Haludovo Palace Hotel, Croatia
Penthouse Magazine founder Bob Guccione had one hell of a party on the island of Krk which came with a $45 million dollar price tag.
To set the scene, it was a time when Yugoslavia was selling its particular brand of socialism to the outside world, in the spirit of detente visa restrictions had been lifted. Any wrinkles that might get in the way of foreign investment were magically smoothed over. Elsewhere, Las Vegas was in ascent and Guccione, more familiar with the porn industry wanted to get a piece of the action. Yugoslavia had no problem awarding him a gambling license and Bob was a man with a plan.
Bringing together his Penthouse vibe and perhaps considering a challenge to the Playboy brand, now armed with a casino on the beautiful Adriatic island of Krk, inside the lux Haludovo Palace Hotel, he launched the Penthouse Adriatic Club in 1972.
An easy excursion from the mainland and the capital city Zagreb, Guccione’s target audience were foreign holidaymakers and international high rollers. Legend has it that visitors included the likes of Saddam Hussein, Olaf Palme and Silvio Berlusconi. However, the project rather than being a license to print money became a bottomless pit into which money was thrown, reportedly $45 million dollars. The notion of foreign money being poured into the socialist state wasn’t unusual, Secretary-General Tito had found a formula to bring investment, and tourism, successfully marketing the state as user-friendly and open to the outside world and in that vein why not encourage ‘pavilions for games of chance.’
The casino was an unmitigated failure. According to a report by Fundación DOCOMOMO Ibérico, ‘The result was a disaster: the endless parties driven by extravagance and excess left the casino bankrupt after just a year’. From there the complex limped from one disaster to another deteriorating at each turn and then, of course, there was a catastrophic war in the region. Bankrupt and abandoned by the late 1990s and so it has remained until now.
Guccione didn’t fully put to bed his curiosity about casinos which resulted in two Penthouse investigative journalists publishing links between the alleged mobster Moe Dalitz and casino activity.
What resulted was, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, ‘the largest libel suit in history—$630 million—against Penthouse magazine’ The story also offers us a glimpse of the opening night at the Penthouse Adriatic Club
A fan of the abandoned hotel for at least a decade is photographer Reginald van der Velde who has been documenting the site. ‘Each visit I see the site deteriorate a little more’, nevertheless, he says ‘its beauty and grandeur’ is retained. ‘The location came onto my radar as early as 2010’ he explains. ‘I knew about it but wanted to see it in real life and planned a trip that included seeing Spomenik. Brutalist architecture and former Yugoslavian monuments weren’t in the limelight back then. When I asked photography friends to join on this trip, literally no one wanted to tag along. Everyone mocked me and someone even replied, and I quote ‘good luck with your concrete stuff over there. So I went solo.’
It clearly lived up to Reginald’s expectations, ‘Seeing Haludovo in the flesh was a dream come true. The enormous lounge was breathtakingly beautiful. The ceiling had this massive light dome and all around were hundreds of wooden blocks in different sizes, protruding from the ceiling. The bar, as a centrepiece was still in very good shape. Lounge sofas all around, in their distinctive retro style’.
It seems that it did not fall victim to vandalism although original photos showed that marble had been removed from the central staircase.
‘I first stumbled upon the indoor pool, in a pristine state. From there you have access to the outside pool, with the very distinct concrete cascade. What a magnificent sight! I wondered if water ever flowed through these’. Legend in fact has it that at one memorable party the pool was actually filled with champagne
Reginald shares about capturing the light, ‘After I took all my shots and finished the shoot, the sun was so low it actually illuminated the entire lounge area at a horizontal angle, creating this warm and bright colour palette that only lasted for a couple of minutes.’
I loved this place so much I returned many times in Spring, Summer, Winter and sometimes even without my camera.
How to get there:
Krk island, Primorje-Gorski Kotar (county) 51511
The ground was broken in 1969 and the project was completed in 1972
Architect: Boris Magaš, 1930-2013 architect and academic, Professor of Architecture at the University of Zagreb. Amongst his well-known buildings, Polijud Stadium Split, Museum of the Revolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. His daughter is Michaela Magas who is the Croatian-British recipient of the EU Prize for Women Innovators, Chair of Industry Commons Foundation, Croatia and United Kingdom and founder of the Music Tech Fest.
Haludovo Palace Hotel featured in Concrete Utopia exhibition MoMA 2019
Images unless otherwise stated are the Copyright of Reginald Van de Velde © @suspiciousminds
Vintage postcards via the Spomenik Database