Green Park: The Most Famous Jewish Hotel in England
Green Park hotel was standing upon four things: tradition, religion, family, and food – as declared in the opening scene of Marsha Lee’s award winning film about the most famous Jewish hotel in England.
The story of Green Park reflects the story of the entire Jewry of England. First, mass immigration due to pogroms in Eastern Europe; then the formation of a flourishing united Jewish community; and finally – globalization, disintegration and deterioration.
It all began with two families, the Richmans and the Marriotts. Like many other Jews from Eastern Europe, they fled from Russia and Poland in late 19th century, and settled in East End, London. The young Ruby Marriott and Sarah Richman fell in love and married after a short while, and like any young immigrating couple, they were both considering their professional options. Ruby did not wish to become a tailor like his father, but rather was very ambitious and sought for himself a more “British” occupation.
His business opportunity came from the most unexpected place: Bournemouth, a popular beautiful resort on the southern shore. Ruby noticed an old building for sale on top the eastern cliff overlooking the ocean. With some help from friends and family, he managed to raise the sum and handshake purchasing the share. After thorough renovation, his plan was to establish a trendy new hotel designed in the trendy Art Deco style. The hotel was inaugurated in 1943, at the peak of the preparations for the invasion in Normandy. Thousands of ally soldiers flooded the small resort town, among them many Jewish soldiers, who were surprised to be announced one day that they were invited to hold a Passover “Seder” in the new, kosher, splendid hotel, called “Green Park”.
This was the first out of dozens of Seders, Hanukkah celebrations, and stylish Purim costumes parties, held in Green Park for over 40 years, in which the hotel has become a vibrant Jewish center never seen in England before.
It was a family ran hotel, managed by the Marriotts and the Richmans. Ruby Marriott used to give a warm personal welcome to his guests at the entrance. Arriving at the reception, guests would be handled by Ray Richman, who was in charge of reservations and payments. The main financier was Judy Richman, and the chief caterer was Hannah Richman. Ruby’s sisters in law worked in the hotel for 40 years, until it closed. But the chief operator and the grand matriarch was Bubbe Richman, quite a stocky woman, a heavy smoker, a living remain of the old Jewish world who would curse out loud in Yiddish and cheat in cards; she wasn’t going anywhere, nor had any intentions to change.
However, don’t get the wrong idea; Green Park was not a humble simple place. It was a fine establishment, favored by the British Jewish high society; those who wished to acquire high class manners and at the same time maintain their Jewish tradition. Many distinguished guests stayed in Green Park, such as the business magnate Sir Isaac Wolfson; the bookmaker Cyril Stein; founder of “Tesco”, Sir Jack Cohen; President of “Odeon”, Oscar Deutsch; the legendary manager, Brian Epstein; and lots of others. The hotel had magnificent suites, elegant bathrooms, card halls, and dance halls for the night parties, and the crowning glory – the wonderful delicious, refined and kosher meals. To quote a T.V. commercial from the 1960’s: “At the Green Park hotel all of your kosher needs will be fully met! We have separate facilities for milk and meat, our fish are all fully scaled and freshly caught in the North Atlantic, it’s all fresh, and of course – no pork!”.
Two additional ideals characterized the Green Park hotel: Tradition and religion. Edward Lee, one of the second generation children of Green Park, shares in the film: “for 50 weeks a year you’re trying to assimilate and two weeks a year going back to your roots”.
Green Park was not only a venue for card games, parties and Jewish dating, but also deeply committed to Jewish traditions and rituals. You did not have to be orthodox in order to come to the synagogue on Shabbat eve, or bless the four species in Sukkot. “The Jewish rituals joined all the participants together”.
During the 1970’s the place began to decline. New concepts and fashions, as well as increasing globalization gradually wore out the unique social fabric of the place. The older generation, who had deep respect and emotions towards the Jewish tradition and the unification of the community, failed to pass on these values to their grandchildren. The generational gap deepened, and also, world economy was changing, holidays abroad became cheaper and trendy (for example to Italy and Majorca) – all of these circumstances brought the end of the establishment.
Green Park was closed in the mid 1980’s. Bubbe Richman passed away, followed by Ruby Marriott. The unmarried sisters Judy and Hannah Richman now live together in an Art Deco house in Bournemouth, not far from a hideous apartment house, an ugly monument for the most famous Jewish hotel in England that used to stand there.
(Translated from Hebrew by Danna Paz Prins)