A fresh new start for Cape Town’s grand old Victorian lady

As construction of the long-awaited expansion of GrandWest’s Grand Hotel nears completion, staff are busying themselves in preparation for the public opening on 1 December.

Behind the hoarding board there is a flurry of activity as contractors and designers add the finishing touches, and final snags are carried out before the final reveal.

Since opening the flagship GrandWest property in December 2000, this extension is the first new hotel investment in Cape Town for JSE-listed hospitality group, Sun International. The group’s other hotel property in Cape Town is the 5-star Table Bay hotel in the V&A Waterfront which opened in 1997.

Sun International’s R133-million investment has now added 68 additional keys to the Grand Hotel, bringing the total number of rooms to 103 (for clarity, four of the original 39 rooms were demolished and reconfigured)

The GrandWest casino and leisure complex is the largest in the country so demand to stay at the original hotel was always extremely high. For over 23 years the 4-star boutique hotel operated at a 99% occupancy, with its rooms booked long in advance.

GrandWest General Manager Mervyn Naidoo is looking forward to the opening, “For many years The Grand Hotel was the busiest hotel in the group. Having a 99% occupancy would be a happy problem for any hotel, but in our case it prevented us from marketing ourselves to new audiences. It also prevented locals from making a night of it when we host big events.”

The new three-story hotel extension consists of two new wings connecting the existing hotel on the north and south corners, and the new offering includes presidential suites, ordinary suites, double and twin rooms, and inter-leading family rooms. A gym, spa and swimming pool have been built on the ground floor of the southern wing. In addition to its private dining facilities the hotel also houses the elegant Salon Prive.

The 57-hectare GrandWest complex is set in landscaped gardens and wetlands, while the interior boasts two casino floors, several restaurants and fast food facilities, an arena capable of hosting world-class events, an intimate theatre, a nightclub, an ice-rink and extensive family entertainment area.

An alternative energy supply takes the sting out of load shedding.

History and construction challenges

The Grand Hotel is a recreation of an older hotel that used to grace the corner of Adderley and Strand Street. Originally built in 1894, the popular hotel was upgraded several times until it was eventually demolished in 1952. When the hotel was reconstructed in 2000, architects used a scaled down version of the first Grand Hotel’s 100-year old plans.

Naidoo said one of the challenges that architects experienced was to keep the extension consistent with the original architectural plan and style. “Uniquely, all of GrandWest’s facades are scaled down recreations of old landmark buildings in Cape Town such as the much-loved Tivoli Music Hall (demolished in the 1930s), the Alhambra Theatre (demolished in 1970s), the Old Railway Station (1905 – 1968), Cartwright’s Corner and many memorable buildings in District Six.

Peter Stokes, partner at  dhk Architects says, “To respect the existing architectural style the design was based on developing two identical three-story wings positioned symmetrically on either side of the existing entrance and Porte Cochere, which we left largely unchanged, to form an appropriately proportioned entrance court consistent with the period architecture. A new access road gives visitors direct access to the hotel.

Besides crafting and recreating the decorative façade details, challenges faced by the development team included adding a spa and indoor heated pool and constructing within an active environment as operations in the Salon Prive and existing 39 rooms were ongoing. The impact on customers from dust, noise and vibration had to be carefully managed and consideration had to be given to how to protect sensitive gaming equipment within the Prive.

Stokes said additional external challenges included working around taxi strikes and the heavy rainfall experienced in Cape Town this year.

Fresh new interiors

Inside, the hotel’s new wings still pay homage to the original Grand Hotel through touches such as the neoclassical mouldings and skirting boards. The lights are also a take on the light fittings that would have been found in the original Grand Hotel.

In each room the colour palette has been refreshed for a bolder, more contemporary style which is a departure from the traditional cherry wood interior throughout the rest of the hotel.

Lisa Bridgeford, head of interior design at dhki says, “We wanted to respect the heritage and the old maritime theme that is continued throughout GrandWest, but we also wanted to bring in crisp new colours that honour the landscape of the Western Cape region, such as deep burgundy which reflects vineyards and red wine.

She further explained how the room’s furniture has underlying elements from the original Grand Hotel. As an example, the headboard design reflects turret finials that were on the original hotel. The majority of the furnishings and fittings were locally sourced and manufactured by local artisans, ensuring that local businesses benefitted from the economic injection.

“The local flavour has been further enhanced with the artwork in each room, which has been inspired by South Africa’s rich fauna and flora. But we have continued to recall the display of architectural and cultural heritage in The District area outside the hotel, by displaying photographs of District Six throughout the hotel.”

The photographs stem from the collection shot by photographer Cloete Breytenbach in District Six before the area was destroyed.

The Cloete Breytenbach foundation has granted permission for the hotel to display the rich and atmospheric photographs that translate the culture and vibrancy of District Six”.

For high rollers, the hotel has four signature suites which make up the luxurious presidential suite. The interiors in these suites are more opulent, while the deep gold and blue pallet sets them apart from other rooms in the hotel.

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