Johannesburg

[Originally published 25 February 2013] In my opinion this past weekend could prove to be a watershed moment for tourism in Joburg's inner city. For the first time I can remember not only was every major commercial and non profit tour operator out on the streets but they were running at or near full capacity.

[Intro originally published in March 2013] A few weeks ago we visited Yukon, the famous historic mansion in Bez Valley. The owners, Henry and Loretta, gave us an overview of the mystery and intrigue behind the disappearance of the house's hugely significant stained glass windows. It would be fantastic if we could find them and bring them home to South Africa. Below is a brilliant article from the Saturday Star (1993) that gives some background to the saga.

We found this very interesting historical snippet in the archives of the Egoli Heritage Foundation. The referencing is unclear but we think it may have appeared in the book Down Memory Lane by Harry Zeederberg published in 1971.

Everytime we travel to Wits campus we look up in amazement at the majestic Tower of Light. It has been standing since the mid 1930s and is still a landmark on the Johannesburg skyline. The Tower was rated one of Johannesburg's Top 100 sites in the lead up to the Centenary Celebrations. Below is the statement of significance written by Bernard Cooke in 1985.

[Originally published 11 March 2013] On Saturday 9th March the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation had a walking tour around Fordsburg looking at heritage buildings and talking of the dramatic history. At 3.30 pm the group reached the historic Fordsburg Square where a plaque was unveiled recording the final battle of the 1922 Strike which took place in the Square. Dino Badroodin, proprietor of The Train on the Square, and Flo Bird of the JHF unveiled the plaque as shown in the photograph above.

[Originally published 11 July 2014] A modern day mystery appears to be developing in Highland Road, Kensington. No one seems to know what has happened to Marius Van Den Spek, the apparent owner of the iconic Kensington Castle. Over the last few years the property has fallen into disrepair with various sources stating that Marius has abandoned his inheritance (along with a very large council bill).

[Originally published 14 March 2015] The Three Castles Building, located a short distance from the ABSA / Barclays precinct in the east of the Joburg CBD, has been in danger for many years. This unique building is a survivor but we fear she may be on her last legs! On a recent visit we noticed that one of the previously bricked up sections has been opened up allowing free access to the property (the building was sealed off at the beginning of 2013). Below are a few images of the neglect that continues to impact this Joburg icon…

Over the weekend members of The Heritage Portal team took a stroll through the Johannesburg CBD and paused outside some of the heritage buildings that were painted pink between June and August 2014. The campaign, run by a team of foreign and local artists, aimed to highlight the neglect of inner city buildings in the context of an affordable housing crisis and in doing so spark discussion among the citizens of Johannesburg.

The following letter has been sent to us by the Egoli Heritage Foundation (EHF). It is a response to the piece 'Painting the Town Pink' written by the team from Urban Joburg and published on 5 September [it appears as though it has been taken down since]. The letter adds nuance to the recent 'Pink Buildings Debate' and adds important analysis on the crisis facing the heritage sector. The final paragraph is worth repeating up front...

I write on behalf of the Egoli Heritage Foundation to comment on the action of a few demonstrators who, in what appears to be an act of desperation in the face of frustration at what is happening in the city, painted a number of structures deemed to be of cultural significance, bright pink.

We are saddened that the state of our democracy has led to such frustration and this in turn, to the destruction of a part of the nation’s heritage.

The Katyn Memorial stands on a rise in an attractive park setting, in good view from the nearby Atholl Oaklands Road. The structure is constructed of bushhammered reinforced concrete with a set of three plaques in red granite. The sculpture theme is derived from ancient Slavic forms assembled to create an interplay of open and solid spatial forms creating the image of the non-existing cross. 

 

The Rand Club is one of Johannesburg's great landmarks. It has a rich and controversial history and remains a major attraction for the public on occasions when access is arranged. Kathy Munro, Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits, visited the Club recently exploring every nook and cranny and pondering the future of this iconic institution. The Club has been reinventing itself for a number of years but tough decisions lie ahead...

Victory House, originally known as Permanent Buildings, is located on the historic corner of Harrison and Fox Streets in downtown Johannesburg. The passages below, taken from the official history of the Perm (1983), reveal part of the story behind its design and construction. The building is of great historical and architectural significance and is famous for having Johannesburg's first ever lift.

Standard Bank Chambers, on the corner of Harrison and Fox Streets in the old financial district of Johannesburg, was for decades the bank’s biggest branch and, for a time, its head office. Designed by Stucke and Bannister and completed in 1907/8, it is one of Johannesburg’s historical and architectural treasures. Over the years many committees have suggested it should be declared a National Monument / National Heritage Site.

[Originally published April 2013] Urban Ocean is a name that has become synonymous with neglect and decay in Johannesburg’s Inner City. A visit to buildings like Shakespeare House and the CNA Building on Commissioner Street can only be described as depressing. In his Citi Chat column late last year, Neil Fraser commented that these buildings ‘look as though they have just been repatriated from Syria, totally disgracing the centre city area.’

The façade of the Provincial Building in downtown Johannesburg never fails to turn heads. It was preserved and incorporated into Surrey House in the early 1990s. Below is an overview of events compiled by Johann Bruwer (published courtesy of the City of Johannesburg).

[First published 28 January 2013] If all goes to plan over the next few months, Johannesburg could become Africa’s first Wikipedia City. This means that visitors will be able to use their smartphones to scan QR codes placed on historic landmarks and be taken to a Wikipedia page containing fascinating information about the site. (A QR code is a smart phone readable bar code that contains web addresses).

The question above is one that has been asked and answered many times over the years. We are repeating it now as we feel the South African Heritage community needs to continuously push the simple idea that we can help the country to achieve its development goals. This idea is expressed throughout the City of Johannesburg's Heritage Policy. Below are a few excerpts from this policy:

Heritage Tourism

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