Imagine going to boarding at the age of ten. Tiny as a mouse with a lean body, I hear it is now called an athletic body but really it is just skin and bones. Born in the village, English is not your forte so half the time you sound gibberish as you try to construct a grammatically correct sentence. Your shopping is the perfect example of travelling light all in all; you just want to fit in. So you fight to the death of you and after 8 years, you are well spoken with a fully paid scholarship to the school of your dreams. Resilience and persistence got you here. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.
Mayence Bent ran Tommy Wood’s general store and the post office store as well. While there she worked as a dressmaker and milliner. The latter involves the designing of hats. As if that was not the epitome of multi-tasking, she went ahead to open the Victoria hotel with just four rooms in 1902, four years after she has settled in Kenya. She fetched vegetables from her husband’s (also her step – brother) piece of land 16HA land in Kikuyu to feed her guests.
She then met one Daniel Ernest Cooper, a farmer from Sotik with whom she went into business with. Around the same time she met Abraham Lazarus Block who handled the sewing of the mattresses that she needed for her hotel. This lady seemed to always have a ‘guy’ to hook her up with what she needed. So when Block, the mattress guy, discovered that the needles then were not tough to handle the production they resulted to using bicycle spokes to make needles that could do the job. He was to later do business with Mayence. I mean who would not want to go into business with this woman. She resembles the modern woman who has two jobs and a side hustle.
Unfortunately the hotel went up in flames in 1905 leading Mayence to declare insolvency in 1908 and that marked the end of her business relationship with Daniel. Soon after that she married one Frederick Tate who then built a hotel on Delamere Avenue, the modern day Kenyatta Avenue. Throw that in a random conversation and you might get a second date. Following its completion in 1913 the original site was sold to Daniel William Noble. The Tates had hoped to keep their original name “Stanley Hotel”, but Noble sued and won the use of “Old Stanley Hotel”. But Mayence and Fred did not fret they went ahead to use the name “New Stanley Hotel”. Good to see that backstabbing runs down history. On the upside the hotel now had 60 rooms.
Trouble seemed to court them as; Fred Tate suffered blindness and general paralysis in 1926. They decided to move back to London leaving Albert Ernest Waterman and his family to run the hotel. Well they came back for the opening of the New Stanley Long Bar but the poor sod met his end five years later. Mayence lost the zeal she had to run the hotel and sold it to Abraham Lazarus Block (the mattress guy). This goes to show that you could soon own that company gave you that tender for vegetables. Only thing is karma might work against you if you charge 200/- shillings for a cabbage.
Block’s sons went ahead to renovate the hotel in 1958 in a bid to expand. Twenty years later they sold it to the Sarova Group of Hotels to what we now know as Sarova Stanley. Seems twenty was a lucky number because in 1998, US dollars 20 million was used to renovate the hotel and the Sarova group retained the name “The Stanley Hotel”. Don’t we all love a redemption story?
Now 112 years later since it first opened its doors, one cannot talk about luxurious accommodation without mentioning The Stanley Hotel with many Kenyans using it as landmark to give directions. However, they prefer to call it Sarova Stanley. It now boasts of 217 rooms, including 160 deluxe rooms, 32 clubrooms, two courier singles and 21 themed suites. The hotel has played host to many stars including writer Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Frank Sinatra. They also hosted royalty, I mean that literally. In 1952, the then Princess Elizabeth visited the hotel as part of a world tour, just before father’s (King George VI) death. She then subsequently ascended to Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
They have also hosted the former President Mwai Kibaki, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai and in recent times Shaggy and Neyo. Did you know what Richard Branson and the two afore mentioned artists have in common? They all resided in the Presidential Suite during their individual stays there.
So as we approach the commemoration of our independence, Stanley joins the list of our reasons to celebrate the journey thus far. Their exquisite décor shows beautiful African pieces not to mention their Thorn Tree Restaurant that was named after a Naivasha thorn tree. They also have a Thai Chi that opened in 2007, and serves authentic 13th-century Thai cuisine. Chef Phansandha Phommee and known as “Chef Pu”, has multiple awards, including the “Best Hotel Restaurant and Chef Nairobi” from the Chefs Delight Awards in 2013
Just like the school going child who fought for their place in the world and actually made it. The Stanley hotel represents triumph over hurdles and continues to stand out as the go to place for conferences and a favourite for tourists in transit to the various tourists’ destinations around the country. With the emergence of new 5 star hotels and global franchises choosing to set base here, can the Stanley Hotel and Sarova group as whole stand the test of time as it has in the past? We will be sure to wait and see.