in others wallpaper flapping in the breeze, still loosely stuck to crumbling and damaged walls.

Men in protective suits stand on cherry-pickers with hoses, carefully directing a colleague in an orange JCB as its steel bucket pulls down another section, the rubble of which then has to be sorted and sifted for asbestos and the best materials cleaned up for possible re-use.

It's a long job. Work has already been under way for nearly two weeks and there is still a huge amount to do to clear the site and leave it ready for possible future redevelopment.

Felixstowe historian Doreen Rayner said: “It's a really sad sight and such a great pity. Even after the fire, I don't think it was beyond restoration.

“It wasn't an ugly building, and in fact from the seaward side it was a fine and striking sight.

“My mother worked there when it was a convalescent home and I remember the nurses wheeling the patients out in the mornings to sit in the warm sun and enjoy the sea air.”

After it closed as a convalescent home in the 1970s, it had a variety of uses, including as a social club for metering manufacturers Sangamo, whose factory was in nearby Langer Road, and also as a community centre for the area.

The great shame is that once it is demolished and its site filled and levelled, no replacement is proposed. The area is crying out for a community centre, but the land is simply earmarked for a pub or restaurant if a developer comes forward.

WEBLINK: www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

Are you glad to see the Herman de Stern go? What should replace it? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

TIMELINE: Herman de Stern

1902 - Herman de Stern was opened after money for its construction was provided by Baroness de Stern in memory of her husband, believed to have been a German banker and brewing magnate whose title was bestowed upon him by the King of Portugal.

1939-45: It was requisitioned by the military during the second world war and used by the army.

1961: London Hospital Group closed it after the capital's health services were reorganised.

1964: After standing empty for three years, it was re-opened for Suffolk patients.

Early 1970s: The building was closed for good as a convalescent home.

1976: Suffolk Coastal District Council purchased the Herman de Stern.

1980s: Building used for a variety of activities - including social club, flats, community centre, ambulance station, and stage school.

1990s: Upstairs used as a gym, while downstairs turned into a community theatre. Research carried out to see how much it would cost to turn it into a theatre and arts centre.

2002: Suffolk Coastal confirms it has no further use for the building and it will be demolished.

2004: Permission granted for the redevelopment of the south seafront, including the site of the Herman de Stern.

2005: Building ravaged by fire. Nine children arrested but no-one charged.

2006: Demolition takes place.

FACTFILE: Herman de Stern

When it was a convalescent home, it had 30 beds and was staffed by a matron and a small number of nurses. The local GP visited daily and a chaplain held weekly services.

Part of it was the Sangamo social club for several years, the West End Community Association's centre, a stage school run by Sheryl Southernwood and a gym owned by Tony Snooks, before it became the West End Theatre.

Plans were drawn up to extend it at the rear to create a proper auditorium, conference centre, with galleries and workshops upstairs, but the cost of £2 million could not be afforded.

The Herman de Stern's site has been earmarked for a restaurant as part of the south seafront development, which will include a maritime park and 158 homes.

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