Johannesburg CBD

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.

 

Charles Thrupp arrived in South Africa from the United Kingdom in 1882 and made his way to King Williams Town to take up a job with a local wholesaler. As the gold fields of the Rand began to boom, the firm called on Thrupp to open and manage a store in Johannesburg. After a few years of solid trade, the branch hit hard times and had to close its doors in 1892. For most employees this would have meant looking for another job but Thrupp saw Johannesburg's potential and acquired the grocery side of the ailing business.

Johannesburg’s Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King is an impressive landmark located on the corner of Sarotoga Avenue and End Street in Berea. It was built in the late 1950s when Johannesburg was one of the fastest growing cities in the world and opened in impressive style in 1960. Below are a few edited passages (from an article that appeared in the 1961 edition of South African Panorama) that provide a wonderful description of the architecture and craftsmanship that produced the stirring structure. 

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 started a gold rush that surpassed the Californian (1849), Victorian (1851) and Barberton (1885) rushes and the initial boom created the city of Johannesburg, which was literally and figuratively built on gold. The initial boom lasted for three years as the mining companies followed the sloping reef into the earth’s crust and then in 1889 the bust happened, as the gold appeared to suddenly run out which in turn caused a pall of pessimism to hang over the diggings.

In 1961, South African Panorama ran a special article bidding a sad farewell to tramcars in Johannesburg (the tram had dominated the transport scene for seven decades until the rise of the trolley-bus led to its demise). Below are a few excerpts and photographs from the wonderful piece. 

 

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange has had a remarkable six homes during its existence reflecting the massive growth of  Johannesburg, South Africa and the institution itself over a relatively short period of time. The streets where it has been located have become famous in financial circles around the world (think Simmonds, Hollard, Diagonal and now Gwen Lane). Whenever the Stock Exchange has moved, major banks and companies have followed creating new financial districts and leaving old ones to reinvent themselves.

Over the last few months, Mayor Herman Mashaba has been communicating his vision for accelerating the rejuvenation of Johannesburg's inner city. He has met with business people and property developers and challenged them to turn the CBD into a construction site. He has committed to tackle corruption and improve the enforcement of the city's by-laws. He has said all the right things about harnessing heritage sites and reusing old buildings. As a result inner city enthusiasts (and I'm sure many residents and workers as well) are feeling a new wave of optimism.

In June 1954, a new building was completed at 80 Albert Street to the east of the Johannesburg CBD (just south of the Barclays / ABSA precinct today). It was designed as the head office of Johannesburg’s Non-European Affairs Department (JNEAD) and became the nerve centre for controlling the lives of black people in Johannesburg for over three decades. Despite having great cultural significance, the building’s controversial and complex history remains relatively unknown outside heritage circles.

 

Looking through old editions of the SA Builder is a fascinating experience. Many of the magazines have high quality photographs (and some sketches) and solid descriptions of projects occurring at the time. As one browses through these projects it becomes clear that only a small number of buildings have survived to this day. Below is a random selection of ten buildings from the 1920s and 1930s that were featured in their day but no longer grace the streets of Johannesburg.

[Originally published in June 2015]. By the end of the first quarter of 2016 work on the landmark Stuttafords Building on the corner of Rissik and Pritchard Streets in central Johannesburg should be complete. The building is being transformed from abandoned retail space into upmarket residential units (approximately 120). We are ecstatic that this project is underway after a series of false dawns in the last few years.

Pritchard Street is one of Johannesburg’s iconic streets. For many decades, the most prestigious shops in the city craved a Pritchard Street address and shoppers came from all over South Africa to marvel at the latest goods and fashions from around the world. By the 1970s, the rise of suburban malls saw a major shift in shopping patterns with upmarket customers abandoning the historic retail district. This shift in buying behaviour led to the closure of landmark department stores such as John Orrs and Stuttafords.

Johannesburg celebrated its 50th Golden Jubilee in 1936, a worthy year to recall as this year, 2016, is the 130th anniversary year. Johannesburg was called the Wonder City, the City of Achievement, the Golden City. The pride pulsates in the tourist and promotional literature. The Empire exhibition at the Milner Park showgrounds of the Witwatersrand Agricultural society was an enormous and ambitious celebratory event.

In the 1991 edition of Restorica, significant space was dedicated to the debate over the Civic Spine project. The overview of the controversy has already been published on The Heritage Portal (click here to view). In this piece, the voice of the architects is brought to the fore. Thank you to the University of Pretoria and the Heritage Association of South Africa for giving us permission to publish.

From 1989-1991 a major project unfolded in the historic centre of Johannesburg. It was known as the Civic Spine Project and aroused considerable debate. Below is an article from the 1991 edition of Restorica which looks at arguments on all sides of the controversy. Thank you to the University of Pretoria and the Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA) for giving us permission to publish.

Johannesburg celebrated its 130th birthday on 4th October 2016 in great style with a memorable happy event organized by the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) under the direction of its incomparable founder Flo Bird. The executive mayor, Herman Mashaba, as first citizen of Johannesburg was guest of honour at the birthday party held at Museum Africa in Newtown. Johannesburg city  Councillor, Nonhlanhla Sifumba, member of the Mayoral comittee responsible for Community Development was also a guest of honour.

The Three Castles Building is a landmark historic structure in downtown Johannesburg. It started life as a factory for the production of 'Three Castles' cigarettes with the facade becoming a powerful marketing tool for the brand. Initially 100 female workers were employed to roll the cigarettes but by the late 1890s this role was taken over by machines. According to John Shorten in The Johannesburg Saga, the factory was unable to keep up with demand despite producing over 300 000 cigarettes a day! 

In the middle of August 2016 employees from South 32 began the move from the landmark 6 Hollard Street in downtown Johannesburg to offices in the Worley Parsons Building in Melrose Arch. The move marks the end of a long and historic association that the firm (via its predecessors) has had with the Johannesburg CBD.

 

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