Tennis courts at Fort De Bilt
The history of the present-day Mitland complex along the beautiful northern fort canal is closely linked with the 175-year-old Fort De Bilt. The founder of the company was G.P.J. Plijnaar, who was born in Zutphen in 1878 but raised in Utrecht. After concluding a career as a gym teacher, he sought a new means of support at the age of 42.
In 1920, he was sworn in as a real estate agent and purchased pieces of land here and there. In this way, in 1921, he acquired a plot of land with a concrete tennis court behind the Willem Barentszstraat. The plot bordered on the Ezelsdijk, which was part of the paved community road between Forts Blauwkapel and De Bilt. The tennis court had already been in use by the residents of the Willem Barentszstraat for several years.
Extension with tea garden
But Plijnaar saw new opportunities for the grounds. With the posh Zeeheldenbuurt around the corner and the chic Wilhelminapark within walking distance, it was an ideal location for a tea garden. While they are now few and far between, teahouses and gardens experienced a boom as catering establishments in the years after World War I. A beautiful example of one that still exists is the teahouse built in 1924 at country estate Rhijnauwen; coincidentally it was also made of wood due to its location within the Prohibited Areas of Fort Rijnauwen.
Plijnaar also saw sufficient opportunity to earn his livelihood in the tea garden with adjoining tennis court. But he wanted to give it a broader function by organising dance evenings and offering dancing lessons. The company ultimately met its demise due to its own success. The commotion and music caused so much trouble in the neighbourhood that the tea garden was forced to close on 17 June 1924.
Continuation as tennis park
Plijnaar then continued the business as a tennis court, which could be expanded on the existing plot by half (!). There was not much space on the tennis court, since many a tennis player smashed his racket on the adjoining fences.
So Plijnaar regularly went in search of other locations for tennis courts. But due to the economic crisis in the early 1930s, expansion plans were temporarily postponed. At the end of 1934, Plijnaar acquired an adjacent piece of land and a larger plot of land between the Ezelsdijk and the fort. He submitted a request for the construction of no less than 9 tennis courts with the necessary annexes. But times had changed. Due to German re-armament, the military authorities sharpened the conditions for building within the Prohibited Areas. During a mobilisation period, the clean up of all sorts of buildings would demand too much time. That also applied for the wooden structures that used to be allowed. The request was rejected by the Ministry of Defence and everything temporarily remained as it was.
Expansion of the accommodation
It was not until 1939 that W. and F. Plijnaar, who had taken over the company from their father, made a new attempt. As a result of the German occupation, Fort De Bilt lost its function as a defensive work. Although the Prohibited Areas Act remained in force, the provisions were now handled with greater leniency. And after submitting a new application, the Plijnaars ultimately received the highly desired permit for the expansion plan for the site between the Ezelsdijk and the fort at the end of 1940. However, the plan was simplified due to the scarcity of materials that had developed. Aside from the four gravel tennis courts, the complex consisted of an 8 x 5 metre clubhouse, flanked by two large changing rooms.
The complex opened at the start of the new tennis season of 1941. Inspired by the well-known 'Mets courts' in Scheveningen, the new complex was called the 'Mit courts', which stood for 'Match lce Tennis' or, in more common parlance, 'More Intensive Tennis'. Several clubs, including the newly founded 'Dropshot' and the existing club 'Advantage' found excellent accommodation here. In the season of 1941, a lot of tennis was still being played and there were even competitions. But difficulties started in 1942 with the confiscation of the two courts behind the Willem Barentszstraat by the German Wehrmacht. The ball shortage, which developed due to the import embargo from England, could be solved temporarily by pumping up old balls and providing a new cover.
In other respects, the company did not escape the acts of war. The Germans tried what the Dutch had not succeeded in doing. In March 1945, they flooded the terrain with the four tennis courts near the fort in an attempt to obstruct the allied advance. They were unsuccessful, however.
Thrill at the MIT rinks
In 1951, the number of tennis courts was expanded to 15. The MIT courts were a popular skating rink and flags on the local buses appeared to be an effective means of advertising, since two thousand people glided over the ice on busy days. But the mild winters in the 1960s and the opening of the Utrecht artificial ice rink put an end to this typical winter thrill. A change was drastically needed and quick action had to be taken.
Introduction bowling center
The idea was to look for a form of recreation that was not yet available in Utrecht. Thea Plijnaar (Wim’s wife) joined in the search. The bowling alley that was opened by the mayor of Utrecht Mr. van Tuyll in 1973 appeared to fill a gap in the market. Since then, the company has been managed by the third generation of Plijnaars: Bert, Rob, Frank and Wim.
Extension with restaurant and hotel
Business was so successful that the complex could be expanded with a restaurant in 1978. Bowling in combination with a pleasant meal appears to be a successful formula to this very day. The opening of a hotel with 44 rooms and several conference rooms followed in 1986. The name ‘the M.I.T. courts’ was changed to the more internationally sounding ‘Hotel Mitland’. The company already had a staff of about 100.
In 1994, 70 years after the turbulent start of the 'Hygiëa' tea garden, the Mitland complex prepared once again for its largest expansion: a doubling of the number of rooms and conference rooms and new sports facilities with (indoor) swimming pool, sauna and Turkish bath. In 2000, the last tennis courts were built with a wing with deluxe rooms, suites and extra conference rooms. The hotel then had 135 rooms and suites and 11 conference rooms. Management still consisted of the four Plijnaar brothers.
In early January 2006, the bowling alley, restaurant, reception and hotel lounge were completely demolished to make room for an entirely new section. Bowling alley, restaurant, brasserie and reception with hotel lounge were put into use in early 2007.
The slogan naturally Mitland can be seen in the building. Undulating roofs with green sedum plants. Ample glass, so the water of Fort de Bilt, with the surrounding green can be seen everywhere. The design by Frans Kooiman (in cooperation with Griffioen architects) intends to bring in the surroundings and involve the guest with the outdoors. Natural materials such as wood and natural stone were used.
The modern bowling alley is equipped with the Music Thrill Vision System, a combination of image, sound and light. For the new construction of the bowling alley and restaurant, the latest environmentally-friendly techniques were used, such as its own combined heat and power plant. A swill pit, an extraction system for all the ‘wet’ waste (primarily food) provides more hygienic conditions in the kitchen and saves on waste disposal.
Mitland Hotel, ready for the future!