Carlton Hotel Johannesburg luggage label

updated January 3rd 2013

my search for the history of the  sophisticated nightlife  in South Africa and in the 50’s and 60’s continues with this post about the Carlton hotel, Johannesburg SA.

 The social and cultural history of a city is reflected in its nocturnal entertainment. More than that, nightlife represents the beating heart of a society in progress.

Today, many of the places and buildings mentioned here on these pages are lost or were demolished for new buildings. So only distant memories remain and then this collection of obscure records. Music by local bands that played the lounges and restaurants of grand hotels in South Africa, Mozambique and its neighboring countries Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

See also Celebration at Ciro’s and more posts in the category ‘music for restaurants, nightclubs and lounges’

view from the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre -2012

The Carlton hotel, part of the Carlton Centre in downtown Johannesburg -now a 50 stories high skyscraper – was once the hub of entertainment in Johannesburg , a place where the rich and famous stayed and the locals came to dine and dance.

The history of the Carlton, which opened its doors in 1906, is the history of Johannesburg.

Towards the end of the last century the lure of gold drew thousands of people to the Witwatersrand; people who were content to live in tents and shacks whilst they sought the precious metal. Soon the great mining houses began to rise and the mining camp began to shape into a town and the inhabitants craved for comfort.

Among the many brilliant and enterprising men who came to win wealth from the Reef were three men from the Kimberley Diamond Fields. They were Barney Barnato and his two nephews, Solly and Woolf Joel. Barney, already a diamond millionaire conceived the idea of building a luxury hotel in Johannesburg. The Hotel was to be called the Carlton and the site on which it was to rise was in the center of the minining town where it stands still today. At the time of Barney’s decision there was a boom, but before the plans for the hotel were completed there came the Great Crash. Owing to Barney’s untimely death the building of the Carlton was temporarily delayed.

Hotel Carlton Johannesburg in 1906

Following the end of the war at the turn of the century, a revived spirit of optimism led people’s thoughts once more to the Carlton, which the Barnadot-Joel Mining Company was determined to build. Excavation of the site was begun and the public became aware of the luxurious and ambitious plans for the hotel. This was not going to be a Victorian affair with red velvet, lace, antimaccasars and oil lamps. It was to have air conditioning, elevators and electric lights from the hotel’s own power plant -all these luxuries being advanced features in those days. Elegant furnishings and furniture from one of
London’s most famous establishments, and napery, crockery and cutlery were ordered from world-renowned houses.

At this period there was virtually no manufacturing industry in South Africa. Every item for the hotel had to be imported. To co-ordinate and expedite the delivery in South Africa of the valuable and varied articles, the hotel company chartered a recently launched Union Castle Liner, the Cluney Castle. With the furnishings came the chefs, the waiters and service staff.

On February 20 1906, the Carlton, South Africa’s first luxury hotel was opened. The people were ready for it. Beautifully gowned women and well-tailored men filled the restaurants and lounges. From the moment of its opening, the Carlton became the rendezvous of people of good taste and discrimination. It became not only the social center of Johannesburg, but the meeting place of financiers, diplomats and business executives visiting Johannesburg. Built, as it was, in the heart of the town which was just shedding the mining camp atmosphere, where roads were still dusty tracks in winter and muddy paths in summer, the Carlton, with its new look, glittered like a palace. Within it was the magic of luxurious comfort, superb cuisine and unrivaled service such as Johannesburg and South Africa had never experienced before.

The most memorable day in the history of the Carlton came in 1947 with the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The Carlton served as headquarters for the Royal Family during their sojourn as guests of the city.

This BBC television film on the royal tour of South Africa in 1947 shows King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on their journey across the South African Union and the first state visit since 1939.

The Carlton closed down at the end of 1963 only to re-open in 1972 as a 600-room hotel, but sadly closed in 1997 due to the high crime rate in the downtown area of Johannesburg. Today it stands empty, the outside entrance barricaded off to try and stop squatters from occupying the building.

outside entrance Hotel Carlton, Johannesburg 1997

An outstanding feature of the Carlton has been the exotic ‘Mediterranean Room’. This mecca of pleasure seeking diners and dancers has for several years been the highlight of Johannesburg night life. Since its inception the ‘Mediterranean Room’ has featured top Continental bands who have, to a large extent, set the fashions for Johannesburg’s musical taste. The present group ‘Renatino di Napoli’ are a fitting climax to sad departure from the Johannesburg scene of a superb night spot.


Today’s record is the LP “Last Night At The Carlton” with Renatino de Napoli from The Mediterranean Room, released in 1963.

Renatino di Napoli was born in Naples in 1938. Whilst still a boy his artistic feeling and musical qualities were very apparant. His group’s first dates were in the beautiful Neapolitan towns and environs of Capri, Ischia and Sorrento. The group then progressed rapidly to Rome, Turin, Milan and San Remo, always playing and interpreting the best that the Neapolitan songs have to offer the world.

“Last Night At The Carlton” with Renatino de Napoli

from The Mediterranean Room.

Side A

Renatino di Napoli -O Mandulin

Renatino di Napoli -Frida

Renatino di Napoli -Caterina

Renatino di Napoli -Come Te Non C’e Nessuno

Renatino di Napoli -Dicintencello Vuie

Renatino di Napoli -La Ragazza Col Maglione

Side B

Renatino di Napoli -Cuando Caliente, El Sol

Renatino di Napoli -Ca Tua Eta

 Renatino di Napoli -Paperon Di Paperoni

Renatino di Napoli -Et Maintenant

Renatino di Napoli -Il Toro Non Sbaglio

Renatino di Napoli -La Novia

Renatino di Napoli group comprises;

Antonio Favilli -piano
Nino Fenderico -drums
Mario Molitano -vibraphone
Givoanni Zangrandi -electric guitar, bass
Renatino de Napoli -electric guitar, vocals

excerpts from the original liner notes of “Last Night At The Carlton” with Renatino de Napoli from The Mediterranean Room.
RCA 31728 South Africa. Released in 1963

See also

20 thoughts on “Last night at the Carlton, Johannesburg with Renatino di Napoli

  1. The thread covering “music for restaurant, nightclubs and lounges” could be one of my favourites…

    Not just because it reflects the culture, the period and it’s changes, but because the bands who played live in the venues made some truly amazing music…

    The magical moment of the evening is luckily preserved (in part) thanks to the artists selling small run private press LPs to make a little extra money – not so much a postcard from a holiday, but a genuine musical memory…

    The theme is not so far away from the “Working Man Soul” records – with the exception that music in the context of the South African hotels was a bit beyond the reach of the average working man…

    Great posting

    MP Flapp

  2. as usual,a brilliant post.i was thinking one could broaden the theme to include the many bands across africa that began their careers as hotel bands.i once did a recording with will lee,the bass player in the david letterman band and he gave a masterclass in playing a lick in every imaginable style;it reminded me of the hotel bands who must have had to be really versatile and be able to play every request and to every crowd.there’s also the jamaican tradition of hotel bands like the clarendonians (freddie mcgregor) the hiltonaires and others.
    always look forward to a new post.thanks for a great blog dude!

  3. I was searching some topics about this obscure italian group so I’ve met this beautiful post. Thanks for sharing! Would it be possible to listen the other lp’s songs?
    Happy New Year from Italy

  4. Superb blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.

    Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
    There are so many choices out there that I’m completely confused .. Any suggestions? Bless you!

    1. hey there, thnx for the kind words. WordPress is definitely recommended. It’s fun to use and updated all the time. Their dashboard is easy to use and the forums will answer any question you might have
      happy blogging!!

  5. This is a very very long shot! Do you perhaps know what happened to the original bar when the Carlton was “demolished” in 1963? Was it sold or reincorporated in the 1973 hotel? Great post, thanks.

    1. was the Carlton ever demolished? In 1963 or 1973? It surely was renovated a couple of times but as far as I know the bar as well as the hotel just closed their doors
      at a certain moment. See my post for more details. Thanks for the kind words

    2. Hi Hillary
      As far as I know Jimmy Hall who started the Jimmy Hall Transport Museum at Wemmer Pan bought a lot of the Old Carlton Hotel items.
      A lot of the items are displayed at his old house on Rifle Range Road, Johannesburg.

  6. My Late Father-in-law worked on the demolish of the old hotel and reconstruction of the new hotel and centre in the 1960’s. He gave me some timber beams that came from the doors, believed to be that of of the doors to the bar. I still have a piece on which is signwtritten “PRIVATE BAR”. The wood is Rhodesian teak.

  7. I certainly remember the good old Carlton, where my father, Dino Tommasini, was the last Gen Manager there, after 14 years of hard work looking after the hotel till 1963.

    1. thanks for sharing the thought. It would be so great to be able to hear some stories by your father on the Carlton Hotel in the period he was working there. It must have been quite an exciting and prosperous period for Johannesburg and for the Carlton Hotel as well. Any pictures or memorabilia would be welcome to complete this post. Thanks!

    2. And I do remember your father ‘Mr. Tommansini’ always busily going about his business.
      That was during the last dying years of the ‘Old Carlton’. We were doing alterations which in hindsight were done in an effort to halt the demise of the grand old hotel.
      The first of these contracts was to create the premises of a nightclub – the Mediterranean – in the basement of the building at the corner of Commissioner and Joubert streets. That could have been in 1959.
      There followed the revamp of rooms on the third an fourth floors; modernizing them and turning them into suites.
      The last job – in 1962 (!) – was to turn the the ground floor lounge, the rather quaint but nevertheless beautiful ‘Palm Court’, into something modernistic.
      Like Willem Klopper I too have mementos of the place.
      On one of the floors we had we to replace the door leading to the fire escape with an aluminium one. The timber under coats and coats of paint on the old door turned out to be Burmese Teak. That I turned into the front door of the our home which I built 1970 in Greenside. The other items are four baking trays which I fashioned out of some stainless steel kicking plates which had become redundant. They are still serving their purpose

      1. Wow! These personal memories are an awesome read…Thanks for sharing! If I am well informed the nightclub – the Mediterranean-was the place where Renatino di Napoli and other bands were actually performing right? Did the nightclub was popular at the time?

        To have a Burmese Teak door saved from the demolished hotel must be quite a beautiful memorabilia, just like the kicking plates.
        I passed by the old hotel on its original site just a few months ago, what a shame this building and the surrounding era are at present in such a demolished state. But I saw lots of improvement around in the same era. That gave me hope

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