Lateral Facade of the Casino Kursaal
Also known as “Kursaal Pleasure Palace”
The wonderfully constructed Kursaal entertainment complex was one of the best destinations in Europe in the 1920s and the showpiece of Ostende.
The Casino Kursaal located on the Digue, Ostende, Belgium, the major promenade, was without doubt a pleasure palace without comparison and was regarded as ‘the great, soul searching, musical stage of the world’s finest artists.’ The original Kursaal was a timber-framed structure designed by Hendrik Bevaert and built in 1852. The second structure, constructed in 1865, was made of stone and included oriental cupolas and domes. The ancient structure was dismantled in the third phase, and in 1875, the architect Alban Chambon erected an Oriental fairy tale palace in a magnificent Byzantine style.
It was lavishly decorated and included a 6,000-person capacity concert hall used by a sympony orchestra of 125, as well as a restaurant, café, ballroom, shops, post office, reading rooms, billiard rooms, a casino or gaming room, a large exhibition room, and the tastefully decorated Leopold 11 saloon.
The Kursaal then became the center of fashionable life in Ostende, but its prestige skyrocketed in the 1920s under the guidance of Edmund Sayag, who was in charge of reviving Ostende following the devastation of World War I. He became well-known for putting on spectacular summer shows during the height of the season, typically from the end of May until the end of September.
The 1924 season, for example, began in July with the dance of Joan Pickering and Dany Fer, and continued in August with the launch of the legendary Midnight Follies cabaret direct from the Hotel Metropole in London, which included the dancing of Moss and Fontana. The Salle des Ambassadeurs within the Kursaal complex was turned into a beautiful Chinese temple, complete with giant Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling and green, red, and gold dragons all throughout. Then, in September, Sayag brought the Moonlight Folie cabaret from London’s Queen’s Hall Roof, which included Divina and Charles dancing.
Over the summer, several artists performed, including the famed international dance team Maurice and Leonora Hughes, the singing of Raquel Meller, and performances from Harry Pilcer and Little Tich.
Sayag presented an incredible selection of talent in the summer of 1926. The jazz bands of Paul Whiteman and Irving Aaronson and his Commanders played nonstop throughout the summer. For four weeks beginning July 24th, he presented Edward Dolly’s Dolly’s Revels, which starred the Dolly Sisters, Gaston and Andre, Fred Sylvester, Steele and Winslow, Evie Lynn and Henry de Bray, and the twelve Dolly girls. Dolly Tree’s first costume designs for the play must have been staggeringly opulent. The second big show, featuring Florence Mills and her Blackbirds troupe from Paris, began a several-week run on August 12th.
Sayag presented Anna Pavlova and her ballet in the famous Salle des Ambassadeurs, and throughout the summer he also featured other acts such as the dancing of Cortez and Peggy, Florence Walton and Leon Leitrim, and Lester Allen and Nellie Breen, as well as the singing of the tenor Martinelli and Raquel Meller.