Work has begun to restore the historic facade of Blackpool Tower which had been left to crumble after years of neglect.
Heritage experts were shocked to discover the original terracotta carvings on the arches over the Promenade entrance to the Grade I listed building had been severely damaged over the decades.
A temporary facade has been in place since a canopy was removed in 2010, but now work has started to survey the damage in order to begin replacing the ruined terracotta and stained glass.
Seven central arches will be restored initially, with a further phase of work proposed to refurbish the final two.
It is hoped to complete the project by May next year in time for celebrations to mark the 120th anniversary of the Tower first opening to the public.
The cost is being met from the European funding package for the council’s purchase of the Tower in 2010, with £15m being set aside so far for refurbishment of the iconic structure.
Architect Dominic Roberts, of Preston-based Francis Roberts Architects which specialises in historic building projects, said: “It is appalling what has happened over the past 120 years.
“In order to install billboards and canopies, it looks like someone with a sledgehammer has gone along and smashed the terracotta to install steel beams.
“Stained glass has been smashed in order to install heating pipes.
“The Tower has never been thought of as a heritage project, but purely as a business and without intervention now, all this could have been lost.”
Following a full assessment of the damage, new terracotta and stained glass will be installed as well as new 14ft high front doors.
Blackpool Council heritage officer Carl Carrington said: “The Tower’s frontage onto the Promenade is its shop window and the aim is to create something stylish which fits in with the history of the building but can also be put to a contemporary use.”
The scheme is being backed by Tower operator Merlin.
Tower manager Kate Shane said: “The dream is to unveil it on May 14 for the Tower’s 120th birthday.
“This is massive for the town and for Merlin and we have to do it right. Everything has to be done accurately and sympathetically in order to bring this building back to its rightful glory.”
Coun Graham Cain, cabinet member for leisure and tourism, said: “This is part of the massive investment the council is making and I understand it will be business as usual at The Tower while the works are taking place.”
Blackpool-based F.Parkinson has been chosen as the main contractor.