Johannesburg CBD

I hardly Knew Robin fee personally except shaking hands in a restaurant was a warm experience. But his presence in the profession was known over 3 decades & more: 1960-1990s. He embodied much of the complexity that characterised architecture over this period. Complexity?

I was very sad to learn of the passing of the architect Robin Fee a few days ago and especially sorry that I had not expressed to him in his lifetime my thanks for his role in the conservation of Joburg’s heritage.
 
I would like to pay tribute to Robin Fee for two extraordinary instances where he put Johannesburg’s old buildings above any profit he or his firm could make if they had upheld their clients’ demands for demolition.
 

Heritage activists have reported that the Rotunda in downtown Johannesburg is being vandalised. The iconic roof is being stripped and if action is not taken soon the condition of the building will deteriorate rapidly. Passionate enthusiasts are trying to get the owners (PRASA) to allocate more security to the site.

 

In a test of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s reputation and approval rating in South Africa, a motion to remove the name and statue of the Indian leader from the city centre was debated in recent weeks by the Johannesburg City Council, the country’s largest municipality. The motion called for the removal of the bronze statue at Gandhi Square — sculpted by Tinka Christopher, it depicts Gandhi as a young activist lawyer in his legal gown — and the re-naming of the site after Sophie de Bruyn, a well-known anti-apartheid activist.

A few months ago it was my  pleasure to lunch with Mr Walter Pon, of first Chinatown of Johannesburg and Brett McDougall (Chairman of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation). Mr Pon has a passion for the history of the Chinese community in South Africa. Lunch was a gastronomic route into Chinese culture and history - our meeting point was the Ming Woo restaurant (corner of Alexander and Commissioner Street) which started and ended with copious small cups of delicate green tea. Lunch was Dim Sum, a variety of enticing servings of Chinese delicacies. This unpretentio

What do names such as ‘Astoria, Regal, Plaza, Victory, Pigalle, Empire, Roxy, Odeon, Vaudette, Regent, Apollo, Ritz, and Bijou’, mean to you?

Generation Z will probably think they are apps and Millennials that they are computer games. Generation X will think of them as names of men’s suits, restaurants or maybe small-town hotels. Only the Baby Boomers will recognise the evocative names of long closed and largely forgotten bioscopes.

If you want to literally touch Johannesburg’s gold mining days, check in with James Findlay’s Collectable Books and Antique Maps store, recently re-located from his Saxonwold home to the basement of the Rand Club in the inner city.
 
The dignified old club is the perfect place for his collection of antique memorabilia. The grand Edwardian edifice is a bit of an antique itself: built in 1904, it was the third gentlemen’s club on the site and is rumoured to have been chosen by that now infamous capitalist and imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes.

I recently came across the souvenir album Barnett's Views of Johannesburg and Suburbs. I photographed a panoramic view of the early town (in three sections) and thought I would share it. The book has no date but the look of the cover, very art nouveau design with floral garland, and the street scenes and buildings leads me to believe that it was published in the late 1890s or early 1900s.

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