The opening up of the shore south of South End to development in the late 1890s, ultimately culminated in the building of holiday hotels along the beach front. The first of these was named the Beach or the Humewood Beach Hotel. In doing so, confusion has subsequently reigned amongst historians.
Confounding the issue, was the building of separate Beach and Humewood Hotels after the original Humewood Beach Hotel was destroyed by fire in December 1915.
Main picture: The second hotel to bear the name of the Beach Hotel
Prior to the hotel
Faced with the prospect of an outbreak of smallpox in 1882, the Port Elizabeth Town Council scoured available land for an isolated plot outside the residential areas on which it could construct an isolation hospital. What better location than on the vacant virgin land south of the Shark River [today’s Happy Valley]. On the 9th September 1882, two wood and iron buildings were duly opened.
With the rapid expansion of Humewood abutting the Shark River, the isolation hospital, or Lazaretto, was relocated to land in Victoria Park in 1884. In doing so, land south of the Shark River became available for development.
The original Beach Hotel – Mark 1
Without a doubt, the swimming and recreational mecca of Port Elizabeth, once Humewood was opened up for development, was the Shark River / Humewood Beach area. The area north of this – the current King’s Beach – comprised mainly rocky pools and scrawny beaches. It was only subsequent to the construction of the harbour wall in the 1920s that silt would accumulate against the wall and rapidly create a huge expanse of white sea sand.
Even though the area south of the Shark River had being released for development in the 1890s, the popularity of the Humewood area north of the Shark River predisposed this area as the location of the first hotel in the vicinity. The location selected was that of the old Elizabeth Hotel in front of the current Garden Court Hotel. It is believed that the original Beach Hotel and surrounding area belonged to Piet Retief and his family. His home, a tennis court and servants quarters stood on this ground. A syndicate, with James Brister as Chairman, was formed in 1893 to build this hotel. Tenders for the proposed Beach Hotel were called for on 22 June 1893 and the wood and iron structure was designed by architect George William Smith. Construction progressed rapidly and on 16 February 1894, the hotel was officially opened with a grand luncheon party. The first Manager was Mr. Edward Steinmann.
The newly constructed Beach, or Humewood Beach Hotel, was officially opened on the 16th February 1894. With its unique central location, the Beach Hotel was very popular and hence very successful. On the 1st December 1901, a tea garden was opened while later a roller skating rink was opened on the same site. At 5 o’clock on the 1st December 1915, the wood and iron building, which was a fire hazard, went up in flames. Townsfolk rushed to witness firemen desperately fighting the fire which destroyed the entire building within an hour.
In due course, the Municipality purchased the land with a view to constructing another hotel on the premises. The original Hotel Elizabeth was duly constructed, opening on the 29th July 1927.
The new Beach Hotel – Mark 2
The Government set aside two sites along the beachfront for the exclusive use as hotels. The site selected by the owner, William A. Poole, was opposite Hobie Beach probably because he envisaged the development being southward. In 1922 Humewood was ripe for development after the Marine Drive was completed. Mr. Bill Poole immediately took the option on the first hotel site and built the second Beach Hotel. The building was completed in 1924. This was the first hotel on the beachfront since the burning down of the Humewood Beach Hotel. The use of teak throughout the building was a feature and the roof garden was a novelty.
The hotel changed hands several times and was later bought by a Mrs. Lupping at an auction for £46 000. Mrs. Lolly Shtein, daughter of the Luppings, lives in Bandle which is a block of flats next to the Beach Hotel. Wilfred Guscott bought the hotel from the Luppings, and his nephew, Roy Lombard, bought it in 1958.
Mr Lombard brought about the first alterations to the hotel when he elevated it to the first three star hotel in the country.
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)