The iconic Sarova Stanley Hotel stands at the junction of Kimathi Street and Kenyatta Avenue.
I recently took a tour of The Sarova Stanley (maybe next time they will have me over or a stay, I already have a suite in mind)
In 1904 Mayence Ellen Bent in partnership with Daniel Ernest Cooper opened a 15-bed boarding house, The Stanley Hotel on Victoria Street (now Tom Mboya Street). According to the book, White Hunters by Brian Herne, this name was a tribute to Henry Morton Stanley – the famous explorer. It was a two-storey wooden building. In 1905, only a year later, it was destroyed by a fire but was soon reopened.
Mayence led an interesting life, after a childhood spent in Penge and Croydon she moved to South Africa where her sister Constance ran a boarding house. I was intrigued to find out that she had actually been ‘married’ (no official record of their marriage exists) to her step-brother William Stanley Bent. They had a daughter, Gladys Mayence, and it is thought that they moved from South Africa to Kenya because their relationship was frowned upon.
A permanent building was erected by 1913 where the Sarova Stanley now stands on the corner of Kimathi Street and Kenyatta Avenue. In 1913 Mayence Ellen sold the Stanley Hotel to Daniel William Noble, who had been Nairobi’s postmaster. But when Ellen and Cooper wanted to transfer the name to their new hotel, Noble refused. A lawsuit ensued which the Tates (by now Mayence was no longer with her step brother, she had married Frederick Francis Tate in 1909) lost. They were forced to call their new establishment The New Stanley, and Noble’s hotel became the Old Stanley.
Despite the setback the hotel flourished. Mayence and her husband left for London in 1946 after he fell ill and returned in 1932 after they realized that Fred’s condition was not going to improve.
Mayence would eventually sell the hotel in 1947 to Abraham Block, a former employee. In 1978, The Sarova Group purchased the historic hotel from the Block family.
The staircase is the original one from when the hotel moved to its current location
Once you go up the stairs you will be greeted by the sight of The Exchange Bar. The bar was once the once the site of Nairobi’s first Stock Exchange, from 1954 until 1991 hence its name. It is here that the then Princess Elizabeth once dined, air conditioning was non-existent in the hotel in those days therefore she was kept cool by a series of fans operated by a staff member on a bicycle.
Princess Elizabeth was not the only famous person to stay at the hotel. It has hosted people such as Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Frank Sinatra.
During his stay author Ernest Hemingway made notes for his novels The Green Hills of Africa and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
Colonel John Henry Patterson, who wrote the true story The Man-eaters of Tsavo that inspired the film The Ghost and the Darkness, also found his inspiration while staying at the Stanley
I imagine the courtyard provided the perfect space to reflect and get some writing done.
Several of the suites and other rooms are named for dignitaries and other notable persons who have stayed in the hotel.
The Churchill ballroom’s walls are filled with pictures detailing Nairobi’s and the hotels history.
I got to take a peek into some of the themed suites. First stop was the Lamu suite which was immediately a favourite. Its Swahili inspired décor and light airy feel won me over.
The Karen Blixen suite was next, named after the famed author of Out of Africa it contained replicas of her paintings and a few interesting tidbits here and there.
The object on the far right is a first aid box.
The presidential suite was last and my least favorite, mainly because of the color scheme.
The tour was topped off by a meal at the pool deck.