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Friday, January 1, 2016 - 08:13

Towards the end of 1940 the new Johannesburg Branch of the Permanent Building Society was nearing completion. It appears as though the building achieved a number of firsts including being the first planned for air conditioning and the first with basement parking. Another interesting aspect is that the safe deposit boxes from Johannesburg's second Stock Exchange may still be in the basement! Read on for more details from the book Building for Permanence.

When war broke out, new premises for Johannesburg Branch were in course of erection at the corner of Simmonds and Commissioner Streets, a block away from the old Permanent Buildings on the corner of Harrison and Commissioner Streets but on the opposite side of the later street.


Early shot of Permanent Buildings (Victory House) - Building for Permanence


The staff could watch as the old Palladium building, Johannesburg’s first cinema, was demolished and excavations begun for the sub-basement and basement of the parking garage for the new building - an innovation in Johannesburg.

It proved impossible economically to remove the safe deposit boxes in the existing basement of the old Palladium Building. These had belonged not to Johannesburg’s first Stock Exchange but to the second one built on the site. They had withstood efforts in the Anglo-Boer War to open them and they are used to this day by the Society’s clients, their existence suggesting yet another service which the Branch could offer.

[We suspect they are still there today. Wouldn’t it be amazing for an exploration team to check it out!]

Johannesburg Branch, despite internal alterations to Permanent Buildings, had quite outgrown it and, as the Society still owned only half the building (an interesting curiosity in the days before Sectional Title) it was decided that it would be better to move - although the possibility of buying the other half was considered. The owners of the other half bought the Perm’s for what was considered a good price - £45 000. The new much larger site cost £165 000.

Occupation of the old building was to be given only when the Perm’s new one was completed, which was not until October 1940, after the declaration of war. It was also a condition of the sale that the name Permanent Buildings go with the branch to Simmonds Street. In a fit of patriotic fervour the new owner named the Harrison Street building Victory House in expectation of the outcome of the war.


Simmonds Street Branch, Johannesburg, as it looked when just completed in 1940 (Building for Permanence)


No furniture was to be moved from the old building - all the furniture was new. The building gleamed with green marble in the banking hall; there was an ample supply of lifts, all of which worked without trouble, unlike Johannesburg’s most ancient lift in the old building; there was plenty of modern toilets in marked contrast to those on the sanitary stairs-cum-fire-escape of Harrison Street; and there was air conditioning, then a Johannesburg ‘first’ for a new building.

The architects, Stucke Harrison, the firm founded by Stucke, the architect who had designed the Harrison Street building, had done the Perm proud. But apart from the usual inconveniences of the move something of the intimate atmosphere in the cramped space of Harrison Street had been lost - a place where you could not help knowing everybody else. It was an experience repeated when Head Office and other Branches moved, too.



Victory House from above (The Heritage Portal)


J.T. Vigne [Chairman of the Perm] was not impressed when he saw Simmonds Street for the first time. He thought the banking hall was far too large and suggested facetiously that dummies should be put in it ‘to make it look more full’. Today the Perm wishes it were larger.


The Banking Hall (Building for Permanence)


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