The Grand Old Lady Turns Ninety

The Grand old dame – BON Hotel Riviera on Vaal turns Ninety

After three marriages, a few flings and a divorce or two, BON Hotel Riviera on Vaal celebrates her ninetieth birthday this year and the hotel seems to be enjoying a new lease on life.

The Vaal Triangle’s commercial success is steeped in the industrial history books, thanks to Mr Van der Bijl and his expansion of Iscor into Vereeniging. The city of Vereeniging was founded in 1892 and much of its early growth was due to the nearby coal mines. Thousands of jobs were created as a commercial and industrial surge was spearheaded to the area. 

In those days, the banks of the Vaal River became a hub of leisure activity, holiday homes and hotels popping up as early as the 1920s, and one that has become synonymous with water, fun, golf and the high-life was what is now called BON Hotel Riviera on Vaal. The hotel will be celebrating its Ninetieth birthday this year. Taking in sweeping views of the hotel and the Vaal River from the historic Riviera on Vaal clubhouse, which was developed in 1937 and designed by the legendary Sir Herbert Baker, one is only left to wonder if those walls could talk…

The site where the Riviera on Vaal Country Club is situated today was initially built as a kiosk to service revellers to the river who were popping down for a swim, boat ride or picnic on the banks. So popular was the site that the old farmhouse was converted into a hotel in 1926. One certain American film maker, entrepreneur and developer, Isadore William Schlesinger, fell in love with the area and built the ‘ultra-modern’ Riviera Hotel – ultra-modern because it featured a bathroom in each room; this was a luxury unheard of in those years. Mr Schlesinger opened the doors to the hotel on 29 August 1936 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The hotel was a popular leisure destination in the years before and after the Second World War. But from the 1960s, the hotel’s popularity declined and it was left neglected. Thankfully, the decrepit hotel was taken over by the Behr family and in 1970 and a completely renovated version was opened. Mrs Cynthia Behr, clearly a very good hotelier, is owed the accolades for the hotel’s success during this period. People once again started flocking to the hotel over the weekends, to enjoy the river, the golf course and the spectacular food. Sunday dinner and a movie became a hit as South Africans did not have the privilege of television until 1976. The Riviera on Vaal Hotel was the place to be and be seen. The hotel, thanks to the Behr family survived the devastating floods of early 1975, when most of the low-lying areas of Vereeniging were completely submerged in water, including most of the hotel grounds and the entire adjacent golf course.

Anyone who remembers The Bee Gees or Depeche Mode or will also have a story or two to share of their wonderful times spent at Riviera on Vaal. In the late 70s and early 80s, as casino fever hit South Africa, the hotel enjoyed a short courtship with Sun International who were hoping to secure a gambling licence. It was then bought by Sir John Sherry, who enjoyed much of the beauty of the property during the 1990s – even building a bird park.
As a river ebbs and flows, the Riviera Hotel’s popularity decreased dramatically in the 1990s and early 2000s and it was placed on auction in 2003 and bought by businessman Mac van der Merwe, who saw its potential.

The entire grounds were completely renovated and reopened in 2004 as the golf course and hotel benefited from the new energy. BON Hotels, which is a South African-based company that owns and operates hotels, took over in 2013 and has raised it to new levels of popularity.
Flanked by two golf courses (Riviera on Vaal and Maccauvlei Country Club), along the banks of the river, with a spa, kids’ club, river cruises and stunning restaurants, the hotel offers Gautengers a wonderful  recreational venue situated right in their backyard. 
Happy birthday grand lady!

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