The unearthing of the programme and proposal to save the Colosseum in the early 1980s led me further into a sleuthing foray. At the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation research centre I presented the 1980s papers. Mary Boyeasse, a keen researcher, then said ‘we have that one already’ but five minutes later she reappeared with a rare original souvenir programme of the 1933 opening of the Colosseum. The 1982 prospectus takes on a new look because the design was based on this original souvenir programme.
A Joubert Park visit has been on my to do list for some time and here was the perfect opportunity. A few weekends ago, the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) offered a talk on Joubert Park by Professor Louis Grundlingh of UJ, access to the wonderful Johannesburg Art Gallery and a guided walk around the Park. I had been nervous about visiting Joubert Park on my own but with safety in numbers one felt comfortable and at ease. Actually all my anxieties were groundless as the people of today's park were caring, welcoming and ready to engage in conversation.
I am happy to share a remarkable unfolding story. I wonder how many readers are keen frequenters of antique shops, junk shops, old trading stores and charity shops? The appeal of this category of shops is that you never know what you will find or where a connection will lead you. I adore such shops for this very reason.
Who remembers the Colosseum in Johannesburg? This theatre belonged to the collection of theatres built for pleasure and entertainment when one went to the movies in style and cinemas attracted audiences of thousands watching a single block buster grand epic. With its orchestra pit the Colosseum was versatile; it was a large venue for movies, concerts, and stage shows. It closed in 1985 and was demolished, it transitioned to “Lost Johannesburg” in a flash.
Johannesburg is a gold mining city and, through the decades, there have been a number of disasters related to the industry. A walk through Johannesburg's cemeteries offers a visual history of premature loss through mine related explosions. The granite memorial in the Braamfontein Cemetery erected in memory of those who lost their lives in the great dynamite explosion of 1896, is still moving and offers a unique insight into Johannesburg history.
Above is a postcard of an SAA Airways or Suid-Afrikaanse-Lugdiens DC-7B aircraft. This post card came my way when it fell out of a book I bought recently. The reverse is blank, so it was never sent and simply says "with the compliments of South African Airways” (in English and Afrikaans). The interest to me is the backdrop of Johannesburg viewed from the air. The challenge is to date the photograph. The central iconic building is Escom House (completed in 1937 and demolished /imploded in 1984) and the view is in a westerly or north westerly direction.
The topography of Johannesburg is distinctive with the rocky mountainous ridges and the line of koppies that runs from east to west. These are the quartzite ridges of the famous Witwatersrand. The geology is unique. Viljoen and Reimold (An Introduction to South Africa’s Geology and Mining Heritage) make the point that this is one of the few localities where the evolution of the granitic crust of Southern Africa has been preserved and can be viewed.
Last year I was privileged to join a guided tour of the photographic exhibition on show on the mezzanine level of the Wits Art Museum, led by the photographer himself, Graeme Williams. It comprises 50 choice photographic works of Williams, who is the third winner of the prestigious Ernest Cole Photographic award. The award gives photographers the opportunity to produce an exhibition and to publish a book. A fine hardcover book of photographs accompanies the exhibition and includes a reflective essay on Johannesburg by Leon De Kock.
In 1961 the "new" Johannesburg Civic Centre was being conceptualised. The City of Johannesburg invited architects to submit their plans for the new landmark building in an open competition. As part of this process the City issued a folder labelled Architectural competition / Boukindige Prysvrae containing a locality plan and detailed site plan.
In searching the archives or trawling through book finds, one sometimes encounters two items in different places that have a relationship and a natural belonging. This happened recently when I discovered a cache of Johannesburg photographs decked out to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII in June 1902. Some months later in a batch of recently purchased pamphlets I found the official Programme for the same 1902 coronation celebrations in Johannesburg. Putting together two quirky and chance survivals opens up a window on the world of Johannesburg in 1902.
Here is an interesting photographic souvenir and important record of early Johannesburg. The title is "South African Goldfields Panoramic and Other Views of Johannesburg, 1889". This small booklet is a rare item as it was published just three years after the start of the town and its mining camp origins. It came to me together with a second little booklet, called "Johannesburg, Golden Centre of South Africa ", also dated 1889, by Charles Cowen.
On September 24th 2015 our private party decided on a Heritage day treat. An excursion for four friends by car to the Sammy Marks House museum. Zwartkoppies Hall was the home of Sammy Marks and his English wife, Bertha (née Guttmann). They lived there between 1884 and 1909, when they moved to their house in Parktown. Thereafter during Sammy’s lifetime it was their country weekend retreat. Sammy Marks died in 1920. It was then that Bertha gave up their Johannesburg home and returned to live formally at Zwartkoppies until her death in 1934.
A visit to one of the top libraries of the world, the private Africana library of the Oppenheimer family, the Brenthurst Library (by appointment only) is more than a treat. For a bibliophile one feels as though one has had the happy experience of dying and being directed to heaven.
Recently my family and I had an absolutely magical night time visit to the Zoo – Grandson Cayde’s 8th birthday party (some time after his actual birthday). We were a large group of about 49 people – maybe half kids and then all the parents, 4 grandparents plus cousins, aunts and great aunt. It was an amazing experience. The 20 plus children were all under the age of ten.
On a Saturday in mid October 2015, a group of Johannesburg Heritage Foundation members gathered in Rissik Street in front of what older Johannesburg citizens knew as the Johannesburg City Hall. Today the building is the Gauteng Legislature. We met on the City Hall steps, standing on what was once the historic market square, laid out in Johannesburg in 1886. It is a space that has seen vast transformations, buildings have come and gone, ideas about city centre layouts have altered.
Bookplates are a collecting subject in their own right and are a bibliophile's delight. A bookplate is very simply a sticky decorative label for pasting on the front inside cover or boards of a book proclaiming ownership and indicating that this particular book belongs to xxx library or person. Often the words "ex Libris" appear showing that the book is from a specific library, it could be an individual or an institution. When one acquires an old book with a bookplate it becomes part of the provenance of the previous ownership of a volume.
[Originally published August 2015] Last week Roger Fisher of Artefacts fame (and so much more) got in touch to ask if the small memorial plaque in the Standard Bank, Commissioner St, Johannesburg, for Standard Bank employees killed during the First World War still existed. Letitia Myburgh, Head of the Standard Bank Heritage Centre confirmed that it still did and sent through some details. The email conversation inspired Kathy Munro to write a fascinating piece on the lesser known memorials located in corporate and institutional offices.
The secret of a successful visit to Museum Africa is to concentrate on one exhibition, so giving oneself reason to return for another visit. A recent question on the Breakfast Quiz of Classic FM about the first Traffic Light installed in Johannesburg, triggered just such a focused visit to Newtown, as I set out to explore an evergreen permanent exhibition on Johannesburg Firsts.
The recent articles about Vergelegen on the Heritage Portal brought back happy recent memories of our holiday stay in Somerset West over Christmas 2014.
[Originally published 2 September 2015] The Standard Bank Gallery has put on something incredibly special and you only have until 12 September 2015 to see it. This is, of course, the Pierneef Exhibition. Kathy Munro, Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits, visited the exhibition recently and compiled this absorbing piece. Enjoy.