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

The following epic case study, written by Albrecht Holm, appeared in a 1996/7 edition of the old Johannesburg Historical Foundation's Journal 'Between the Chains'. It not only highlights the significance of the site but also the skill of a spectrum of professionals needed to achieve the spectacular result.

We found this remarkable letter from the early 1980s in the archives of the Egoli Heritage Foundation. It deals with a preservationist's dilemma regarding a a building called Somerset House in the Johannesburg CBD.

In reply to requests in your newspapers for information concerning Johannesburg's past I'm faced with a dilemma I should like to share with you, which with some help could be resolved. It concerns a small building in Fox Street called Somerset House (in Johannesburg's CBD), which was built in 1906.

The Petrus Molefe Monument, also known as the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Monument, is located in the Petrus Molefe Eco-Park on Mtambo Street in Dhlamini Soweto. Molefe was the first operative to be killed during the early operations of MK. Thank you to the City of Johannesburg for giving us permission to publish the details below.

The Mai Mai Market is one of the oldest markets in Johannesburg. Many sources describe it as 'the Place of Healers' (Ezinyangeni). People from across Gauteng flock there in search of cures for a myriad of ailments. The market is located to the east of the city on the corner of Anderson and Berea Streets and has been through many periods of neglect and revitalisation. There appears to be a relatively settled community and thriving trade for those lucky enough to run a business at Mai Mai.

Five Jeppe men were prominent in the early history of the Transvaal and the Witwatersrand Gold fields. Three were brothers, two were the sons of the youngest brother.  Two played significant roles in state administration, two were entrepreneur-businessmen and one was a jurist. But by enunciating these men’s foundation careers, is to tell only part of the story, for they all pursued a myriad of interests, involvements and occupations. All appeared assuredly capable of operating in a broad professional and public arenas.

Over the last few weeks there has been considerable discussion about the shocking state of George Harrison Park in Langlaagte (the site commemorating the discovery of the largest goldfield on earth). In the following thought-provoking piece Gavin Whitfield, geological consultant and author, argues that we should 'not waste further effort on maintaining this important heritage site as it is...'

History

A few weeks ago (late September 2013) we paid a depressing visit to George Harrison Park in Langlaagte, the site of the discovery of the largest gold field on earth. The Geological Society's Blue Plaque has been removed, building rubble is scattered around the main entrance, the panels revealing the significance of the site have been damaged by fire and the main memorial looks battered to say the least. It is incredibly sad to see one of the most important heritage sites in South Africa looking so neglected.

 

Since February this year members of the heritage lobby have been attending meetings with the Department of Public Works discussing the development of the Marshall Street Police Barracks and the site they call 85 Anderson Street. We were more than sceptical at the first meeting, became even more suspicious when no heritage architect was appointed, so only at the final meeting on 18th May did we accept their bona fides and really enjoy the discussions.  

News emerged last week that the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) is considering using Joubert Park as a temporary taxi facility while upgrades to the Jack Mincer rank are made. This has outraged many Johannesburg citizens and organisations. In the article below Kathy Munro explores the history and significance of Johannesburg's oldest park. If you would like to see Joubert Park remain as it is feel free to sign this petition.

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