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Saturday, September 3, 2022 - 08:24

On the 13 December 1982, the first of a series of ceramic plaques was unveiled by the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth. The project leader, Hans Huisman, explained that although many old buildings qualified for the National Monuments Council bronze plaques in terms of age, alterations and additions had detracted from some of the recipients’ original status. It was agreed that they be recognised in a unique way. Initially, the ceramic blue tiles were individually produced for these historical sites by potters, but consistency in appearance detracted from their impact. The project was revived in 2016 using circular, blue, fibreglass plaques with laser cut inscriptions.

Below is Part 1 of a series highlighting the blue plaques of Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth).

Sunnyside - 24 Bird Street, Central

The first ceramic plaque, produced by artist Vilia Offerman, was affixed to “Sunnyside” in Bird Street in 1982. This was sponsored by the Standard Bank, unveiled by the then regional manager, Mr Monty Surmon, and hosted by the owners of the Sunnyside Hotel. The original house was built in 1855 by a German settler, von Rhonn, on land granted to the British settler, W B Frames. In 1873 it was bought by the Standard Bank (a financial institution founded in Port Elizabeth) as a prestige home for its General Manager. In 1938 it was sold as a boarding house and after World War II it was converted into a hotel. In 2011 there was a plan to transform the building into a three-star establishment as part of the Radisson Blue stable. This never materialised and, much altered today, it serves as a short-term admission Psychiatric Hospital.


A much altered Sunnyside (Nurture Health)


"Cool Bawn Villa" (Nolands Law Firm) - 33 Bird Street, Central
This property is currently occupied by Nolands Law firm. Originally Lot 7 of the Hospital Lands, the house was built in 1880 for Michael Gleeson.


Blue Plaque (Jenny Bennie)


A recent photo of Coolbawn Villa (Jenny Bennie)


Sketch of Coolbawn Villa (Hills Covered with Cottages)


The Lemon Tree Restaurant - 22 1st Ave, Walmer

The plaque was handed over to tenants in December 2018 by Jenny Bennie and Margaret Harradine of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth. It is currently missing.

Ashleigh in Walmer was the property of William Henry Head in 1902. Robert Rees Perrot called it Hafod when he altered it in 1923. Dr Robert Nelson Perrott, his son, had his practice here with Dr Robert Grieve. He called the house Komani. Today it houses “The Lemon Tree Restaurant”.


Blue Plaque (Jenny Bennie)


Handing over the plaque (Jenny Bennie)


An old photo of the home (Hills Covered with Cottages)


GFI Art Gallery - 30 Park Drive, Central

Hendrik Siemerink, an architect born in Holland, established the firm of Siemerink, Brinkman and van Rooyen in Port Elizabeth. In August 1920 he bought a plot in Park Drive. His daughter, Getruida, (later Brinkman) was the first woman in South Africa to obtain a Bachelor of Architecture Degree (Wits). She designed the Art Deco house, “Ridgewood”” at 30 Park Drive in 1936 for H.F.A Stockelbach, manager of the Ford Motor Company. It later belonged to Abe Karstaedt, Mayor of Port Elizabeth, and was subsequently bought in the mid-1990s by Gutsche Family Investments, becoming the Ron Belling Art Gallery (now re-named the GFI Art Gallery). Arguably the finest house in the International Style in the city, it has been saved and maintained, but with later extensions.


Blue Plaque (Jenny Bennie)


Arguably the finest house in the International Style in the city (Jenny Bennie)


Tramways Building - 16 Lower Valley Road

The Port Elizabeth Electric Tramway Company building was designed by G W Smith and comprised a tramcar house and power station. The first tram left from here in 1897. The early photograph above shows the building on the Baakens River in 1907 with the chimney of the powerhouse (1897). This was later demolished. Restored in 2015 by the Mandela Bay Development Agency, it is now an exhibitions and events venue.


Blue Plaque (Jenny Bennie)


Old photo of the Tramways Building (Port Elizabeth)


A more recent photo of the Tramways Building (Jenny Bennie)


More blue plaques to follow in Part 2.

Jenny Bennie is a museum historian and ex-Chairman of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth


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