Sandton

September is Heritage Month but it is a downer when the news comes through that the museum and heritage site Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia has closed its doors permanently. The news of closure announced by the CEO and founder of the Liliesleaf Trust, Nic Wolpe, son of Harold Wolpe, comes as a surprise.

The township of Parkmore was established in 1904 – making it one of the oldest northern suburbs in the Johannesburg Metro. Parkmore was proclaimed in the aftermath of the South African War (1899-1902). The ending of hostilities brought with it the expectation of economic stability and a rise in property prices in what had become the British colony of the Transvaal.

 

The South African Constitution of 1996 introduced new forms of local government and radically changed the map of governance structures throughout the country. As has been the case since 1910, the central and provincial governments play a controlling role. However, at a local level – towns, cities and even townships and suburbs – remain arenas in which citizens are empowered to make their voices heard directly, as happens almost daily with street protests about inadequate service delivery.

We are honoured to publish a portion of the St David's Jubilee Book 'A Courageous Journey' revealing the fascinating early history of this well known Johannesburg school. Unless otherwise stated all photos are from the book. Copies of 'A Courageous Journey' can be ordered from Julie Egenrieder, researcher/archivist at St David's - egenriederj@STDavids.co.za.

Prior to the 1994 elections, the National Party controlled both National Government and Provincial Government of the Transvaal. Planning of roads and townships were the responsibility of the Transvaal Provincial Administration (TPA).

Sandton was established as a town in its own right in 1969. It did not take long for residents to form ratepayers associations in most of the suburbs.

If you walk down 11th Street in Parkmore, a short distance from the Sandton CBD, you may see some bright orange signage announcing 'Saks's Corner 1949'. Considering Sandton City was only built in the early 1970s there is certainly a story to be told. The following piece was written by Juliet Marais Louw in 1982 and reveals the history behind one of Sandton's oldest shops. Unfortunately the original structure has been demolished but the memory of the famous landmark lives on.

In November 1982, Harry Oppenheimer presided over the opening of a landmark fountain in the heart of the Sandton CBD. The fountain, located on the corner of 5th Street and Rivonia Road in front of the Sandton Civic Centre, was donated to the town by Kay Barlow in memory of her husband Charles Sydney (Punch) Barlow.

 

In November 2018, the Legacy Living website announced what many South Africans had been hoping for... that the Leonardo in Sandton will be Africa's tallest building on completion (it probably won't hold the record for long with the Pinnacle under construction in Nairobi). Assuming the announcement is accurate, the building will reach 234m into the sky. This will be 11m higher than the 223m Carlton Centre completed in the mid 1970s.

 

In the article below, journalist Lucille Davie reveals the rich history of Lonehill in Sandton. She also uncovers some wonderful details about the places, spaces and people of Sandton before it became the financial capital of South Africa. The piece first appeared on the City of Joburg's website on 25 February 2003. Click here to view more of Davie's work.

She is the daughter of the City of Gold and she is gorgeous. Sandton is definitely coming of age with landmark buildings around every corner. If you love her during the day, you should see her at night! Property owners and their lighting experts have created quite a show when the sun goes down. Below are a few photos taken by The Heritage Portal team to encourage you to explore the city at night.

 

A short distance from the modern Fourways CBD lies a highly significant gem from another era... an old house that once belonged to the Van der Walt brothers who farmed watermelons in the area.

Earlier this year I wrote a piece highlighting a few amazing places to see the Joburg skyline (click here to view). Since then I have received several requests to do something similar for Sandton so here it is. If you know of any great places not mentioned, please add them in the comments section.

St Stithians School

In the late 1980s a magnificent statue of a rearing stallion was erected outside the Sandton Civic Centre near the corner of Rivonia and West (just up from where the Gautrain Station is today). It was surrounded by a fountain and became an instant landmark in the rapidly expanding Sandton CBD.

 

For several years the historic 1906 Driefontein Farmhouse (or more specifically the Wilhelmi House) in Parkmore/Riverclub has been waiting for a new use (click here for some history). The old Sandton Historical Association used to use the house for meetings and functions but this ceased when the organisation shut its doors in the 1990s. I am very happy to report that the historic landmark is set to serve the local community once again.

A common view ventured during small talk at meetings and social occasions I attend is that Sandton has no history. Many people describe the area as rich and soulless while others complain about 'poor architecture' and the explosion of sectional title complexes. In this article I will take readers on a dash around a few significant sites and hopefully persuade the naysayers that Sandton does indeed have a rich and layered history.

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.

It is hard to imagine that the small park adjacent to Redhill School and opposite the Morningside Shopping Centre in Sandton was once a major 'outspan' where weary travellers (and oxen of course) rested on the way to Johannesburg. The following article, first published in the 1984 Sandton Historical Association journal, brings the story alive.

An old 'outspan', at least 150 years old, has just recently become a new Sandton Park, and will be preserved forever as an open place. This is Outspan Park in Morningside.

For many years Bill Hedding was known as the ‘Father of Bryanston’. He played a central role in the development of the suburb and the recording of its history. He was the founder of the now defunct Sandton Heritage Association, a long term city councillor and at one point the Mayor of Sandton. In the late 1970s he gave a speech on the history of Bryanston. Below are a few edited excerpts to give the reader an idea of the origins and development of the suburb.

To the north of Johannesburg lies a hill of great historical, archaeological and geological importance. In the article below Lilith Wynne explores the archaeological aspects of the Lone Hill site. The article first appeared in the 1988 Journal of the Sandton Historical Association, two years after Professor Revil Mason made his 'discovery'.

The aerial view of the old Borrowdale Farmhouse and outbuildings is truly remarkable. Today the area is dotted with established trees and multi-million rand homes so it is hard to imagine the rural landscape of the past. In the article below Valerie Gordon-Bennett shares some of her memories of growing up on Borrowdale Farm before and during the early days of Sandton. The article first appeared in the 1994 annual magazine of the Sandton Historical Association.

 

Last month we published an article from the Restorica archives where the author spoke about the power of excursions to heritage sites to inspire the youth (click here to read). We are sure most readers can remember at least one phenomenal trip during their childhood that has left an impact to this day. Over the last few weeks we have been sent some wonderful stories and photographs of recent adventures.

In August 1988 an article appeared in The Star with the headline 'Sandton historians seeking facts about mystery man'. Researchers from the Sandton Historical Association (SHA) had found a neglected grave in the veld just off Sloane Street in Bryanston but knew nothing of ‘John Richard Davis, born 8th December 1876, Died at Craigieburn, 25th May 1948’. The case generated significant interest and caught the attention of Davis’ daughter Molly Steel and others who helped researchers to build a picture of Bryanston’s mystery man.

It is hard to believe that the land to the east of the Bryanston CBD was once home to a grand hunting estate. The following article, originally published in an old journal of the Sandton Historical Association, sheds some light on the fascinating story.

In the early 1990s the Sandton Historical Association, with expert guidance from Professional Land Surveyor Werner Kirchhoff hoped to erect a Beacon monument to mark the boundary line between two of Sandton's original farms. Although the initiative did not get past the planning stage, the vision for the project was documented in an excellent article written by Avril Reid and Kirchhoff. Below are a few extracts from the article (SHA's 1993 annual magazine) revealing some fascinating history about beacons and boundaries.

I have noticed that many people are trying to establish the location of the Lord Howe Race Track in Kelvin. It is possible that the borehole is still there so if one can find it the rest may fall into line (see sketch below). Another clue that could assist the heritage enthusiast is that the main straight was at the top of a hill and finished in a dip. I can recall these details as I spent quite a bit of time in the pits and in the grandstand as a child as my dad, Prosser Roberts, was a fearsome racer during the 1930s. He raced the Bugatti pictured above.

In a speech given to the Sandton Historical Association in the late 1970s, Councillor Bill Hedding mentioned a very special historical site in the area - a school that managed to survive the onslaught of apartheid legislation and was connected to some of the most influential people in South Africa at the time. It also appears that part of the school is one of the few, if not the only, memorial to US President John F Kennedy in Africa.

It is hard to imagine that there was once a Grand Prix Race Track in Kelvin, Sandton. The article below, compiled by Ted Steyn, uncovers some remarkable local racing history. The piece appeared in the 1992 annual magazine of the Sandton Historical Association.

A few years ago Mushroom Farm Park in Sandton Central was used by the Bombela Consortium to access the Gautrain Tunnel during construction. As soon as the work was completed the company rehabilitated the green space and today it is a phenomenal resource for the Sandton community as well as many local and international visitors. Many people have asked about the name and want to know if there was ever a mushroom farm in Sandton Central.

In 1979 Dorothy O'Kennedy, an old resident of Rivonia, commenced a tremendous journey of discovery to find Rivonia's First Shop. Her story was published in the annual journal of the Sandton Historical Association. We retraced her steps but were unable to confirm whether or not the old building is still there. If you have any information on the shop please contribute to the comments section at the bottom of the article. Rivonia has certainly changed since this piece was first published!

Over the last few decades the name Sandton has become synonymous with wealth, luxury and privilege. One could even argue that it has become a valuable and iconic brand. There may be debate about what the brand represents and what it should be used for but very few people have an issue with the name itself. It is therefore hard to imagine that in the late 1960s there was a huge outcry when Sandton was officially named.

 

Every day thousands of people pass Sandton's first monument without realising it is there. On a small piece of land tucked away near the top of South Road lie the graves of some of the original settlers in the area and the monument erected in their honour. The Esterhuysen family owned the farm Zandfontein in the middle of the 19th century. It is on a portion of this farm that the modern skyscrapers of Sandton have emerged. Below are a few passages from various old Sandton Historical Association journals providing some background on the heritage site.

[Originally published in July 2015] Tens of thousands of people cross the William Nicol Bridge over the Braamfontein Spruit as they drive to the Sandton CBD every week without realising that they are within metres of a hugely significant historical site. In 1853, more than three decades before the discovery of the largest gold field on earth, a prospector by the name of Pieter Jacobus Marais panned for and found gold in the Spruit a short distance from where the bridge now stands. This was one of the earliest discoveries of gold on the Witwatersrand!

Most people are familar with Douglasdale (the suburb and the famous milk brand of course) but who was the Douglas in Douglasdale? Below are a few excerpts from the 1980 journal of the Sandton Historical Association answering this question.

Douglasdale is situated in the north of the municipality of Sandton, west of Bryanston and just south of Fourways, with the western boundary following the Klein Jukskei river.

In 2011 bold plans for the demolition of the Village Walk Shopping Centre and the redevelopment of the valuable site were announced (Village Walk is located in the heart of Sandton opposite the Johannesburg Stock Exchange). Many commentators were excited yet cautious when renders for a massive three billion rand mixed use development (shops, offices, hotels and gym) were released. Tenants were given notice and demolition was expected to take place in mid 2012.

Sutton Place is a Tudor style complex located in the heart of Sandton Central, next door to Chadrien Place. In the coming years the potential of this land will be harnessed in a large mixed use development. This means that very soon photographs and memories are all we will have left of Sutton Place. Take a trip with us inside this soon to be forgotten property. [Originally published in March 2014]

 

The demolition of Chadrien Place in Sandton Central (opposite the Gautrain Station) is firmly underway. The landmark Tudor style 'stockbroker' townhouses are making way for a new skyscraper. We are not sure how tall this will be but talk a few years back was of a 30 to 40 storey building. In order to preserve the memory of Chadrien Place we spent a few hours on site over the weekend taking hundreds of photographs and a few videos. Enjoy the selection below. [Originally published in March 2014]

 

Malcolm Wilson returns to tell the fascinating story of an historic road just a few kilometres from the Sandton CBD. He unpacks the layers and personalities associated with Panners Lane and reveals the big changes that have happened in the area over the last few decades. [Originally published in 2014)

Max Weber was born in 1874 in Switzerland and trained as a manufacturer of scientific instruments. In his early 20s, says researcher Avril Reid, he decided to go to America but on the dockside of Marseilles harbour, he impulsively changed his mind and jumped aboard a ship for Cape Town.

[Originally published in 2014] This wonderful article, written by Malcolm Wilson, describes the journeys of early hunters, settlers and prospectors as well as the development of Driefontein Farm on land which is now just a few kilometres from 'Africa's richest square mile'.

Early Settlers and Prospectors

Norscot Manor lies to the north of Sandton, west of the William Nicol Drive and just north of the N1 Motorway. The home of the Eriksen family until 1982, Norscot now belongs to Sandton who have developed it as a community centre to serve their northern suburbs, and have already made one wing into a Public Library. Norscot was built in 1936 on a scale few could afford today and was ideally suited to lavish entertaining as well as being the quiet secluded home the Eriksen's wanted.

Below are a few edited excerpts from an article on the early history of Tara compiled by Avril Read from the Sandton Historical Association. They appeared in the Association's 1987 journal.

During rush hour every day tens of thousands of people experience the slow and maddening commute along William Nicol Drive in northern Johannesburg. The road connects Bryanston, Fourways and many suburbs beyond to Sandton and Hyde Park (and ultimately Rosebank and the Joburg CBD via Jan Smuts Avenue). Given its landmark status today it is hard to imagine that just over sixty years ago no road existed. The following brief excerpt from a speech by Bill Hedding traces the origins of the road that Joburgers love to hate.

We are very grateful to Trish and Murray Myhill for sending us "The Mill Hill Story". The article was compiled about fifteen years ago by the late Jilly Hayes, former mayoress of Sandton, and explores the rural roots and development of this upmarket Johannesburg suburb. Mill Hill is located to the west of Bryanston and to the north of Randburg.

Just a few hundred metres from the Sandton Gautrain Station is a little piece of history... the 'Little Church in the Pines', one of Sandton's oldest buildings. Below are a few passages outlining the Church's history taken from the 1992 Sandton Historical Association magazine. The author? None other than the legendary Juliet Marais Louw...

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