The Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town


May 30th, 2003, 04:13 PM
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The Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town

I think this deserves its own thread instead of being on a thread that originally was intended to talk about The Bay Hotel before some Ugly American decided to circumvent the United Nations and took over the thread!

Here's another interesting article about the Twelve Apostles Hotel, which up until today I never realized had such a colorful history!

The house that Jack built


Cape Town's Oudekraal is a magical piece of land with a chequered past. LIN SAMPSON traces its fickle fortunes

The name Oudekraal (lone place) has always carried with it a sense of uneasiness. The place itself is beautiful beyond the meaning of the word, a stretch, comprising various parcels of land, hemmed in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Twelve Apostles mountain peaks.

It is a place of mystery, and driving past on any day you will find divers kitting up to search for the treasure that is popularly supposed to lie in the swirling depths.

Up until 1995, what is now the Twelve Apostles Hotel, was a gabled house that was captivating because it stood so alone, a windswept sentinel that was as deserted as Wuthering Heights. On ordinance maps it is still marked as a landmark and anyone living there is legally required to keep the exterior white.

It lay above a bay that was known for its rich lode of crayfish, and one story has it that one of its many owners once found a bag filled with crayfish at the bottom of the driveway.

"Put them in the fridge," he instructed the gardener.

"Ag, man, that's stealing," the gardener replied.

"They've already been stolen once," said the owner.

The house was shrouded in mystery. People would say, "I wonder who on earth that house belongs to?"

Its history bound it even closer to place, weaving this piece of land at the tip of Africa into the wider historical context of the Cape province.

The first Van Breda came to the Cape in the early 18th century, and over the years the family became big landowners. Lord Charles Somerset gave Michael van Breda a piece of land at Oudekraal on which to build a shooting lodge. However, it wasn't until 1929 that a descendant, Jack van Breda, got around to building anything on it. He designed a handsome house - much after the style of Sir Herbert Baker who was the style guru of the time - with two big white frontal gables and a thatched roof.

Jack's daughter Liz van Breda, a journalist and cookery writer grew up there and when she had to leave at the age of 17, she says her whole world fell apart.

"I have not been able to even drive past since then. I once worked for a quantity surveyor who had surveyed the place and I used to sit with tears pouring down my face over the plans.

"My father designed and built the house. We had a wonderful six-acre garden that went right up the mountain following the course of the Lekkerwater stream and you could find beautiful rare red disas in the kloofs.

"My father sold the house in 1953 when he knew he was dying of lung cancer. He just didn't think that my mother could cope. We really knew so little about financial things at the time. Of course we shouldn't have sold it.

"The contents of the house and the income were entailed to a male and as my parents had three daughters the entail had to be broken. However, my mother did give the contents of the house to my uncle. All the antiques, all the family silver, everything which she really need not have done."

The house and adjacent parcels of land were bought by Sir Henry Price for an undisclosed price. Price was a cockney who had made a lot of money and it was during his time - the 1950s - that he obtained rights to develop a township on this piece of platinum real estate.

Enter Kassie Wiehahn, whose keen eye for land, has made him one of the biggest landowners in the country. He particularly understood the value of coastal land which he gobbled up while others were still reaching for their chequebooks.

He saw the value of Oudekraal way back in 1960 when he bought various parcels of land in the area adjacent to, but not including, the house. While others slept he piled up title deeds in his bank vault.

However, not even Wiehahn was able to get the better of this jinxed property. He sat on this serious bit of real estate, biding his time, checking on the rise of property prices in the area and then he pounced. But it was too late and what he might have got away with a few years earlier, was now ruled inadmissible by a triumvirate of "green" organisations who argued that development rights were no longer valid.

In a landmark case, and after a seven-year battle involving public protests, negotiations with politicians, trade-off proposals and legal action, the Cape High Court ruled last month that the township development rights on Oudekraal, granted in 1957 were invalid. This means - at least for the moment - that there will be no township developments to clutter up this prime piece of property.

Bottles of Champagne were opened by people, many of them living in nearby Camps Bay and Llandudno, who liked the idea of living in the area themselves but weren't that keen on anyone else having a foot in. The hypocrisy of real estate never changes .

However, the house suffered a different and worse fate.

Price sold the house to Emily Bolton, a rich English spinster who lived with her lover, simply known as Mr Butcher. Bolton and Butcher holed in, leading strange, solitary lives and paying no attention to the house, which fell into disarray with the windows bolted against the southeaster.

It was rumoured that Butcher did not care for the frivolous way Bolton lived and made her throw all her jewellery into the sea.

However, before the house finally fell into rubble, it was to go through what would be perhaps its most glorious incarnation. It was bought on auction by the advertising visionary and Branson-lookalike Mel Miller, who ran it as an advertising agency called, predictably, the White House.

"It was 1986 and I had been working in Monaco. I came back to see this house, which had always been in my mind, was up for auction. Because I had been in Monaco I realised the value of these coastal properties. I remember the first time I went over the place, it was absolutely magical, and there were hidden ponds and old barns and copses of trees, all set in this heavenly scenery.

The house was old and the inside was full of wonderful furniture, antiques, and old books. It was all quite baroque with chandeliers and faded silk curtains.

"I was really excited and went to the auction. The bidding got to R280 000 and they were really battling. I put my hand up and then someone else began bidding, I started to hyperventilate, I wanted it so badly. It went to R380 000 and then R400 000. The guy bidding against me stopped at R400 000 and I went to R405 000 and it was mine and I didn't have a cent. I rang my lawyer and he said, 'you haven't got any money'. I faxed him the Deed of Sale and he said there were a couple of things that could get me out of it. The funny thing is I didn't really want to. I knew it would one day be worth a lot of money but it wasn't the money, I'd really fallen in love with it."

Miller bought it as a partnership and got a 100% bond from the bank.

"I knocked out a couple of the internal walls - and did it up like the Negresco in Venice in pink and turquoise. It was spectacular, very Second Empire."

In those days the place attracted the best talent in town. "Someone once said that the environs are the windows of the soul. In order to get the best out of people you need to put them in the best situation. In those years at the White House we definitely proved this."

Well ahead of their time, fuelled by wild energy, everyone was touched by the magic of the place.

In 1992 Mel Miller sold it to the developer Stephen Jones for R3.1-million.

After that its fortunes became frayed. In what amounted to a rash decision it was decided to demolish the old house and build a R40-million hotel and conference centre. Protesters camped out on the road, and the old house was guarded by shotgun-toting security men and hippie protesters with bongo drums, frangipani blossoms and didgeridoos.

Although all the green players participated in the action - Wildlife Society, Unesco World Heritage Centre, National Parks Board, the hotel was built, a large unsightly structure that lay like a blot on the landscape.

And although in such an ideal setting, the hotel flamed briefly and it is only Trinidads restaurant that seems to have survived various liquidations.

When Stephen Jones went belly up it was bought by a Pretoria-based company called Pro-Equity who were part of The Business Bank, and when PSG Bank bought The Business Bank they took over its assets, the hotel being one of them.

Now, once again it is wreathed in controversy . It was sold in March, but nobody seems to know for sure who bought it.

Although many people believed the new owners to be Stanley Tollman and his wife Beatrice, when I rang Lise Manley, PR for the Twelve Apostles, I was told that an "independent third party had bought the hotel and they did not know the name of the person". She said the Red Carnation Group was merely managing it.

And who turns out to be the president of the Red Carnation Group - none other than Beatrice Tollman. It is said that she has even brought in her trademark, a leopardskin carpet scattered with red carnations. Some older readers might remember Ms Tollman from years ago when she was the spirit behind the Tollman Towers, the first themed hotel in Johannesburg.

I had hardly put the phone down to the PR for the newly named Twelve Apostles when a story broke in the US that once again plunged this controversial area into rather muddy waters .

It was alleged that Stanley Tollman and five others had engaged in a "massive scheme" to defraud banks that financed hotel companies. Tollman allegedly concealed his ownership of a Park Avenue apartment, a $4-million home in Palm Beach, a $2-million flat in London, a fleet of luxury cars and stock in Alpha Hospitality Corp.

In the early 1990s, they allegedly told the banks they couldn't repay $50-million in debt. Prosecutors say Tollman and the other defendants used shell companies to persuade the banks to sell them the debt for about $7.6-million, cheating the banks out of $42-million.

Stanley Tollman is pleading not guilty to all these allegations.

So who knows? Once again Oudekraal's future is surrounded by swirling mists and all we can do is wait and see what new spell will be cast over this magical but hitherto jinxed area.

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May 30th, 2003, 04:57 PM
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04 October 1998
Cape 'ghosts' to the rescue

A RARE tree and a "ghost frog" could put a stop to a plan to build a 4km-long millionaires' row of houses on the slopes of Table Mountain between Camps Bay and Llandudno, writes BOBBY JORDAN.
The Table Mountain ghost frog and the grys goudboom, otherwise known as the krepelhout tree, top the list of endangered or rare plants and animals found only in the Cape Peninsula that may be at risk should the proposed Oudekraal development go ahead.

News of the plan hit Cape Town like a black southeaster, deeply dividing the city on the future of the world-famous stretch of mountain.

The plan, drawn up by landowner Kasper Wiehahn, hinges on an offer to donate R2-billion towards 100 000 low-cost housing units - about half the Western Cape's shortfall - in return for development rights.

Some community organisations have welcomed the move, claiming business intervention is vital in the fight against poverty. But the plan has drawn sharp criticism, with the offer labelled a bribe by environmentalists and government officials. Muslim leaders have also threatened protest action to draw attention to the many graves scattered around the site.

Environmentalists believe the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Pallo Jordan, should intervene to scupper the plan. Last year, Jordan saved a rare butterfly threatened with extinction when its only known natural habitat - about 2ha on the Knysna coast - was earmarked for development.

Jordan said: "We have to look at this in totality. We haven't been called on to intervene, but we will if there's a real threat to the environment."

Environmentalists believe the presence of the frog and the krepelhout tree at the site alone constitutes more than enough reason for his intervention.

Dr Tony Rebelo of the National Botanical Society said: "The tree is found only in the area from the cable station down to Llandudno. Developing the area would have a serious impact."

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---I guess the Cape Town government would rather have the informal settlements, like those right outside the Berg En Dal gated community in Hout Bay (where I fell out of escrow on a vacant plot of land), than to allow the development of this land for luxury homes and the 2Billion Rand contribution that would have been made--and that 2Billion Rand in 1998 was worth the equivalent of about $330 Million USD, enough for 100,000 low cost housing units (or 50% of the entire Western Cape's needs).

While I love nature, I don't see how having informal settlements scattered on the beach is somehow better than accepting a development of luxury homes and generating enough money to put up 100,000 housing units in appropriate areas.

Now that I think back, I remember one of the realtors that I met with in Hout Bay (a resident of Hout Bay) complaining about how the government had rejected an offer to provide all the people living in informal settlements with their own homes but that the government had rejected it. She must have been speaking about the same thing as the article addressed.

Somehow I have a feeling that there are no informal settlements in Llandudno. Unfortunately the residents of Hout Bay and other nice places--just not as nice as Llandudno--have had informal settlements pop up and haven't had the same voice in deciding whether or not there should be those 100,000 housing units built.

And again, let me make the disclaimer that I am just an American making observations from 10,000 miles away.
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