The St James finds itself in an area steeped in history.
A stones throw away is Rhodes Cottage, the first Cape residence of the renowned mining magnate. Next door neighbour is “Star of the Sea” convent, where our Managing Director Gael Baldwin matriculated in 1967. The school has the historical St James Catholic Church on its grounds. Many homes along the coast date back to the time when the country was but a colony of Victoria’s empire. Lining the road to Kalk Bay is a multitude of shops dealing in antiques dating to this and other periods of Cape history.
The St James itself came into being in 1897 as a private home known as Le Rivage. The name was changed in 1903 to The St James Hotel which was managed and then bought by the Stansfield family who also owned The Bay View Hotel in Muizenberg. Coming full circle,The Stansfield’s granddaughter, artist Denise Deacon-Moore spent her last retirement years at the present St James Retirement Hotel. It was here that she met and married Prof Leslie Rubin. Obviously encouraged by the romantic, and tranquil ambience of the grand old lady! She passed away in 2002.
In 1925 the Hotel was sold to Captain Gentry who extended the Hotel by building a new dining-room. The dining room of the present St James Retirement Hotel is now named Gentry’s in honour of Captain Gentry.
Beatrice, his wife was popular with the nuns at the next door neighbour, Star of the Sea Convent and supplied them with food hampers. Today, the resident Eclectus parrot at The St James, is called Beatrice to honour this fine lady.
In its heyday The St James’ Saturday Evening dances were renowned throughout the Peninsula and attracted people – most of whom came by train – from as far afield as Sea Point and Rondebosch.
Legend has it that Captain Gentry made a practice of holding up the train for as much as 20 minutes while his guests embarked at the end of the evening. Festivities were never allowed to go on after midnight but it was no easy matter to get all the guests out of the Hotel and onto the train. Captain Gentry died in 1938.
The St James continued to cater for the wealthy and still retains the graciousness to this day. Well known personalities have retired to The St James and many have historical connections and fond memories of the “Gracious Old Lady”.
Michael Walker, author of A Century by the Sea 1850 – 1950 provided us with some historical knowledge.