Sunday Tribune

Guest who stayed overnight?

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WINSTON Churchill. Mark Twain. King George V (and his son, King George VI). Princess Elizabeth.

These are just some of history’s most known personalit­ies who have visited Durban’s Royal Hotel since it was opened in 1845. In those 164 years the hotel has seen the city change around it, and has itself changed over the decades.

The hotel is built on land bought by a sea captain who sensed the port of Durban’s commercial promise in the early 1840s. In 1845, the hotel was opened as Durban’s first hostelry, a low-thatched wattle-and-daub building named the Commercial Hotel. Its name was changed seven years later to The Masonic.

In later years the hotel became the centre of a rapidly growing community and, following a royal appointmen­t by Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, the hotel became known as The Royal in 1860.

Throughout the years, the walls have borne witness to conversati­ons held by Cecil John Rhodes, HG Wells, H Rider Haggard, Marlene Dietrich, Mark Twain, Prince Alfred, Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher, F W de Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Shirley Bassey and Phil Collins have also stayed there. – Research by Megan Liversage and Derek Taylor

At the same time, the Top of the Royal will start to be decommissi­oned and turned into penthouse suites. The decommissi­oning would start in January.

All other facilities, including the Ulundi Restaurant and the Royal Coffee Shoppe are fully operationa­l.

While some might lament the loss of the Top of the Royal, Lambert said it had been difficult to operate a venue so far from the kitchen – food had to be cooked off-site, taken up to the 21st floor via a service lift and reheated there. Logistical­ly, this was a nightmare. He added that the restaurant didn’t particular­ly help the hotel’s bottom line.

Lambert admitted that the venue was “romantic” , but said it was necessary for the hotel to change and adapt.

“We’ve seen an opportunit­y in taking the great old lady of Durban and giving her a facelift. We’re making her more contempora­ry.”

Part of this is the selling of 16 rooms, effectivel­y suites, to individual­s. All of these rooms, plus other normal rooms in the hotel, have been sold for more than R52m.

“To do this in today’s economic climate is remarkable.”

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