Curtis Fraser posted a few pictures yesterday on social media that woke me up.
Indeed the Ghost of the Alverhick Hotel has been looming on the refinery gates since 1996.
And Curtis reports the owners of that abandoned building, were given 30 days to come up with a revitalization plan, otherwise, what? He did not say.
The post got incredible reactions, of course, this white elephant has been sitting in our midst, and because it has been there for twenty three years, no one sees it anymore.
It blended into the background, and became invisible in the public sphere.
Mr. Hickenson was 91 when he built it according to my story, below, he built the hotel from cash from his pharmacy and other businesses,what I wrote then is still entertaining.
Can the SIXTEEN kids, the heirs of the late Mr. Hickenson devise a plan in 30 days? No, it is not reasonable, but they should start moving on a solution. This is a legal nightmare.
From the NEWS, October 29, 1996, also my book ISLAND LIFE
White catering tents had been put up Friday on the bare concrete construction foundation, as Mr. Hickenson was throwing a cocktail party in celebration of the laying of the cornerstone of his dream hotel, The Alverhick.
It all falls in neatly with the urban revival plan for San Nicolas, which includes an infrastructure of roads and highways, housing projects, and sports parks.
The Alverhick Hotel will stand proud offering 55 comfortably appointed rooms and a large casino within walking distance to the refinery, with shopping, entertainment, and services nearby (the Caracas Bar is situated across the street, as is BSL Laundry). Does it make commercial sense, we asked, to invest millions in a project that has smokestacks as a backdrop? Yes, says Richard Gibson Hickenson, the developer’s son. “My father has foresight and he sees in advance what other people don’t. This ten-million-florin investment is a sound business opportunity, and the idea of building a hotel has been on his mind for many years. The refinery often has technicians and engineers from overseas in need of accommodations. They now support the hotels in Oranjestad. Besides, getting a casino license for the property will allow the people of San Nicolas, some of them avid card and slot players, to stick around, thus creating jobs for the area residents and increasing commercial activity.”
At the cocktail party, the prime minister and the minister of finance didn’t spare their compliments. They applauded the initiative, financed out of private pockets. With no government guarantees and no special favors, an injection of cash into the economy makes them all look good, effortlessly. Projects like this are few and far between.
So by now you are probably wondering what is so special about a little 50-something-room hotel. Isn’t it just another initiative on an island dedicated to tourism? Right. Yet, Mr. Hickenson, the much-touted developer, recently celebrated his 91st birthday and is no doubt one of the most colorful characters in the San Nicolas scene.
He is the owner of a thriving business, Botica San Nicolas, the pharmacy on the main street. He runs the fully stocked modern drugstore with his wife. She’s a quiet, brooding, great-grandmotherly Dutch lady, always in comfortable shoes and a long, flowery, flowing gown. He was content to note that of his 16 kids, many showed up for the occasion from the U.S., Holland, and the neighboring islands. That much we did find out from him, as he declares his life story too long and too tiresome to tell. Albert Vernon Hickenson, widely known as Mr. Hicks around the neighborhood, left his native Trinidad with the dreams of becoming a lawyer and going to school in England. With his mother’s permission, he stopped in Venezuela first. “I came to Aruba in 1928 with money in my pocket,” he proudly declares, tapping it gently. He then embarked on a winding business career, beginning with a grocery store.
I walked around gleaning secondhand information from the crowd, the San Nicolas business community, who colorfully painted a mythical figure for me in the best exaggerated Caribbean way. Nobody has ever broken into Mr. Hick’s business, explained one, as people here believe he has magical powers. He keeps to himself, aloof and always mysteriously successful. Another described him as firm and meticulous and highly predictable, as San Nicolas residents have been setting their clocks according to Mr. Hick’s daily routine, his store opening and closing hours, all these years. When the Lago refinery closed, informed another, Mr. Hicks bought all the old electrical equipment, stored it in a warehouse, then sold it to the Coastal people at a handsome profit. He has incredible business acumen, strict but fair, they all agree.
“And he is in possession of more than your regular dose of courage,” says Richard, visibly awed by his father’s undertaking in the winter of his life. “Most of all,” Richard concluded, “my father is a good role model for senior citizens on this island. For him, life isn’t over until it’s over. He has been meaning to build a hotel in San Nicolas for many years, and he wasn’t going to let his age become a handicap when opportunity smiled his way.”
Each morning you can find Mr. Hicks opening the gate to his construction site and allowing workers in. He is the contractor and the foreman, the bookkeeper and the bank.