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Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - 21:39

Ladies and gentlemen. What a marvellous, almost miraculous Day this is for friends, neighbours and all the conservationists who stood with us holding protest banners 10 years ago. We were devastated when the buildings were demolished and for nearly three years there was a complete impasse. The authorities would not take any action, stop orders were in place and we in the heritage lobby could not see a way forward.


Protesting the demolition of the Rand Steam Laundries (Johannesburg Heritage Foundation)

Then I got a phone call from a town planner. He cut the Gordian knot. His suggestion was that civil society should take the lead and reach an agreement with the wicked developer on the things we wanted to happen on the site. So we cast off our rage and anger and settled down to working as a team to create a Town Planning Amendment Scheme which satisfied both parties. I want to thank Steve Jaspan who is the town planner who found the way forward. With the help of the City of Johannesburg and here I must mention Liz Theron of the Planning Department, the incredibly detailed Town Planning Amendment Scheme was finally passed.

The next stage was making the paper dream become a reality. For a while it looked pretty hopeless until along came Hermann Stassen of Moolmans and Johan. They actually WANTED to resurrect the old buildings and that has made all the difference. They wanted a shopping centre which meant they wanted people to come on site and enjoy the new- old buildings. They wanted people to soak up the history and find reminders on old bricks all over the property. They wanted people to sit under the pepper tree which was planted originally near the stables for the mules which collected and delivered the laundry. If you sit there you’ll see the great tank which they found intact when construction was well under way. They wanted to remind everyone of the Zulu Washermen who collected the dirty washing in the mining town and brought it down to the stream to be washed and dried on the rocks. They have saved some of the rock which you can see on the concrete banks of the Spruit and the bottom of the site. They wanted people to remember that long ago a stream had run through this property dividing the two laundries. Palace laundry further north and Rand Steam on the higher ground.


Early construction days (The Heritage Portal)


When the ventilators went up on the roof of what is now Pick and Pay, Hermann phoned me and sent photographs. William Gaul and I rushed down to witness the magic moment. We waived frantically to the workers as they levered the huge vents into place. I am sure the workers had no idea why we were so excited, but the vents were the most significant element of the laundries. Rather like the spire on Notre Dame.

Yes, this is in reality a rather humble industrial heritage. The old dyeing shed, the workers cottages and large laundry sheds which grew as Rand Steam Laundries became so highly regarded that the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town sent its laundry up by train every week to be collected by the mule carts and brought to this site. Things changed as washing machines were found in most homes and fabrics improved so you could wash and wear. No starching or goffering of shirt cuffs were needed. The old laundry buildings were used by a variety of craftsmen mending antique furniture, or creating special wrought iron items. It was an exciting place to visit though I doubt any safety regulations were observed.

But the property has a new lease on life and it will certainly help Richmond to revive.


A new lease on life (Eric Itzkin)


Photograph showing construction almost complete (via the JICP)

A friend said to me last week. I thought Joburg’s heritage was doomed until I saw Rand Steam. It certainly gives one hope.

There are lessons to be taken away from here. Firstly, there is the warning to developers Pas Op. We are still around to uphold the National Heritage Resources Act. Secondly to the people of Johannesburg. Don’t lose heart. Hold on to the heritage you cherish.

And finally to everyone here. The greatest thanks we can give to the Rand Steam developers is to SHOP SHOP SHOP and stop only to eat in one of these restaurants. This is our special and delightful shopping centre, So let us all enjoy it. Can we Toast Rand Steam Long may it flourish.


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