The founding of the ARUBA CARIBBEAN HOTEL: “Aruba will never be the same!”

After World War II, during which the Lago Refinery supplied 1/6 of all fuel used by the allied forces, the workforce of more than 9,000 was greatly reduced, creating massive unemployment on Aruba.

In 1955, the PPA political party had won the central government elections in Curaçao and the island-government elections in Aruba. This put Juan Enrique Irausquin, the party leader, in a position to widen the economic foundation of Aruba. Aruba’s white beaches, pleasant climate and friendly and hospitable people would make it perfect for tourism. He began working on expanding Aruba’s infrastructure, particularly water and electricity, assisted by his Deputy of Finance and Tourism, 29-year-old Oscar Henriquez and Ernesto Petronia, Deputy of Public works and Education.

Irausquin and Henriquez convinced the Dutch government to finance the water and electricity plant at a cost of US $ 20,000,000. The Coral Strand Hotel has been Aruba’s first hotel, built in 1943 by Chaiben Neme, an immigrant to Aruba, born in Lebanon, who also took the initiative for the construction of the Basiruti in 1954.

In July 1955, Irausquin and his team began the task of building roads to make the beaches accessible. A coastal road opening the western part of Aruba was built from the gas station next to the harbor in Oranjestad to the Holiday Inn – a road now named after him. This road would lead to the beautiful, new hotels that were planned. The first to be built was the Aruba Caribbean Hotel, a deluxe hotel originally of 125 rooms, ultimately expanded to 400 rooms.

The beach facilities of the hotel had to handle hundreds of cruise tourists who came to Aruba every Thursday. Irausquin and Henriquez sought shareholders from Venezuela, not only for investment purposes but also to create interest for Aruba’s tourism. They found 100 shareholders and, under the direction of Venezuelan lawyer Dr. Philip Mallen, the company VenAruba was founded.

Earlier a similar company had been founded in Aruba under the name of Aruven (Aruba Venezuela), and Venaruba was its counterpart in Venezuela. The Aruban government owned 82.82% of Aruven, and the balance was owned by small shareholders. Chamber of Commerce Chairman Jeffrey de Veer was elected the first President of Aruven. The Aruban government guaranteed Afls.3,000,000 for the project.

The young Henriquez went to Miami to negotiate with architect Morris Lapidus, known for such projects as the Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, San Souci and Americana Hotels. Lapidus was hired along with his partner Leo Kornblath and put in charge of the Aruba project. Their design was considered very daring at the time, featuring a lobby constructed in a way that it was always cool without air-conditioning; he brought giant boulders from all over the island to use in tropical gardens. Lapidus combined Holland and America with the Caribbean through a “delfts blauw” mosaic in the main lobby representing the first salute to the American flag at St. Eustatius, then called “the golden rock”.

On August 18, 1956, Irausquin signed the deed founding Aruven, the company that built and owned the hotel. “At the time of the building of the hotel, the number of Lago employees had decreased to 2,000, reaching a crucial low. “I was so relieved to reach this agreement,” Irausquin said.

To select the site for the hotel construction, Morris Lapidus, Jeffrey de Veer, Nic Schuit from Public Works, Deputy Ernesto Petronia and Oscar Henriquez, Director of Tourism, started checking the white sand inch by inch until the beach at the middle of the bay was selected. It had a gentle slope and would not be dangerous to children. Captain Johan Beaujon had rented this whole area for his coconut plantation and had taken care of it during the past 15 – 20 years.

Coconut plantation at Palm Beach

Beaujon had been harbormaster years earlier and advisor to Captain Rodgers and L. G. Smith on selecting the site for the Lago refinery. Henriquez was in charge of the negotiations and finally they agreed on the sum of Afls. 25,000 (!) for the coconuts and the land.

At the groundbreaking on April 26, 1957, where Governor-General Dr. Speekenbrink handled the spade ceremony, Irausquin raised the Dutch flag, witnessed by an impressive crowd of thousands. Executive House President Morris de Woskin handed over a check of $50,000 as a token of his company’s participation in the project. Taylor West Indies Construction Corporation and the local company Bohama were granted the building contracts and construction was ready to start; the contract was signed by Henriquez.

The foundation was finished at the end of September and construction was finally completed in July 1959.

At the grand opening of the Aruba Caribbean on July 18, 1959, Executive House President Morris de Woskin said that “Aruba will never be the same”. How right he was!

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July 13, 2018
Rona Coster