James Ball

During Heritage Month 2019 I gave a talk to a preservation group on the story of The Heritage Portal so far. Part of the presention involved unpacking some stats behind the platform. I always keep an eye on what stories are doing well week to week but I'd never done an overall look at the numbers. It was a lot of fun and I emerged from the research feeling deeply proud and humbled by the impact the Portal has had.

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.

 

Johannesburg has dozens of remarkable staircases inside its houses, hotels, offices, churches, fire stations and apartment buildings. Some are well known while others are more obscure. Below are ten of my favourite. Enjoy! Feel free to send through pics of your favourites.

Stewarts and Lloyds Building / Marshdale House

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.

 

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 1889, just three years after the founding of Johannesburg, the finishing touches were being put on a building that would become one of the city's landmarks for seven decades. It rose almost 30m into the sky and was the tallest building in town until the Markham's Building claimed the title in 1897. Considering it dominated the skyline, it is no surprise that it gained the nickname the 'Eiffel Tower of the Rand'.

A few weeks ago I noticed a post in the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation's facebook group highlighting the neglect of 12 Park Lane - Parktown's oldest surviving house (built circa 1895). The comments by concerned members of the community resonated with me as I have watched the historic property deteriorate over the past few years. The garden has been left to grow wild, windows are broken, cracks in the walls continue to spread and a portion of the balcony appears to have collapsed.

Important editor's note: The initiatives mentioned in this article are only proposals. A thorough consultation phase with a spectrum of stakeholders still needs to take place before any plans are approved. The article was unpublished on 13 December 2017 following a request from the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership (JICP). On 24 December 2017 it was republished after the release of a similar article on BusinessTech.

Over the years I have photographed hundreds of plaques in South Africa and beyond. Most are easy to find as they are well documented and placed within easy view. Some, on the other hand, are a bit more tricky. Below is my list of five sneaky blue plaques...

1) Charles and Isabelle Lipp

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.

 

Most Joburg citizens have some direct experience of the scourge of illegal dumping. Across the city, vacant pieces of land, once beautiful parks and even heritage sites are used by dumpers. Catching the culprits is difficult, cleaning up the mess is expensive and the negative effects on health, the environment and heritage preservation are massive.

This Heritage Month, the newly established Gauteng Heritage Action Group (GHAG) launched its 'Heritage Horror Stories' campaign. Sites that have been neglected for years have received 'black plaques' (the opposite of the prestigious blue plaque) with the aim of shaming owners into taking action. Many of these owners have made big promises over the years but have failed to deliver. 

 

For many years, the heritage community in Johannesburg has been searching for a way to let property owners know up front whether they need to follow heritage processes before carrying out work. This Heritage Month, I am happy to announce that such a tool has arrived with the launch of The Heritage Register (click here to view).

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 news that the Ornico Group has moved its headquarters from a prime Sandton address to the Joburg CBD is making waves in heritage and property circles. Over the past year, the company has been refurbishing the historic Natal Bank Building and in recent weeks over 100 employees have moved in. This is a major psychological boost for the ongoing revival of the historic heart of Johannesburg.

 

In 2001, the Journal of Heritage Studies published a fascinating article by Joan Henderson titled Conserving Colonial Heritage: Raffles Hotel in Singapore. In a section of the article that looks at the history of heritage conservation in Singapore, Henderson highlights four strategies that post-colonial societies can adopt when dealing with buildings inherited from the colonial era: renaming, neglecting, removing and using.

A few years ago, one of the oldest houses in Norwood faced a bleak future. The owners had spent little to nothing on maintenance over the years, rubbish was piling up and services had been disconnected. Developers began circling hoping to acquire the property for a bargain price. Illegal demolition appeared to be the most likely outcome at this stage.

The Joburg skyline (or at least hints of it) can be viewed from hundreds of places around the city. There are some spots that provide such an exceptional view and experience that they must be shared. City enthusiasts will be aware of these and many more not mentioned. Please add your favourite spots in the comments section below.

The Hill above the Dutch Reformed Church, Cottesloe

While browsing through the book Seventy Golden Years (published by the Johannesburg City Council in 1956 to commemorate the city's 70th birthday), I came across a wonderful advert for Stewarts and Lloyds of South Africa. The company proudly announced that the hitching posts it supplied to the fashionable Athenaeum Club in the early 1900s were still in place over fifty years later. This was despite the Athenaeum being demolished and the reality that horses were no longer the major means of transport.

 

Charles Thrupp arrived in South Africa from the United Kingdom in 1882 and made his way to King Williams Town to take up a job with a local wholesaler. As the gold fields of the Rand began to boom, the firm called on Thrupp to open and manage a store in Johannesburg. After a few years of solid trade, the branch hit hard times and had to close its doors in 1892. For most employees this would have meant looking for another job but Thrupp saw Johannesburg's potential and acquired the grocery side of the ailing business.

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.

Over the last few months, Mayor Herman Mashaba has been communicating his vision for accelerating the rejuvenation of Johannesburg's inner city. He has met with business people and property developers and challenged them to turn the CBD into a construction site. He has committed to tackle corruption and improve the enforcement of the city's by-laws. He has said all the right things about harnessing heritage sites and reusing old buildings. As a result inner city enthusiasts (and I'm sure many residents and workers as well) are feeling a new wave of optimism.

In June 1954, a new building was completed at 80 Albert Street to the east of the Johannesburg CBD (just south of the Barclays / ABSA precinct today). It was designed as the head office of Johannesburg’s Non-European Affairs Department (JNEAD) and became the nerve centre for controlling the lives of black people in Johannesburg for over three decades. Despite having great cultural significance, the building’s controversial and complex history remains relatively unknown outside heritage circles.

 

For many, Parkhurst is synonymous with boutique fashion and fine dining but it is less well known for its struggle heritage. Earlier this week I visited a house on 12th Street which was used as a large ANC weapons cache in the late 1980s. The cache formed part of a then top secret ANC operation code-named Vula which ran from 1988 to 1990 and aimed to establish a well-supplied underground network of top personnel that could revive the armed struggle.

[Originally published in June 2015]. By the end of the first quarter of 2016 work on the landmark Stuttafords Building on the corner of Rissik and Pritchard Streets in central Johannesburg should be complete. The building is being transformed from abandoned retail space into upmarket residential units (approximately 120). We are ecstatic that this project is underway after a series of false dawns in the last few years.

Pritchard Street is one of Johannesburg’s iconic streets. For many decades, the most prestigious shops in the city craved a Pritchard Street address and shoppers came from all over South Africa to marvel at the latest goods and fashions from around the world. By the 1970s, the rise of suburban malls saw a major shift in shopping patterns with upmarket customers abandoning the historic retail district. This shift in buying behaviour led to the closure of landmark department stores such as John Orrs and Stuttafords.

For many years, members of the heritage community have been talking about establishing guidelines for the blue plaque world. For a variety of reasons none have yet been set but renewed efforts appear to be emerging in Johannesburg. To aid the discussion we thought it would be helpful to publish the results of a survey we conducted during February and March 2014. 

In the middle of August 2016 employees from South 32 began the move from the landmark 6 Hollard Street in downtown Johannesburg to offices in the Worley Parsons Building in Melrose Arch. The move marks the end of a long and historic association that the firm (via its predecessors) has had with the Johannesburg CBD.

 

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.

A while back we spent a few hours paging through the 1904 Minutes of the Johannesburg Town Council (still a town at that stage). It was a remarkable experience travelling back in time and imagining what life was like for people from all walks of life when Joburg was still a teenager. Below is a short selection of some ordinary and extraordinary events from 1904.

A Smallpox Scare

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.

The 50th floor of the Carlton Centre was once known as the Carlton Panorama. It opened in the early 1970s as a whites-only facility in a vastly different context to the one in which it was planned. Tough economic times replaced the boom of the 1950s and 1960s and the apartheid regime was coming under increasing pressure - internally and externally - to implement reforms.

The following article, adapted from James Ball's 2012 masters dissertation, looks at the practical compromise made by the apartheid government and the Johannesburg City Council not to 'relocate' black communities living in Pimville in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is a bit heavy in places but a fascinating read nonetheless.

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.

About five years ago I stumbled over weeds and litter to get a glimpse of the crumbling Edwardian Lavatory in Newtown. I wondered how many more times I would be able to visit the heritage gem before the forces of neglect consumed her. When Atterbury announced its plans for the massive Newtown Junction development I prayed that this would mean a second life for the historic structure. Thankfully my prayers were answered and the developers along with their heritage consultants kept the building safe and secure during three years of construction.

[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!

[Originally published in September 2015] Last week Jacques Stoltz reported that the massive Gauteng Provincial Government Precinct (Kopanong Precinct) may finally be moving ahead. The project involves the 'rehabilitation, development and management' of twenty-one buildings in the historic heart of Johannesburg at a projected cost of R5 billion. This is certainly exciting news but what is more exciting for us is that this is just one (by far the biggest of course) of many projects transforming the CBD.

This is an article that we have been wanting to write for years. We have always been amazed how the six storey Markhams building was once the tallest building in the city and thought it would be fascinating to trace the record breakers over the decades. The list is definitely a work in progress and we will need your help to generate a complete picture. Feel free to add your comments below the article. [Originally published in 2014]

On 19 October 1986, a Tupolov Tu-134 plane travelling from Zambia to Mozambique crashed 65km from Maputo on the South African side of the border near the town of Mbuzini. The plane was carrying Samora Machel, the President of Mozambique, as well as high ranking Mozambiquan government officials and was manned by a Soviet air crew. Of the 44 passengers, 34 including the President died in the crash.

The authors of NZASM 100, the definitive study of the railway architecture of the Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij (NZASM), describe the tunnel at Waterval Boven as ‘probably the best-known and most famous of all NZASM structures’. We visited this Provincial Heritage Site recently and it is certainly a sight to behold. Add the overall natural beauty of the area and the view of the stunning Elands Waterfall and it is not surprising that the site is a major tourist attraction.

In the mid to late 1950s the United Party controlled Johannesburg City Council (JCC) and the Nationalist Government were thrown into crisis when a white man was murdered outside the Mai-Mai Beerhall to the east of the City. Patrick Lewis, the Chariman of the Council’s Non-European Affairs Committee, provided the following description of the incident:

The Colosseum was an iconic Art Deco Building designed by the architect Percy Rogers Cook and developed by the entertainment mogul I.W. Schlesinger. It occupied an entire city block on Commissioner Street and formed part of the ‘Great White Way’ along with His Majesty’s, Shakespeare House, the CNA Building and others. The theatre could seat over 2 500 people and its ceiling gave the illusion of a star filled night sky above walls built to resemble fairy castles. Over the decades the theatre hosted hundreds of famous productions, actors and musicians.

In 2014 we experienced the majestic spaces of an abandoned (but secured) apartment building in Yeoville. San Remo was designed by the well-known architect Harry Le Roith and completed in 1937. As you will see from the photographs below the staircase is mindblowing and the flagship apartments ooze class. From the roof you can see some illustrious neighbours including Helvetia Court and the famous Yeoville Water Tower. Forget the signs of neglect for a few minutes and enjoy a phenomenal journey through San Remo. [Originally published in 2014]

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]

 

While a number of dates could compete for the honour, the one generally accepted as the day to celebrate Johannesburg's birthday is the 4th October. This was the date set out in President Kruger's famous Proclamation of the 8th September 1886 (repeated on the 15th September) which reads as follows (translated with our emphasis addded):

Proclamation by His Honour the State President

[Originally published in April 2015] At a time when many memorials have been neglected and dozens of statues have been vandalised it is wonderful to report that the landmark South African / Anglo Boer War Memorial in Saxonwold is being restored. Scaffolding is in place and a competent contractor has been appointed.

In 2009 local businessman Gerrit van der Stelt stumbled across a small demolition notice attached to a boundary wall of the highly significant Tait House in Benoni. What followed was a desperate struggle by the community to preserve the historic home. The Heritage Portal is happy to report that not only is the house still standing but it could also become a powerful symbol of the ability of old and new to coexist and thrive.

[Originally published 17 June 2014] Over the past year a number of community members have brought the derelict state of the Royal Natal National Park Hotel to our attention. It appears as though there is a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel with AMAFA officials visiting the site in 2013 and requesting a heritage survey to be done by a qualified heritage practitioner.

[Originally published 31 August 2015] On Saturday morning we visited the award winning Drostdy Hotel in Graaff Reinet. We had been hoping to see the recently refurbished landmark for some time and a spontaneous stopover on the way back to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth presented the perfect opportunity. 

 

[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.

[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.

[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.’

[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).

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.

 

By now most Joburgers will be aware that on 30 September 2015 the historic Rand Club shut its doors. Whether this move is temporary or permanent is a matter of debate but there is one man who believes emphatically that the best days of the Club are ahead. That man is Wilson Mphaga, the larger than life personality who has welcomed members and guests to the Rand Club for the past decade and a half. Earlier this week we were lucky enough to sit down and chat with the man that many have come to know as the ‘Face of the Club’.

 

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