While boasting a variety of modern amenities following a $100 million renovation in 2000 by Kerzner International and a 2004 expansion to add three private villas, the fabled history of the legendary One&Only Ocean Club resort will be ever-present at this island hideaway, harkening back to a simpler era of superlative service and true elegance.
The property on which One&Only Ocean Club is located was first developed in 1939 by Dr. Axel Wenner-Gren, a Swedish industrialist (one of the world’s most successful at the time) who came upon the island while on a world cruise aboard his private yacht. Then called Hog Island, the mostly deserted island off Nassau was just beginning to be developed for tourism, with its pristine sandy shores spawning several beach clubs and entertainment venues, one even featuring high-wire walkers and trick-bicycle riders.
Wenner-Gren proceeded to build a private estate, which he christened Shangri-La, that included a large house and the beginnings of intricately landscaped gardens, modeled after those at the Château de Versailles. He also assisted in the further development of the island, hiring an army of men to dredge a small harbor, dubbed Paradise Lake, and building a boat house where he received guests who arrived by jetty from Nassau (the current bridge directing vehicular traffic from Nassau to Paradise Island was constructed in 1967). Wenner-Gren continued to spend winters here until 1961, when due to “indiscreet management by his underlings” his finances were running low and he sold his Hog Island holdings to Huntington Hartford II for $9.5 million.
Huntington Hartford’s Ocean Club
Huntington Hartford II had come to Hog Island first in 1959; his sister, Mrs. JFC Brice, had been a long-time winter resident of Nassau. The grandson of George Huntington Hartford, founder of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), his inheritance was reported to be somewhere between fifty and seventy million dollars. He spent his early days as the proverbial playboy, squiring glamorous Hollywood stars and New York socialites to the hot spots of the day, including the Stork Club, El Morocco and Ciro’s. Hartford also invested in a number of expensive projects, including a million-dollar theatre in Hollywood, a graphology (handwriting analysis) institute, a $862,000 gift to New York City for a Central Park café and pavilion, and a $7 million Gallery of Modern Art in New York’s Columbus Circle.
In The Bahamas, one of his first initiatives after acquiring Shangri-La was to petition the local government to change the island’s name officially to Paradise Island, which thankfully was approved in May 1962. Unlike Wenner-Gren, Hartford saw the property as a commercial venture, and hired Palm Beach architect John L. Volk to build a 52-room hotel and four two-bedroom cottages, which Hartford christened the Ocean Club. The boat house was renovated and tastefully furnished in French décor, opening as Café Martinique, and the small harbour was made into a first-class, 65-craft yacht basin.
Near the eastern end of the island, an 18-hole golf course was built, designed by golf architect Dick Wilson, who had also created the course at Nassau’s Lyford Cay Club. Hartford also erected a water-taxi terminal and began regularly scheduled ferry service between the island and Nassau.
The Ocean Club officially opened in the spring of 1962 with a glittering “Bal du Paradis,” hosted by Hartford and attended by such luminaries as William Randolph Hearst, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mr. & Mr. Benny Goodman, Burl Ives, and Mr. & Mrs. Igor Cassini (aka Cholly Knickerbocker, the pre-eminent gossip columnist of the day), as well as a host of politicians, Dukes, Earls, and Ambassadors from the world over. No expense or detail was spared in the opening of the Ocean Club; including a chartered Pan Am plane to fly guests (and the popular Meyer Davis Orchestra) in from New York, a fleet of Cadillacs to transport guests from the ferry terminal to the property, and a sparkling display of fireworks – an exact replica of a display at Cannes the previous summer.
Paradise Island and its pristine waters attracted Hollywood filmmakers as well, using the island as a location for several films including one of the first James Bond films, “Thunderball.”
Elegant Terraced Gardens and a 14th-Century French Cloister
Once the Ocean Club had made its official debut, Hartford continued to enhance and embellish the property, spending a large sum on landscaping the surrounding grounds – particularly the elaborate, terraced Versailles gardens which Wenner-Gren had begun. Stretching from the Ocean Club to near the Nassau harbour, the gardens extend a quarter of a mile, terraced into seven levels – each plateau accentuated with hand-laid rock ridges and stone steps. Hartford imported Carrera marble and bronze statues from Europe, including two of Empress Josephine reclining at the garden’s entrance, a 14th-century Greek statue of Hercules and two giant bronze statues, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt and another of David Livingston, the two men Hartford most admired.
At the apex of the gardens stands a 14th-century Augustinian cloister, originally purchased in France by William Randolph Hearst, who had it disassembled and brought to Florida, and subsequently bought by Hartford. There was no written clue as to how the stones fit together, and the reconstruction took a full year.
Though the resort developed a loyal following of guests from the international jet set, Hartford preferred the role of ‘consummate host’ over that of hotel manager, overstaffing the hotel and allowing many of his friends to stay for free. This mismanagement, compounded by his penchant for lavish expenditures (nearly $10 million on improvements to the Ocean Club, more than its purchase price) eventually led Hartford to face the accelerating depletion of his fortune. He decided to sell the property in 1966 to the Mary Carter Paint Company, keeping a 25% interest and, for a few years at least, an active role in company affairs (primarily in the matters of beautification).
Paradise Island Comes Into Its Own
The Mary Carter Paint Company, which subsequently changed its name to Resorts International, Inc., proceeded to develop the entire Paradise Island, including the opening of a casino and other hotel properties, and built the island into one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.
In 1994, Kerzner International purchased the Ocean Club and the surrounding property from Resorts International and Merv Griffin and invested $7.5 million to restore the resort to its original elegance. Over the past years, the hotel has entertained such personalities as Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Oprah Winfrey, Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber (who were married there), Salma Hayek, Pierce Brosnan, Lenny Kravitz and Sidney Poitier as well as heads of state, business leaders and celebrities from around the world.
In December 2000, the Ocean Club celebrated a spectacular rebirth, with a $100 million expansion and renovation by Kerzner International, one that solidified the resort’s position as one of The Bahamas and Caribbean’s most beautiful destinations for years to come. In September 2003, the property was renamed One&Only Ocean Club as part of Kerzner International’s burgeoning collection of some of the finest resorts in the world which now include One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives; One&Only Le Saint Géran, Mauritius; One&Only Royal Mirage, Dubai; One&Only Palmilla, Los Cabos, Mexico and One&Only Cape Town in South Africa.