The Kursaal Pleasure Palace, Ostende
One of the premier locations in Europe in the 1920s and the show piece of Ostende was the magnificently appointed Kursaal entertainment complex.
The Casino Kursaal situated on the Digue, the chief promenade, was without doubt a pleasure palace without equal and was described as ‘the great, soul searching, musical stage of the world’s finest artists’. The original Kursaal was a timber framed building built in 1852 and designed by Hendrik Bevaert. The second building erected in 1865 was stone built with oriental cupolas and domes. In the third phase the old building was demolished and in 1875 the architect Alban Chambon created an Oriental fairy tale palace in a magnificent Byzantine style.
Lavishly decorated it comprised a huge concert hall with a capacity of 6,000 used by a sympony orchestra of 125 besides a restaurant, café, ballroom, shops, post office, rooms for reading room, billiard room, casino or gaming room, a large exhibition room and the tastefully decorated Leopold 11 saloon.
The Kursaal thereafter became the centre of fashionable life in Ostende but its prestige really took off in the 1920s under the direction of Edmund Sayag who had taken responsible for revitalising Ostende after the destruction of the First World War. He became renowned for staging spectacular summer shows during the height of the season usually from the end of May to the end of September.
For example, the 1924 season started in July with the dancing of Joan Pickering and Dany Fer, followed in August by the introduction of the famous Midnight Follies cabaret direct from the Hotel Metropole in London featuring the dancing of Moss and Fontana. The Salle des Ambassadeurs within the Kursaal complex was transformed into a gorgeous Chinese temple with huge Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling and green red and gold dragons everywhere. Then in September, Sayag imported the Moonlight Folie cabaret from the Queen’s Hall Roof, London featuring the dancing of Divina and Charles.
Throughout the summer other acts appeared including the dancing of the celebrated international dancing team Maurice and Leonora Hughes, the singing of Raquel Meller, and performances from Harry Pilcer and Little Tich.
In the summer of 1926 Sayag presented an amazing array of talent. Throughout the summer the Jazz bands of Paul Whiteman and Irving Aaronson and his Commanders played continuously. From 24th July for four-weeks he offered Edward Dolly’s Dolly’s Revels starring the Dolly Sisters, Gaston and Andre, Fred Sylvester, Steele and Winslow, Evie Lynn and Henry de Bray and the twelve Dolly girls. With seventy-five original costume designs by Dolly Tree it must have been a staggeringly sumptuous show. The second big show featuring Florence Mills and her Blackbirds troupe from Paris commenced a run of several weeks from 12th August.
In the famous Salle des Ambassadeurs, Sayag presented Anna Pavlova and her ballet and through the rest of the summer he also featured other acts including the dancing of Cortez and Peggy, Florence Walton and Leon Leitrim and Lester Allen and Nellie Breen, along with the singing of the tenor Martinelli and one again Raquel Meller.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Take a look at the page about the Edmund Sayag
Take a look at the page about Ostende La Reine Des Plages
Take a look at the page about Moss and Fontana
Take a look at the page about Edward Dolly
Dancing Times, the Stage, Femina andThe Illustrated Sunday Herald
The Golden Guide to the Belgian Resorts
Florence Mills: Harlem Jazz Queen by Bill Egan