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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://dojcarltonhotel.blogspot.com/