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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.
A prestigious blue plaque (The Heritage Portal)
The black plaques have been installed on the properties for passers-by to see. Owners may remove these physical markers but they won't be able to remove the property from the official black plaque list until the site is brought back to life (click here to view the growing list).
Below are the inscriptions for the properties that have been added this Heritage Month. Click on the heading for background and updates. The sites are all based in Johannesburg with the GHAG planning to expand the campaign to other towns and cities across Gauteng in the weeks and months ahead.
"Bought by Urban Ocean in 2005 who promised to restore it and its neighbours. This significant Art Deco heritage building was left without security leaving it to be vandalised. All steel windows and any other metal was removed.
DEMOLITION BY DECAY is an utterly unacceptable practice, completely anti-social yet the authorities do nothing.
Designed by John Waterson in 1933 each soaring vertical was topped with a flagpole."
Black Plaque on the CNA Building (Gauteng Heritage Action Group)
CNA Building (The Heritage Portal)
"Fire! Fire! rang out in the middle of a November night in 2009, but it was several hours before a fire engine arrived and the secret report on the tardiness of Johannesburg Emergency Services has never been made public. The City of Johannesburg owns this building and had left it empty and unguarded leading to the fire. The City has promised to restore it, but is seeking a private investor to share the costs and find a new use for it. For now money is forthcoming for consultants but not for restoration. So who is the beneficiary? Designed in 1895 by Sytes Weirda for the Z.A.R."
Rissik Street Post Office (The Heritage Portal)
"The Department of Public Works (DPW) or more truthfully NO WORKS owns this property. The building was decaying but usable until the DPW left it empty and unguarded. Fire broke out in 2002 and the Red Ants who arrived to move the people sheltering in it contributed to the destruction.
For 15 years it has remained open to the elements with promises of restoration along Marshall Street, but no action. The historic site included a Charge Office, an old hotel and the Police barracks dating back to 1913/14."
Marshall Street Barracks (The Heritage Portal)
Black Plaque on the Marshall Street Barracks (Gauteng Heritage Action Group)
"Collapsing in front of our eyes this prestigious old home of the first superintendent of the old Johannesburg Hospital belongs to the Gauteng Department of Health. A private sponsor offered to restore the building at no cost to the Gauteng Province, but on condition it would be used by an NGO involved in health care. This was refused because the Department insisted it had to be for their use. Since they have an appalling record when it comes to maintaining their buildings there was no point in investing millions of Rand, considerable skill and effort in restoring a building for an inappropriate use."
The Hospital Superintendent's House (The Heritage Portal)
Black Plaque outside the Hospital Superintendent's House (Gauteng Heritage Action Group)
"Left vacant for decades this building is wasting away, sacrificed to a vision of commercialisation of Constitution Hill. When the new Johannesburg Hospital was first built the Queen Vic was converted to flats and residents enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine just as nursing mothers had before them.
Designed by Gordon Leith in 1943 with gloriously rounded balconies this fine building should be pulsating with life providing much needed accommodation."
Queen Vic Maternity Hospital (Google Maps)
Black Plaque on the Queen Vic Maternity Hospital (Gauteng Heritage Action Group)
"This shattered beauty belongs to the Gauteng Provincial Administration who applied for a demolition permit and when that was refused started working on it without a permit, hacking out the brass window frames and damaging the polished granite surrounds. The DESTROYERS are the very people entrusted with protecting the heritage of Gauteng.
Designed by Gordon Leith in 1939, an architectural historian describes it as unsurpassed in the Johannesburg townscape."
Rand Water Board (The Heritage Portal)
Black Plaque on the Rand Water Board Building (Gauteng Heritage Action Group)
The GHAG will continue to name and shame owners that are guilty of demolition by neglect. The group hopes to mobilise public opinion to stop the 'horror show' and bring many Gauteng landmarks back to life.