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La Belle Époque: Newest banquet facility in town!

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 14 September 2017 00:00


Steeped with history but wrapped in a total new look is – La Belle Époque the newest and trendy banquet facility in town! Fully air-conditioned, adorned with chandeliers and a built in bar, the building has two levels, with an infinity pool on the upper floor surrounded partly by an open air terrace, reaching out overlooking a sprawling garden – here is an ideal venue for office parties, a wedding, conference, cocktail reception or any form of celebration for that matter. With the original building intact, the same windows, sweeping staircase all made with solid teak, the wooden floors on the upper level, for certain – is not a common sight in today’s day and age when it comes to identifying banquet spaces! New interiors, chandeliers, some modern facilities, an extended porch beneath the swimming pool have all been thoughtfully incorporated in to the original building design.

To return to the history of this property which was owned by the Queen of Great Britain who conveyed it to John Charles Dias Bandaranayake a resident of Modera then considered the most fashionable residential district of Colombo. This conveyance was done “on the 4th day of February in the year of our Lord 1845” by Lt. General Sir Colin Campbell, “Knight Commander of the most Honourable Military order of the Bath, Governor and  Commander in Chief in and over the British Settlements and Territories in the Island of Ceylon”. The property was “bounded on the east by the road from Colombo to Galle – 30ft wide, and on the west by the sea”. 

Thereafter, Charles Dias Bandaranayake made a will “in the consideration of the uncertainty of human life”, and through this last will the property was conveyed to his daughter Wilhelmina.

Interestingly, approximately 45 perches plus were subsequently re-conveyed to the Crown by Charles Bandaranayake on 29 May 1877 for a sum of Pounds Sterling 993 and 98 cents!! This was for the purpose of constructing a road to the railway station – now referred to as Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia and for the railway line linking Colombo to Galle. 

In 1902, the ownership of the property devolved on Cornelia Henrietta Obeyesekere sister of Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranayake Mahamudaliar and widow of J.P. Obeyesekere. Subsequent ownership has remained within the family over several generations and the ownership of the land on which La Belle Époque now stands is presently with Yvani Myriam Deraniyagala, the great great granddaughter of the late Mrs. Cornelia Henrietta Obeyesekere.  

The original building was constructed by the late C.H. Obeyesekere in the beginning of the 20th century and the design was that of a typical colonial bungalow with an upper floor surrounded by balconies and French windows which provided ample natural ventilation. This building was named Saltaire.

Since this bungalow was only used as a holiday home and never as a permanent residence by any family member, in 1936, the then Warden of St. Thomas’s College Mount Lavinia, Canon R.S. de Saram,  inquired from Dr. P.E.P Deraniyagala if it could be rented as the residence of the Warden. This request was granted. Both Canon R.S. De Saram and Dr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala were products of St. Thomas’s College when the school was in Mutwall. Both excelled in boxing. One boxed for Oxford University and the other for Cambridge University and both were rewarded with University Colours and had remained good friends since their boxing days.

In 1942 with the threat of 2nd World War spreading its tentacles into Colonial Ceylon and the imminent possibility of Japanese occupation, the British Army commenced strengthening its defences in the island. Large numbers of British troops arrived in Sri Lanka. The need for medical services for the troops was recognized and St. Thomas’s College along with the Bungalow in which Warden De Saram resided were requisitioned by the British army. The hospital facilities housed on the premises, along with the staff only vacated the premises well after the surrender of the Japanese forces and the bungalow once more became the residence of the Warden Canon R.S. De Saram.

Canon R.S. De Saram on his retirement wrote to Dr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala the grandson of C.H. Obeyesekere informing him of his impending retirement and that he would be handing back the property to Dr. Deraniyagala.

The 8 acre property finally reduced to 4 acres, with land sold to the neighbouring College and for other development projects. In 1959 the property was rented to the Ambassador of the Netherlands who was enthralled by the charm of the property and despite the rigid safety regulations from the Netherlands government, it became his official residence where lavish parties were hosted regularly in, no doubt, what was a beautiful setting.

The first semblance of the property’s potential of commercial activity arose when Major L.V. Goonarathne – Mayor of Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia gave written permission to Jacques Van Minden a French national to erect 3 huts, on the beach front on the section of the coconut garden which was divided from the main property by the railway line. These huts were to be used for ‘preparing and packing Lobsters for export......and also serve the purpose of giving an opportunity to tourists and others to taste the Lobsters prepared for meals’. 

The business flourished, eventually giving birth to the La Langousterie Beach restaurant which was famed for its seafood preparations and superb music. The La Langousterie was often packed with both locals and foreigners and still does to date. 

With the tourism boom – Saltaire became a successful tourist guest house as far back as the late 1960’s. Sooner than later, cabanas on wooden stilts sprung up, complemented by the beach restaurant, which became an instant success. On the expiry of the lease, the descendants of C.H. Obeyesekere took it over and realising the potential of the property, they opted to build a 25 roomed hotel called Rivi Ras while preserving the original ambiance of a large garden fringed with the coconut palms. The rooms boast of a spectacular view of the Indian Ocean. The old colonial building however, no longer served its purpose and it was decided in 2016 to renovate and re-design the original bungalow as a modern venue for private gatherings such as weddings and parties.

The brother and sister management of La Belle Époque have hopes and aspirations that this will be a promising venue in the days ahead. La Belle Époque boasts two luxury en-suites within the building ideal for a bridal couple to get dressed in comfort who could stay overnight too. The rooms at Rivi Ras could also be included in the package for foreigners and locals using this venue. Special menus have been created to cater to cocktail receptions, wedding celebrations or any other event. The facility is well staffed and a unique experience is promised by the management.

Pictures show the original property while the finished product remains a secret that will unfold on 21 September when it is opened to the public.


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