The Mystery of Simon Vermont
by
Dr. Vera Somen

“Who WAS Simon Vermont anyway?” Nobody seemed to know. There’s a plaque on the wall beside the front door donated by his brother Isaac, but who was he? Why was the Hall named after him? I think it was Limor who said “wouldn’t it be fun if we could solve the ‘mystery’ as a centennial project?”  So we embarked on a search through the archives, a fascinating enterprise I’ve never tried before.

The Hall was opened in May 1938 so we needed to find documents from 1936 or so, and sure enough there we found the minute book of the Building Fund Committee, starting in 1936, and correspondence files for the same period. It turns out that Simon Vermont was a member of that committee when it was constituted. But his name only appears at the first two or three meetings.

The letter from his brother Isaac, reproduced here, explains. It is a reply to the condolence letter he received from the council of the Congregation on the death of his brother Simon in January 1937. Simon Vermont left his one third interest in a building on Government Road (now Moi Avenue) to the building fund – and it paid about half of the cost of the Hall, the other half being raised from members of the community. It was his brother who suggested that the Hall should be named for him.

In a gracious letter to Isaac Vermont, the secretary of the day wrote that it was an appropriate gesture not only because of his generous bequest, but also because he was a longstanding and much liked and respected member of the community. Sadly, we were unable to discover more, because the minute book containing the Council minutes of the years 1917 to 1943 are missing. Nor could we trace an Isaac Vermont in any Cape Town community although we wrote to many of them. But at least we know a lot more than we did before. (See the photo of Vermont Hall on the cover of the Hebrew section. Photo by Didi Rom)