BULAWAYO MEMORIES

Nostalgia

Entertainment in Bulawayo 1947 style.

Frank and Vicky decided to go out on the first Saturday night. They had been told that there was only one place to go, “The Grand”. The Grand Hotel dominated the area of Main Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenue. Built at the turn of the century, in brick, which betrayed an influence of merging Byzantine and Italian architecture. Two stories, with rooms set in the roof; it was a fine example of Victorian architecture with decorative gables, wooden balustrading and pillars. The corner facing Main and Ninth Avenue was dominated by a cupola. The middle section, of the hotel, in Main Street, had been replaced by a more modern four storey section, built is a style that was sympathetic to the older part. The hotel had a sumptuous dining room and two function rooms, the large MacMurray Hall and the Connaught Rooms, (named in honour of the Duke of Connaught, the one-time Governor General of South Africa, who was married to a daughter of Queen Victoria). It also had three bars, the Corner bar and two others, which were called, in the 1960’s The Steering Wheel and the Sable Arms.

There were four cinemas within easy walking distance from the hotel. Between Main and Abercorn, in Ninth Avenue there was the elderly Empire Theatre, which was often referred to, by local people as the ‘Bug House’. Further up Ninth, towards Fort Street there was the Prince’s. This was a very large venue, the ground floor was not raked and was flat with a sprung wooden floor. The Grand often used it for large balls and the like. Heading south on Main Street on the corner of Eleventh was a modern cinema, The 20th Century and a block to the east on the Corner of Abercorn and Eleventh was the Palace a sumptuous theatre which was part of the Palace Hotel.

In the following years the focus of entertainment changed, though it is probably true to say that Frank and Vicky did not notice. With a young growing family their chances on going out were very limited. In the early 1950’s The Empire was gutted by fire. On the site, Bulawayo’s largest building ‘The African Life’ rose. The name however survived for many years in a bar in the new basement, The Empire Bar. The 20th Century died in the 1950’s, unlamented and the building became an automotive works of sorts before becoming the home for a while of Tattersalls. The old foyer with its glass windowed booking office, the prices painted on the glass, survived into the 70’s. The Prince’s survived until 1962 and in dying was probably the first victim of television. It then became a bed showroom until the 70’s when it became a bowling alley and then a nightclub.

The Grand soldiered on, though with the Rhodes Centenary Exhibition and the opening of the Victoria Hotel in Wilson Street, it was no longer the largest hotel. However its function rooms continued to host balls and weekly bingo. The Warnborough night club, opened in 1953, with its late licence probably served to take part of it’s business. The end came in 1970 when it was sold to be redeveloped as the ‘Bulawayo Centre’. It what can only be seen as architectural vandalism, not the first, the demolishing of Scotts Buildings on the corner of Main and Eighth avenue in 1963 was probably worse, the old section was demolished to be replaced by a row of shops which attracted the derision of locals, calling it ‘Bombay House’. (Ironically the name stuck and for years the business on the corner was called Bombay Bazaar). The new building lasted barely 20 years. However a piece of the Grand did survive, the cupola was transported to a garden in Heyman Road in the suburbs, where it became a summer house.

Ah Yes..............those were the Good Old Days !!!