Tennis courts at Fort De Bilt

The history of the present Mitland complex along the beautiful northern fort canal is closely intertwined with that of the more than 175-year-old Fort De Bilt. Founder of the company was G.P.J. Plijnaar, born in Zutphen 1878 but raised in Utrecht.

After ending a career as a gym teacher, he sought other means of livelihood at the age of 42. In 1920 he had himself licensed as a real estate broker and bought plots of land here and there. In this way, in 1921 he acquired a plot of land with a concrete tennis court behind Willem Barentszstraat. The plot bordered the Ezelsdijk, which was part of the covered community road between the forts of Blauwkapel and De Bilt. The tennis court had been in use by residents of Willem Barentszstraat for several years.

Expansion with tea garden

But Plijnaar saw more potential for the site. With the posh Zeeheldenbuurt around the corner and the chic Wilhelminapark within walking distance, it made an ideal location for a tea garden. These days they are few and far between, but in the years after World War I, teahouses and gardens as catering establishments were going strong.

emergence. A fine example of a teahouse still in existence is that at the 1924 Rhijnauwen Manor, coincidentally also constructed of wood due to its location within the Forbidden Rings of Fort Rijnauwen.

Plijnaar also saw ample opportunities in the tea garden cum tennis court as a source of livelihood. However, he did want to offer the tea garden a broader basis for existence by organizing dance evenings and giving dance lessons. The venture eventually fell victim to its own success. The crowds and music caused such a nuisance to the neighborhood that on June 17, 1924, the tea garden was forced to close.

Continuation as a tennis court

Plijnaar then continued the business again as a tennis court, which could be expanded by half (!) on the existing lot. There was not very much space on the tennis court, as many a tennis player smashed his racket on the adjacent fences.

So Plijnaar regularly looked at other locations for tennis courts. But due to the economic crisis in the early 1930s, expansion plans were postponed for the time being. In late 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 nine tennis courts with the necessary outbuildings. But by now times had changed. In view of German rearmament, the military authorities tightened the conditions as far as building within the Prohibited Rings was concerned. In a mobilization period, the clearing of all kinds of buildings within it would otherwise take far too much time. This now also applied to the previously permitted wooden structures. The request was rejected by the Ministry of Defense and everything remained as it was for the time being.

Expansion of accommodation

It was not until 1939 that W. and F. Plijnaar, who had by then taken over the business from their father, made a new attempt. As a result of the German occupation, Fort De Bilt had lost its function as a defensive structure. Although the Kringenwet remained in force, the provisions were now much more flexible. And after submitting a new application, in late 1940 the Plijnaars finally received the coveted permit for the expansion plan for the area between the Ezelsdijk and the fort. However, the plan had been simplified in view of the material shortage that had arisen. In addition to four clay tennis courts, the complex included an 8 x 5 meter clubhouse flanked by two large locker rooms.

At the beginning of the new 1941 tennis season , the complex was able to open. Inspired by the famous

'Metsbanen' in Scheveningen, the new complex went by the name the 'Mitbanen', which meant 'Match Ice Tennis' or popular 'More Intensive Tennis'. Some clubs, including the newly founded 'Dropshot' and the existing club 'Advantage' found excellent accommodation here. The 1941 season still allowed plenty of play and even competitions took place. But in 1942 difficulties began with the confiscation of the two courts behind the Willem Barentszstraat by the German Wehrmacht. The ball shortage, caused by the import ban from England, could be solved for the time being by pumping up the old balls and providing them with a new coat.

The company did not escape the violence of war in any other way either. What the Dutch failed to do, the Germans tried. In March 1945 they flooded the grounds with the four tennis courts near the fort in an attempt to stop the Allied advance. However, without success.

Fun at the MIT jobs

In 1951, the number of tennis courts was increased to 15. The MIT rinks were known as a very sociable ice rink, and flags on the city buses proved to be an effective advertising tool, as on busy days as many as two thousand people swayed across the ice floor. But moderate winters in the 1960s and the opening of the Utrecht ice rink put an end to this typical winter festival. A drastic change of course was needed, and this required swift action.

Introduction to bowling

The search was on for a form of leisure activity that was not yet available in Utrecht. Thea Plijnaar (Wim's wife) threw herself into the fray. The bowling alley opened by the mayor of Utrecht Mr. van Tuyll in 1973 turned out to be the gap in the market. From that time on, the company has been run by the third generation of Plijnaars: Bert, Rob, Frank and Wim.

Expansion with restaurant and hotel

Business was so successful that in 1978 the complex could be expanded to include a restaurant. Bowling combined with an enjoyable dinner proved to be a successful formula to this day. In 1986 followed the opening of a hotel with 44 rooms and several conference rooms. The name 'De M.I.T. Banen' was changed to the more international sounding 'Hotel Mitland'. By then the company had about 100 employees.

In 1994, 70 years after the turbulent start of the 'Hygiëa' tea garden, the Mitland complex was once again preparing for a major expansion: a doubling of the number

rooms and meeting rooms as well as a new sports facility with an (indoor) swimming pool, sauna and Turkish bath.

In 1997, Hotel Mitland entered the digital highway. A website was created and from the start the focus was on search engines. A good move, as it turned out later, because a high ranking would become increasingly important. Over time, the website was expanded with more photos and all kinds of information about the company. Digital reservations also became possible. With 150,000 visitors per year, the Mitland site immediately proved to be an overwhelming success.

In 2000, the last tennis courts are built out with a wing of luxury rooms, suites and additional meeting rooms. The hotel then has 135 rooms and suites and 11 meeting rooms. The management still consists of the 4 Plijnaar brothers.

In early January 2006, bowling, restaurant, reception and hotel lounge were completely demolished to make way for a whole new section. Bowling, restaurant, brasserie and reception with hotel lounge were inaugurated in early 2007.

Natuurlijk Mitland

The slogan "Natuurlijk Mitland" is reflected in the building. Undulating roofs with green sedum plants. Lots of glass, allowing the water of Fort de Bilt, with the surrounding greenery, to be seen everywhere. The design by Frans Kooiman (in collaboration with Griffioen architects) aims to bring the environment inside as much as possible and involve the guest in the outside as much as possible. Natural materials such as wood and natural stone have been used.

The modern bowling is equipped with the 'Music Thrill Vision' system, a combination of image, sound and light. For the new construction of bowling and restaurant , the latest and especially environmentally friendly techniques were used, such as an in-house so-called "swill pit," an extraction system for all "wet waste" (this is mainly food) provides a more hygienic situation in the kitchen and saves waste disposal.

Hotel Mitland, ready for the future!


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