Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Wild and Cantankerous Seaview

For me, Seaview has always been the embodiment of a wild, eccentric and cantankerous old man. One moment it could be placid and charming and yet the next moment it displayed its obstreperous wilful nature. To make peace with such a character, one had to make peace with its mood swings

The focal point of Seaview has always been the hotel which sadly has recently been demolished. Naturally Seaview is much more than its hotel. It is a township located on a rugged stretch of coastline unsuited for swimming but with its own wild beguiling charm.

Main picture: The interesting thing about this picture is that it is pre-1934. They started construction on the hotel in 1934 from the right of the hotel as you looked at it with the ocean behind you. The giant Norfolk pines are not yet even visible, the two structures that are visible are on what would become hotel land.

Initial inhabitants

Like most of the Eastern Cape, the first settlers in the area were the Dutch farmers who steadily trekked eastward in their endeavours to escape the jurisdiction of the Colonial authorities in Cape Town. The first such person to settle in this area was Daniel Kuun in 1776. To indicate now sparsely the whole area from Sea View to the Zwartkops River was populated, the closest neighbours of Kuun were the following farmers: Theunis Botha at Buffelsfontein, Thomas Ignatius Ferreira at Papenkuilsfontein, Johannes Wilhelm van Staden at Coega, A. van Rooyen at Zwartkops Rivierwagendrif, Johannes Potgieter at Welbedagt and Gerrit Scheepers at Uitenhage. In 1821, this area was granted to William Gardner.

During WW1, the grandfather of Phillip Wait , Philip John Lovemore [Per MH AC Lovemore] bought Seaview after it was confiscated from the Moravians when they were interned. When he sold it, he received the princely sum of £3000. 

The developers move in

During the 1920s, the Richardson family started developing a resort at Seaview which they named the Clarendon Marine Township. One day, presumably during the 1920s, a representative of the family approached my grandmother, who owned a highly successful tearoom in Schoenmakerskop, with a lucrative proposition. Sell them the three stands that she owned so that they could build an hotel on the site. The deal was tempting, especially with young children and a gravely ill husband who was unable to work, but the thought of despoiling this beautiful stretch of land, was too awful to contemplate. Hence, she rejected their offer much to their chagrin. One can imagine this feisty young woman telling these worldly-wise businessmen what they could do with their money.

As an aside, water to the hotel was supplied from a bore hole constructed by Sir Lesley Richardson who was related to Dave Richardson, the SA cricketer. Dave went Marist Brothers which was run by Irish Brothers and qualified as a lawyer from NMU. The Richardsons were owners of a high-class grocery store in PE.  

Tidal pool in front of hotel

What made this resort much more accessible to the residents of Port Elizabeth, was the opening of the Seaview/Kragga Kamma Road by the retiring Resident Magistrate and Chairman of the Divisional Council, David Eadie on the 29th August 1928              

In 1931, as part of the development of this resort, the Richardson’s constructed a swimming pool. This tidal bath was built with an unusual art deco structure at one end (Jones and McWilliams). There were rondawels for hire and a refreshment kiosk. Bowling greens, tennis courts and putting greens were constructed as well as a fishing jetty. The spot was very popular.

But the Richard’s had greater ambitions and dreamt far larger dreams. Having been stymied by my grandmother, they now decided to construct their envisaged hotel on their own property at Seaview.

On Saturday 18th June 1938, the newly completed Seaview Hotel was opened with a dance. On 31st May 1939 a golf course was opened as well. The hotel was designed by Maurice Herman and had its own electricity plant. A 2-rondavel cottage was built behind the hotel for Sarah Richardson. A visitor described it as “the most perfect place imaginable“.

In August 1942 the hotel was taken over as a training base for Naval Officers – both Royal and South African Navies, the first such training centre outside Britain. For the duration of the war, the hotel was renamed the HMS Good Hope.

After the war, in a bid to resuscitate the rating of the hotel to its former glory, Sir Richardson did a photo shoot of the hotel and its tidal pool which was shown daily at the Astra and Metro theatres. The lead role was played by a local lass, Ivy Dawson nee Rautenbach, in her swimsuit. During this post war period, the Seaview Hotel can be compared to a latter-day Sun City in the number of activities that it featured, all activities except one, gambling, which was verboten in South Africa.

Seaview Hotel

Nothing worked. After WW2, the Seaview Hotel never regained its cachet, nor did it recover its full potential. Instead it slumped into a steady decline. Various management teams under different hotel names never revived the fortunes of the hotel.

Final nomenclature: Jewel of the Ocean

Finally in 2013 it was demolished.

Sources

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

Rosemary MacGheogan on my grandmother

Various Facebook entries


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