Application is made for the total demolition of a double storey dwelling, known as Chequers located at 146 Kloof Road Bantry Bay (Erven 117RE and 619). This dwelling was designed for the land owner at that time, Samuel Ramsay who bought the land in 1907. The house was designed that same year by John Lyon (plan approved 892/1907). The original plans show a large, imposing freestanding double storey Edwardian villa with Arts & Crafts details.
The Simon van der Stel Foundation strongly opposes the application in terms of Section 34(1) which states: “No person my alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority.”
The Foundation opposes this application for total demolition of this dwelling due to the following reasons:
Critically limited heritage resources remain
It is the opinion of the Simon van der Stel Foundation that the wider context of the Atlantic Seaboard must be taken into account when evaluating applications of this nature (the heritage statement report has a very limited approach as it only looks at the abutting properties and not at the wider neighbourhood). It is evident that the Atlantic Seaboard had suffered a tremendous loss of heritage buildings. In fact, the number of historical buildings is still decreasing. Consequently, the very few historic buildings that remain must be viewed against this background.
This 1907 dwelling still retains its historic exterior, the original floor plan is almost intact, lots of its Arts & Crafts detailing is still present and the original plans (that provide information about the architect, the owner and the original appearance) have been preserved. All of this, in our mind, constitutes a very conservation worthy survivor in the context of this neighbourhood.
With its half-timbered gables and very tall Arts & Crafts chimneys, together with mature trees, this dwelling is one of the few remaining historic free standing villas that developed along Kloof Rd. Due to its position on the corner of Ave Charmante and Kloof Rd, this house is very visible and is therefore regarded as a historic landmark on Kloof Rd. Section 5(7) of the Act states: “The identification, assessment and management of the heritage resources of South Africa must (a) take account of material or cultural heritage value and involve the least possible alteration or loss of it. (e) safeguard the options of present and future generations.”
The Foundation is of the opinion that this structure is of cultural significance for this community and must therefore be protected in terms of Act 25 of 1999.
The date of 1907 is an early date for this part of the Atlantic Seaboard and as such represents one of the oldest extant buildings in this part of the city, particularly along Kloof Rd. Since few buildings in this neighbourhood managed to survive so long, this dwelling has earned the stature of rarity. We should respect its longevity by protecting it. In a heritage poor country like South Africa a higher conservation value must be given to the very few remaining old buildings EVEN if they are not situated in a heritage management area. In this regard, Section 5(1)(a) of Act 25 of 1999 states as follows: “Heritage resources have lasting value in their own right and provide evidence of the origins of South African society and as they are valuable, finite, non-renewable and irreplaceable they must be carefully managed to ensure their survival.”
It is our opinion that the heritage statement report does not comply with Section 3(3) of the Act when grading this property. The heritage statement report does not give an indication how many of these free standing double storey Arts and Crafts dwellings still remain on the Atlantic Seaboard, it therefore fails to establish according to Section 3(3)(a) “Its importance in the community, or pattern of South Africa’s history” nor does the report deal with the issue of sub-section (b) “Its possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of South Africa’s natural or cultural heritage;” and 9(c) “Its potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of South Africa’s natural or cultural heritage.”
The Foundation is of the opinion that this historic building is a rare heritage resource in this neighbourhood and must therefore be retained.
Historic buildings have durability, they were built to last. They are aesthetically pleasing as they display skills and craftsmanship that are not easily matched nowadays. These qualities are becoming increasingly important as our decades grow hastier. Traditional materials like brick, stone, plaster, slate and wood show age attractively, whereas recent materials such as aluminium, plastic and exposed concrete age ugly. The chances that anything as good will ever be built again are slim, so let us cherish the few remaining old buildings we still got.
This old dwelling has provenance: the original building plans have been preserved, both the names of the owner and the architect is known. A list of previous owners is available – some research will reveal even more social history that will add to the provenance of this property. The plans also show details that were lost due to later alterations but these could be reinstated. All of the above are contributing factors to retaining this structure.
Responsible town planning
These old buildings embody history – we glimpse the world of previous generations through them. By preserving them we retain continuity of the physical environment. As this area has suffered tremendous heritage losses and only a few heritage buildings remain, these surviving heritage buildings are the only markers still contributing to a sense of place, a sense of historic development. The heritage statement report concludes that this “…is an isolated building within a context of no special heritage character. The building would not appear to warrant any form of formal protection in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act.” The Foundation does not agree with this statement – it is this generation’s duty to retain these survivors as they play a tremendously important role in giving our urban environments a layered and friendly look, preventing the latter from becoming sterile and uninspired. The town planners, heritage consultants and officials at Urban Conservation Agencies have a huge responsibility in this regard. Article 5(1)(b) of the Act states as follows: “every generation has a moral responsibility to act as trustee of the national heritage for succeeding generations and the State has an obligation to manage heritage resources in the interests of all South Africans.”
Faulty heritage management
In terms of heritage legislation, both the local and national spheres of government have the responsibility to properly manage our heritage. It is disappointing to note that the building plans permitting alterations to this 1907 dwelling are dated 1992. This happened in the same year when the Green Point & Sea Point Guidelines for conservation and development prepared for the City Planner’s Department by Todeschini & Japha, was published. Planning officials must have been aware of this report that gave 146 Kloof Road a B classification: “These buildings are significant because they are older than 50 years and have retained a significant proportion of their original historical detail and character, or else have acquired new elements of historic interest which are older than 50 years.”
The heritage statement report now reasons that due to “extensive replacement of fenestration in 1992” this 1907 dwelling is not conservation worthy. The Foundation strongly feels that the mistakes of the past cannot be used as reason to declare this historic building as not conservation worthy. The 1992 alterations are not seen as “extensive”. Most of the historic fabric is still intact and due to the availability of the original plans, the most important losses could be re-instated. Even if it is not brought back to its original appearance, we must realise that historic buildings have to adapt to modern living needs. These later additions and alterations (managed by heritage professionals) represent a new era in the history of the building. This 1907 house is an aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound building and can continue serving a purpose.
There is the fear of what will replace this historic building if it is not preserved. It is the opinion of the Simon van der Stel Foundation to rather save what is old and beautiful because we know what will replace it will probably not be better. In fact, many of the recent buildings being constructed in this neighbourhood are shoddy, over bulked, utilitarian cubes that display a global look, totally inappropriate to its locality. This results in dull, monotonous and sterile urban landscapes that are to be found all over the world in suburbia. Cape Town being a tourist destination situated in a breathtakingly beautiful peninsula can try harder to retain its unique layered history. Kevin Lynch said: “The present needs a past to grow.” We have to fight the invasive uniformity of modern buildings particularly if it erodes our heritage resources.
Isolated heritage resource
According to the heritage statement report: “The property is located in an area of Bantry Bay comprising a mix of intact old buildings, much altered old buildings and modern buildings. Few of the buildings in the context are conservation-worthy and the context as a whole does not warrant management as a heritage area. “
The Simon van der Stel Foundation agrees that almost the entire Atlantic Seaboard is characterised by a mix of old and new buildings. It is precisely this mix that should be retained. We do not agree with the statement that few of the buildings in the context are worth conserving (as pointed out previously the context cannot be limited to only the abutting properties). For the purposes of this argument, by using Kloof Rd as an example, and by only focussing on the remaining historic free standing villas, the photographs in the main attachment clearly indicate that there are several beautiful historic villas we feel are indeed conservation worthy.
Although most, if not all of these buildings have been altered and are by no means original examples of their respective styles, we strongly feel that these historic buildings represent an important heritage resource contributing significantly. Not within a heritage management area per se, but certainly as historic contributors within a mixed character area.
Both erven 117Re and 619 have a SR1 zoning. In fact the entire block bounded by Ave Charmante, Kloof Rd and Ravine Rd has a SR1 zoning. This zoning continues all the way towards Clifton.
This application does not deal with development proposals that include consolidations of erven, rezoning, etc. However, should the zoning be retained as SR1, this historic dwelling, being of sound construction should continue its life as a single residential dwelling.
Should a rezoning application be made, it would attract opposition not from a heritage point of view alone but numerous additional arguments relating to the single residential character, the granting of additional rights that will impact on privacy, views, traffic congestion, etc.
Total demolition of this historic dwelling will be detrimental to the protection of the architectural, historical and aesthetic heritage of the Kloof Road precinct and is therefore not supported. Such a decision will furthermore create a precedent putting all the other heritage buildings in danger as well. These key heritage structures must be celebrated and protected to ensure continuation of the historic fabric. The legacy of history must be retained.
Letter written by Ian Pretorius, Chairman of Simon van der Stel Foundation Cape Town -12 March 2018