“Let’s open guesthouses”, he said. “Should be a piece of cake compared to the trains”, he added. We all closed our eyes and watched him jump into another business venture with arms and bank account wide open! The he we’re referring to is of course, Rohan Vos, our formidable owner and CEO.
In 2009, Rohan purchased two properties within walking distance from one another. The first was no. 94 Main Road, a house called ‘The Homestead’, and the second was no. 108 Main Road which we called St James Manor. Both homes are in a beautiful area of Cape Town called St James, which is in between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay on the southern peninsula. St James is historically known as ‘millionaire’s mile’ and this well-to-do little suburb is squeezed between the rocky shore and a steep mountain, and measures about 200m by 2 km. St James beach is well known for its trademark colourful Victorian bathing boxes and large tidal pool.
In April of 2010, after an extensive renovation, Rovos Rail officially opened the door to its first guesthouse, St James Manor. Built over 100 years ago, the Manor has an aura of grandeur and old-world charm with a magnificent wood-panelled staircase leading up to five large suites and a standard twin, each of which bears the name of historic, local characters of St James.
St James Homestead, the second guesthouse, sat quietly for two years before Rohan began renovating this beautiful home. In fact, the work done almost constitutes a rebuild as the house was originally built in the 1800’s and needed a great deal of careful and meticulous craftsmanship to preserve its historic aesthetics.
The Homestead’s story is one of humour and drama, which is quite fascinating. Upon taking ownership of The Homestead in 1867, Heinrich Pieter Hablutzel made additions to the existing building, one of which — the “Wall of Hate” — was to gain him notoriety. This occurred after the owner of next door Seaforth House, William Farmer, built a home closer to the Main Road (despite agreeing not to) and blocked out the view from The Homestead across the bay to Simon’s Town. In response, Hablutzel built a high wall on the edge of his property closest to Seaforth, which cut out part of its view of False Bay and the Hottentots Holland mountains as well as some early morning sun which Farmer had enjoyed. A court case ensued where Farmer tried to compel Hablutzel to demolish the wall, but he lost the case. Hablutzel then raised the wall by another two metres (six feet). He owned The Homestead for 35 years and his estate sold it to Archbishop William West Jones, first Archbishop of Cape Town, in 1902.
Interestingly, Rohan purchased Seaforth House in December of 2010 and officially opened it as St James Seaforth in 2011.
And, so now, we’re in the business of guest houses. We think we might try ships next!