The grand historiek


Birth of a monument

In 1924 the ‘Societé Anonyme de Nieuport Bains’ commissioned Brussels architect Apollon Lagache (1882-1940) to build two prestigious leisure buildings on its seafront plots, i.e. ‘Le Grand Hôtel’ and ‘Le Petit Casino’. At that point Lagache had already built houses and cinemas in Brussels, and after the First World War he had worked as a redevelopment architect in Ypres and Nieuwpoort. The Société wanted to send out a clear statement that Nieuwpoort-Bad was now in a position to compete with the other seaside resorts.

Like so many hotels in Brussels and Ostend in the 1900s, the Société and Lagache decided to build Le Grand Hôtel in an eclectic style with a leaning to the Beaux Arts and touches of Art Deco. In keeping with several hotels and prominent buildings in Ostend and other seaside towns in the 1900s, they went for a prominent corner plot with towers, terraces, huge sea-view windows and a restaurant facing the seafront.

The building symbolises a glorious period in the history of tourism on the Belgian coast, which evolved, from the second half of the 19th century to the eve of World War I, from elitist and luxurious health spas to more accessible tourism on a grand scale for the citizenry of Belgium and beyond.


A prestigious hotel

The building of ‘Le Grand Hôtel’ would not be complete until 1929, while ‘Le Petit Casino’ remained unfinished in the inter-war period. The tramline from Ostend to De Panne was part of the reason for the hotel's original success. The hotel had all of the technical comforts of the time: central heating, running water, electricity, telephone, telegraph and an elevator.

Like all prestigious hotels of the 1920s it had several public spaces that could be reached from the foyer. A huge dining room with a sea view, a variety of salons, a smoking room and a winter garden. The dining room was a huge area featuring pillars and a parquet floor, as well as huge windows offering a view of the sea. The geometry of the round salon was emphasised by pillars supporting the tower overhead. The interior was finished as an interplay of Louis XVI and Art Deco styles. The wicker chairs and radiator covers, the garlands and the medallions in the Louis XVI style are in keeping with the comfortable sofas and geometric Art Deco motifs on the upholstery fabric, wallpaper and veneers.

1941 - 1945

Tumultuous war years

However, the glory days of ‘Le Grand Hôtel’ were numbered as the hotel was requisitioned as a military hospital for Belgian soldiers on 13 May 1940. Two days later, on 15 May, the soldiers were visited by Queen Elisabeth. One year later, on Tuesday, 20 May 1941, Hendrika Square was shelled. Along with the iconic towers and domes, the portico and corner terrace facing Hendricka square were totally destroyed. Nieuwpoort-Bad and the building fell into German hands.

In 1943 the German General/Field Marshal Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (1891-1944) was in Nieuwpoort Bad while inspecting the Atlantic Wall. His job was to inspect and report on the defences that ran from the North Sea to the Bay of Biscay. The ultimate aim being to repel the forthcoming Allied attack.

On 4 August 1945, following the Allied invasion and the end of World War II, an American plane flew the entire coastline from Knokke to De Panne, photographing the Belgian coast. This set of photographs is now in the US National Archives along with a photograph of the ‘Grand Hôtel’.

The grand historiek 7

1960s - present day

White Residence in decline

After the Second World War ‘Le Grand Hôtel’ was offered for sale at auction. The building was converted to a holiday home between 1958 and 1963 and renamed the White Residence. There was a partial reorganisation and rearrangement of the hotel layout, in which existing rooms were joined together and additional bathrooms and new kitchens were installed. Many valuable elements were lost during these activities, such as the restaurant, the function rooms, the winter garden, the cafés, the salon, the sun terrace and the luxurious hotel rooms, but the foyer and the imposing staircase remained intact.

In 1981 the building was listed as a protected monument, mostly for its historical and artistic value but also because at that time the (former) building next door and the ‘Petit Casino’ were earmarked for demolition. The aim was to protect the former ‘Le Grand Hôtel’ from a similar fate.

The ‘White Residence’ is currently a shadow of its former self. Nothing had been done to modernise the complex since the 1960s. The characteristic roof was never reconstructed, and the ground floor was converted to shops and cafés. Over recent decades the former ‘Grand Hôtel’ has lost its characteristic silhouette and been overshadowed by the scale of the buildings that surround it. The building has lost its contextual role, and above all its allure. In the meantime, it has also become unfit for use, and it fails to meet the current regulations in relation to safety, energy and usage. In maintenance and cost-management terms the building is a total disaster. In the summer of 2018 the premises were shut down as a safety and fire risk.

Present day - 2025

The Grand

After decades of dilapidation the protected monument will be gutted and fully renovated under the new name of ‘The Grand’. VDD Project Development, a developer of historical projects, will restore the iconic building to its former grandeur for its 100-year jubilee. Read more about the project here.

Historical brochure

The underlying story is what makes a project like The Grand so unique. For that reason we have produced an exclusive information brochure on the rich and fascinating history of the former ‘Le Grand Hôtel’. Interested in the full history? Click below for a free copy of this unique time document packed with historical photos and stories.