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History of the Riviera on Vaal Country Club

The site where the Riviera on Vaal Country Club is situated today has been a popular relaxation spot for many visitors since as early as the 1920’s. With a majestic single story house featuring as kiosk, this was a venue for brisk trade with fun seekers of the time who enjoyed boating, water polo, swimming and many other activities.

An American, Mr. Schlesinger, who had made 43 movies within seven years at that time, visited the site and fell in love with its beauty. In fact, he claimed it to be one of the most beautiful sites he had ever seen. Due to his success in the movie business, he was able to develop the ultra modern Riviera Hotel. The hotel featured a bathroom in each room, which was a luxury unheard of in those years. Mr. Schlesinger opened the doors to the hotel on August 29th, 1936. It was on this same day, also, that the Vereeniging to Durban air race was held, together with the opening of the Vereeniging Aerodrome.

Unfortunately, from the 1960’s, the hotels popularity declined. Early in the year of 1975, disastrous floods submerged most of the low-lying areas of Vereeniging – the the adjacent golf course included. During this time, it was the Behr family who owned the hotel. They had taken over a completely dilapidated hotel in 1970 and a complete renovation was erected. The hotel started to gain popularity with much of its success coming from Mrs. Cynthia Behr, who was known for her strictness and spectacular buffets. The highlight of the week was usually the popular Sunday dinner and movie evenings, which was always full in the pre-television days.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Sun City opened its doors as Casino fever hit South Africa. In August 1981, it was reported that the Riviera part of the adjacent land had been sold. Word was that a giant hotel complex, called Aqua City, would be developed and it was to be a fun park for the whole family.

Problems rose immediately, with Rand Water as the catalyst. The hotels 2- star grading was lost and its doors were closed in 1983. Rand Water’s ruling was that the hotel would have had to be built at least 100 meters from the river.

In March 1984 the entire hotel was stripped to a bare shell, with two storeys being added. Sun International ran the hotel, until they failed to secure a gambling license and then sold it to Sir John Sherry. He was the founder of the listed Jasco Holdings in 1998. Unfortunately, things did not look up for the standards decreased dramatically until the hotel was put up for auction in 2003.

Businessman Mac van der Merwe saw potential and bought the hotel in November 2003, where after the entire grounds were completely renovated and rebuilt within three months’ time. The hotels first 30 rooms were officially reopened on March the 12th, 2004.

Vereeniging’s Country Club is also an historical site, which was built by Roy Lewis in 1913. He was one of the town’s founders, Isaac Lewis’s son.