Johannesburg CBD

Drawing on a rare collection of souvenir photographic printed albums of Johannesburg, dating from the period approximately 1890 to 1910, we are able to build up a composite picture of Johannesburg's main thoroughfares, buildings and street life. These visual images show how Johannesburg's founding and growth coincided with the coming of age of photography.

I really enjoyed reading the piece by Lucille Davie on the Hillbrow Tower (click here to view). As with many others, I watched in awe as it went up. There was this orange plastic around the top bit where the concrete was being poured. The more concrete, the higher went the orange bit until it got to where the “double disc” is now.

An interesting collection of Johannesburg, Transvaal and South African printed photographic albums has recently come to light*. Kathy Munro was lucky enough to be able to photograph over four hundred images from the various albums including some from an 1892 volume on Johannesburg produced by the Davies Brothers. A few of these early images along with notes from Munro have been reproduced in the article below. 

In 1889, just three years after the founding of Johannesburg, the finishing touches were being put on a building that would become one of the city's landmarks for seven decades. It rose almost 30m into the sky and was the tallest building in town until the Markham's Building claimed the title in 1897. Considering it dominated the skyline, it is no surprise that it gained the nickname the 'Eiffel Tower of the Rand'.

Important editor's note: The initiatives mentioned in this article are only proposals. A thorough consultation phase with a spectrum of stakeholders still needs to take place before any plans are approved. The article was unpublished on 13 December 2017 following a request from the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership (JICP). On 24 December 2017 it was republished after the release of a similar article on BusinessTech.

We are honoured to post this wonderful article on the Hillbrow Tower written by journalist and passionate Joburger, Lucille Davie. It was originally published in the Saturday Star on the 4 January 2014. Click here to view more of Davie's writing. The Johannesburg Development Agency continues its work in the area and we're sure all South Africans can't wait until the Tower finally reopens.

 

Over the years I have photographed hundreds of plaques in South Africa and beyond. Most are easy to find as they are well documented and placed within easy view. Some, on the other hand, are a bit more tricky. Below is my list of five sneaky blue plaques...

1) Charles and Isabelle Lipp

This Heritage Month, the newly established Gauteng Heritage Action Group (GHAG) launched its 'Heritage Horror Stories' campaign. Sites that have been neglected for years have received 'black plaques' (the opposite of the prestigious blue plaque) with the aim of shaming owners into taking action. Many of these owners have made big promises over the years but have failed to deliver. 

 

For many years, the heritage community in Johannesburg has been searching for a way to let property owners know up front whether they need to follow heritage processes before carrying out work. This Heritage Month, I am happy to announce that such a tool has arrived with the launch of The Heritage Register (click here to view).

The following history of Johannesburg's early markets formed part of a much larger piece on the Market Theatre which appeared in the 1976 edition of Restorica, the old journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). The name of the author does not appear which is a huge shame for such a well researched article. Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.

In June 2017, the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation commemorated the 41st anniversary of the Soweto revolt and offered its members a tour of the Fort and prison museum complex at Constitutional Hill. The complex encompasses the Number 4 section prison, the original 1890s Fort buildings and cells, the Gandhi and Mandela exhibitions and the Constitutional Court with its impressive collection of artworks.

 

Most commentaries on Johannesburg of the decade of the thirties takes 1936 and the city's fiftieth birthday as the year for reflection and anticipation. See, for example, the Star Newspaper's popular history, Like it Was. Johannesburg A Sunshine City Built on Gold (1931) is an unusual publication that takes us back to the start of the decade to discover Johannesburg.

 

The news that the Ornico Group has moved its headquarters from a prime Sandton address to the Joburg CBD is making waves in heritage and property circles. Over the past year, the company has been refurbishing the historic Natal Bank Building and in recent weeks over 100 employees have moved in. This is a major psychological boost for the ongoing revival of the historic heart of Johannesburg.

 

The Joburg skyline (or at least hints of it) can be viewed from hundreds of places around the city. There are some spots that provide such an exceptional view and experience that they must be shared. City enthusiasts will be aware of these and many more not mentioned. Please add your favourite spots in the comments section below.

The Hill above the Dutch Reformed Church, Cottesloe

While browsing through the book Seventy Golden Years (published by the Johannesburg City Council in 1956 to commemorate the city's 70th birthday), I came across a wonderful advert for Stewarts and Lloyds of South Africa. The company proudly announced that the hitching posts it supplied to the fashionable Athenaeum Club in the early 1900s were still in place over fifty years later. This was despite the Athenaeum being demolished and the reality that horses were no longer the major means of transport.

 

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