I had the privilege of attending a memorial gathering for Gawie Fagan at his world-famous house DIE ES, designed by Gawie and built by the family. When the Drakenstein Heritage Foundation visited their house last year we were treated to a humorous and eloquent account of the circumstances and details of the building of Die Es by his daughter Helena. There Tom Robertson, a junior architect in Gawie’s practice in the 70’s, paid moving tribute to this great Architect on our behalf.
Gawie Fagan (Freunde von Freunden)
At the memorial ceremony the merits of the house and other buildings designed by Gawie were highlighted by the various speakers. Scant mention was made of Gawie’s fantastic contribution to conservation both as an architect and as a heritage and nature conservationist.
Gawie’s role in the preservation of the historical Cape Town Waterfront was mentioned as well as his role in the preservation of the Sandy Bay nature area. These contributions were before my time so I can add little to them other than to state that as time rolls on history has proved his foresight while the role that he played in making the peninsula the sought after place that it is has not been publicly acknowledged.
A scene from the Waterfront (The Heritage Portal)
John Rennie spoke of the Tuynhuys, the old Governor’s residence and now the office of the State President and how they discovered and reinstated the details covered up by Charles Somerset when he redesigned the building under British rule in the early 19th Century.
Tuynhuys (The Heritage Portal)
Gawie’s role in heritage was however much wider and more diverse than just in Cape Town. He was a driving force in the Cape Town branch of the Simon van der Stel Foundation’s effort to decentralise the National foundation’s control down to local level and secure what was left of the finances into a fund for future generations.
Gawie addressed a number of annual symposiums and national general meetings. He and Gwen gave unselfishly of their time and effort in promoting heritage conservation in general to numerous local organisations around the country.
Gawie’s restoration of Church Street in Tulbagh is well recorded in the book produced by Gwen Fagan. This street is a tribute to the foresight and effort of the Fagans.
Church Street, Tulbagh (Fagan Archive)
I met Gawie in 1977 when he, amongst others, was deeply involved in the preservation efforts in Daljosaphat outside Paarl. An effort that was rewarded by the declaration and restoration of the separate farms Roggeland, Goede Rust and Non Pareille for the then National Monuments Commission. Gawie was the architect for Roggeland and its werf where I was also involved. There he instigated and succeeded in the impossible task of jacking back and retaining the original gable. Gwen’s contribution to the landscape there was also considerable.
Gawie played a large but unrecognised role in the preservation of Paarl’s Main Street with his unflagging encouragement of the local organisation, active advice as well as the unforgettable confrontation with the Paarl Town council in 1985 at 191 Main Street which was the point of no return and the death knell for their planned 4 lane highway through the middle of the town.
Gawie and Gwen’s contribution to Mossel Bay with the restoration of the cottages on the beach, the old Graan Schuur and the design and execution of the Dias Museum - another special building - are further evidence of their wide reach into the preservation of our heritage and world heritage events. Gawie’s trip in the Caravel and his invitation to me to come out to meet the Caravel and accompany them into Simonstown harbour before the final event in Mossel Bay was just one of the notable events in my association with him.
Gawie was responsible for my involvement in conservation starting with the restoration of our home at 94 Mill Street as well as 64 and 62 Mill Street and the eventual preservation of the Old Mill Road which served as Paarl’s Main road for almost 200 years and is one of the few - if not the only - 17th Century roadway still virtually intact.
His influence and restoration work in Swellendam includes The Old House and the Barry Warehouses, the VOC secretary’s house, Morgenson, the farm house of the Landdrost Faure “Rotterdam” as well as the conservation centre for the museum and the old Victorian house Mayville.
It was at Mayville and at Boschendal - another one of Gawie’s famous restorations and re-purposing of old farm outbuildings - where Gwen established the heritage rose gardens.
Boschendal (The Heritage Portal)
Their innovation and boundless energy led to the publication of the now world famous Rose book with the high quality photographs, another example of Gawie’s great talent and pursuit of perfection.
Gawie was responsible for restoration at Langfontein in the Koue Bokkerveldt, the old residence and outbuilding at Plettenberg Bay as well as the Tweetoring Kerk in Bloemfontein. All sites where the travelling demanded exceptional dedication.
The Constantia Valley also benefited immensely from Gawie’s foresight and appreciation of the whole picture. Including the restoration and preservation of the house and werf at Buitenverwagting and the initial restoration of Klein Constantia where his understanding of the bigger picture saved the werf and set new standards in the design and position of wine cellars.
Gawie's contribution in Stellenbosch includes Idas Valley and the early dwelling Schreuderhuis for the museum.
Schreuderhuis (The Heritage Portal)
Gawie's meticulous work at Grosvenor house in Stellenbosch where under his guidance the old brak roof was reinstated with concrete and waterproofing. Later the stoep was excavated to uncover the old river stone finish which was reinstated to cure the damp problems. These small and many other small contracts e.g. the wall cupboards at Idas which have made a major impact on the conservation and preservation of our heritage come at a great sacrifice of time and effort due to the heavy supervision required.
Both Gawie and Gwen in their personal capacity were awarded the Simon V.D. Stel gold medal.
I can go on and on listing the achievements of Gawie and Gwen and there is no doubt much more to know and appreciate about this great pair who I had the privilege to know, work with and whom l was fortunate to call good friends.