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The Simon van der Stel Foundation recently expressed concern that Heritage Western Cape (HWC), the local successor to the National Monuments Council, is allowing the history of old Bantry Bay to be destroyed by permitting the demolition of structures of heritage importance. This concern was raised when permission was granted by the HWC to demolish four early 20th century buildings situated on Saunders and Bantry Roads. The Foundation’s chairperson Ian Pretorius said that these early 20th century buildings represented the very early architectural and urban-making fabric of old Bantry Bay. He added that if these tangible reminders of the neighbourhood’s past were to be wiped out, the result would be a sterile monotonous suburb that looked like any other modern one in the world.
Almost simultaneously, the Sea Point Fresnaye Bantry Bay Ratepayers’ and Residents Association (SFB) objected to a proposal to convert an apartment block on 2 Main Street into a hotel, on land currently zoned for general residential, and not for business purposes.
Developers clearly cannot wait to develop as much as they can of Cape Town’s Platinum Mile.
In the light of the above we propose to take you on a meander along the Sea Point Promenade from just below Bantry Bay to the Green Point Lighthouse, a mere three kilometers distant. Here you will encounter interesting contemporary and historical architecture, unusual street art, an important geological rock formation and of course spectacular vistas of the Atlantic seaboard, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. Hopefully this will convince you of the need to develop this area sensitively.
The Sea Point Promenade is the most popular of the many attractive urban walks the Cape Peninsula offers. I, as an upcountry visitor, always find it amazing to see the multitude of families and people strolling, skateboarding, and cycling about during the late afternoons and early evenings, especially over weekends.
Sea Point got its name in 1767 when one of the commanders serving under Captain Cook, Sam Wallis, encamped his men here to avoid a smallpox epidemic prevalent in Cape Town at that time.
The completion of the Alfred Dock in 1870, the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley and somewhat later the developments of the Rand Goldfields, greatly stimulated the development of Cape Town. Land near the harbour became sought after and in 1892 the Sea Point Metropolitan and Urban Railway line was opened, connecting Cape Town to Sea Point. The railway line ran between Beach Road and the seashore from Three Anchor Bay to its terminating station where the Marine Research Aquarium is now situated. It facilitated the movement of residents to and from both Green Point and Sea Point and these two became South Africa’s first commuter suburbs.
The construction of the first stretch of modern seawall between Sea Point and Mouille Point was undertaken in the early 1920’s by the Cape Town Municipality at Rocklands cove. The rocky and gently inclined shoreline was prone to the accumulation of massive amounts of seaweed, that upon decomposition became a nuisance factor to the growing residential community. By building a wall between the low and high water marks this situation was resolved in that the average high tide served to carry this accumulation away. Meanwhile, gradual infill behind the wall would fill in often stagnant rock pools and reclaim this area for what would eventually become the Promenade. Following the positive outcome of this initial development the decision was taken by the Council in 1924 to extend the wall the full length from the Sea Point Pavilion to Granger Bay at Mouille Point. Work commenced on the section from Rocklands to Granger Bay in 1926 and progressed gradually over the next ten years.
Section of the retaining sea wall at Queens Beach (SJ de Klerk)
In January 2019, the City Council announced the completion of the second phase of the Sea Point Promenade upgrade. Due to the deterioration of the sea wall over time, the City commenced with a major sea wall and promenade rehabilitation project in 2012. The purpose was to strengthen and upgrade the sea wall to extend its longevity as well as to protect this popular public space.
The first phase of the refurbishment of the sea wall and the promenade between Three Anchor Bay and the Mouille Point lighthouse was completed in 2015.
The work required excavating down behind the sea wall and strengthening the wall with reinforced concrete from behind, as well as recladding the front face of the wall with precast concrete panels. New coping panels and railings were then installed, and finally the promenade area behind was repaved.
A feature on the Promenade is the new seating walls, that provide the public with a place to rest and enjoy the view, while preserving the original stone facing recovered from the wall as well as preventing the wash of sea water from flooding the area behind the seating walls.
It is estimated these renovations will protect the promenade for the next fifty years.
Phase 2 completion of the Promenade sea wall and pathways upgrade (www.iol.co.za)
Near Saunders Rock Beach we encounter our first street art – a sculpture of a life-sized sofa with the lady obligingly pretending to lean on the stone cushion.
Life sized Sofa off Queen’s Beach (SJ de Klerk)
Below the parking lot at Queens Beach we observe the Sea Point contact, an example of a complex interaction between an intrusive granite and a sedimentary rock.
About 450 million years ago, a granite of the Cape Granite Suite (light in colour) intruded Malmesbury sediments (dark in colour). The contact zone extends over a width of about 150 meters. The Sea Point contact was first described in 1818 by the British naturalist Clark Abel and visited by Charles Darwin in 1856 on his trip around the world in the ‘Beagle’. Declared a national monument in 1953, a recent plaque by the Western Cape Branch of the Geological Society provides more details of the site.
The Sea Point contact near Queen’s Beach (SJ de Klerk)
At 313 Beach Road we stop to admire how well the shell of the old Art Deco Albenor apartment block and the adjoining modern building have been integrated to create the popular Peninsula All-Suite Hotel complex in 1990. I have not yet been able to determine who designed the Albenor building, but perhaps a reader can enlighten us.
The Art Deco wing of the Peninsula All Suite Hotel joined to the modern wing (SJ de Klerk)
One of the many attractions of Sea Point is the presence of numerous Art Deco buildings. The term Art Deco had its origins with the international exhibition ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrial Modernes’ held in Paris, France. Shortened to Art Deco, it combines the austere shapes of Bauhaus architecture and the streamlined styling of modern technology with patterns and icons form the Middle East, ancient Greece, Rome, Africa, India as well as Mayan and Aztek cultures. Perhaps most of all, Art Deco seems to draw its inspiration from the art and architecture of ancient Egypt.
The Sea Point Marine Research Aquarium was erected on the site of the final stop of the Sea Point Railway line. The aquarium dates from 1938 and was designed by JZS Stekhoven (1895-1956), known as ‘Stek’, for the Public Works Department. Born in the Netherlands, Stekhoven emigrated to South Africa in 1919 where he joined the staff of Baker, Kendall & Morris in Cape Town. Later he set up his own practice and on occasion collaborated with FM Glennie on Public Works Department projects.
Tragically, he and his wife were murdered on their farm Kliphuisfontein at Banhoek near Stellenbosch, the day before the official opening of the Totius School near Stellenbosch that he had designed. Other prominent examples of his work include the Fraserburg High School and hostel of 1938.
The Aquarium was designed in the Art Deco style but during extensive renovations in 2012, almost all the Art Deco styling was removed.
Sea Point Marine Research Aquarium (SJ de Klerk)
We are now about to pass by the Sea Point Swimming, rated one of the top 10 pools in the world, and deservedly so. This Bathing Pavilion is the 2nd one erected here in 1950, replacing the first one of 1914 vintage. The Art Deco styled entrance is very attractive, and the curved stairs leading to the raised deck above Beach Road add considerably to the harmonious appearance of the building.
Art Deco entrance of the Sea Point Swimming Pool (SJ de Klerk)
Both building and deck were designed by architect Jacob Cornelis Jongens (1898-1986), born in the Netherlands and who emigrated to South Africa during the 1930’s, where he at some stage worked for the Cape Town City Council’s Town Planning Section.
Above the raised deck and overlooking the pools are two Art Deco ventilation outlets complete with aquatic engravings, enabling air to circulate from the change rooms below. They supplement the overall visual appeal of the structure very well.
Attractive ventilation outlets for the change rooms at the Sea Point swimming pools (SJ de Klerk)
This Bathing Pavilion boasts an Olympic sized pool, a diving pool, two splash pools for children and unparalleled views across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Sea Point Pools overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (SJ de Klerk)
Diagonally opposite the swimming pool at 281 Beach Road is the well-known La Perla Restaurant, that has offered fine dining on a lovely ocean view terrace since 1959.
You will note the well-designed modern apartment building behind it, with its curved balconies providing spectacular views to the north and west.
Terrace of the of La Perla Restaurant with modern apartment building behind (SJ de Klerk)
Beach Road is lined with attractive apartment blocks, although very occasionally you might want question the judgement of the architect on the siting or appearance of a particular building.
The appealing Arthur Seat Mansions on 267 Beach Road, corner Arthur Road, was designed by architect Loris Pagano.
Arthur Seat Mansions, corner Arthur and Beach Roads (SJ de Klerk)
Pagano was born in Egypt in 1907 from Italian parents and died in Cape Town in 1984. This building with its elegant curved corners and vertical banding contains Art Deco elements and somewhat resembles the superstructure of an ocean liner. The ‘around corner’ balconies also very successfully soften the visual impact. We have already passed three of Pagano’s other attractive buildings, namely Lisdale at 300, Ostende at 296 and Mimosa at 279 Beach Road.
Graaff’s Pool between Marais and Oliver Roads is rather unusual. This rock pool was apparently created when rock was excavated for the nearby railway foundations. In the 1920s the mansion ‘Bordeaux’ across Beach Road was sold to the Graaff family who subsequently granted the pool to the public in 1929, and probably the reason why it is known as Graaff’s Pool.
Remnants of screening wall at Graaff’s Pool (SJ de Klerk)
Originally the pool was for the use of men only with nude bathing allowed. Owing to complaints by residents because of the presence of male prostitutes and drug dealers, when the wall was damaged during a storm in or about 2002, it was decided to demolish rather than repair it.
On the beach below the Promenade is a sealed off tunnel entrance that according to local lore provided the Graaff family underground access from their Bordeaux home to the rock pool. It seems more likely that it served as one of the tunnels providing access underneath the old railway line to the beach.
Just beyond Hall Road, we find the Winchester Mansions Hotel designed by John Perry (1875-1943) in the Cape Dutch Revival style during the 1920’s, initially as an apartment building but converted to a hotel in 1950. Perry born in Staffordshire, England, practiced as an architect there prior to moving to South Africa in about 1903. He was a prominent Cape architect, elected president of the Cape Institute for Architects for 1926 and won many architectural competitions, including that of the Johannesburg Central Magistrate’s Court in Fox Street.
The Winchester Mansions Hotel is closed at present because of extensive renovations. Reputedly, the owners of the hotel wished to raise the roof height of this venerable building and install an underground parking area but objections from nearby residents blocked their application to do so.
Winchester Mansions Hotel undergoing extensive renovations (SJ de Klerk)
Note the green lawn on the Promenade that replaced the remnants of the lawn destroyed by the recent Cape drought.
One must commend the Cape Town Municipality for the pristine state of the toilet facilities on the Promenade. Painted in colourful patterns they no doubt contribute substantially to making the Promenade such a favourite destination for residents and tourists alike.
Well maintained toilet facilities on the Promenade (SJ de Klerk)
I read somewhere that the stations buildings of the old railway line along Beach Road were converted into these toilet blocks. Unfortunately, I could not find any other confirmation of this, but it may well be true.
Next to the above toilet facilities are the popular Miltons Beach and Tidal Pool. The tidal pool was constructed during 1910 and appears largely unchanged. Depending on the time of year you visit here, you may find them either virtually deserted or packed to capacity.
Miltons Beach and Tidal Pool (SJ de Klerk)
When you peer up the streets connecting Beach to Main Road, some of the remaining Edwardian buildings are visible. They were common here at one time or another, prior to being demolished and replaced by large apartment buildings.
Edwardian buildings off Beach Road (SJ de Klerk)
If you are prepared to extend your meander to the northern end of Main Road, you will be rewarded by the sight of several attractive stone churches built in the Gothic style.
The Methodist Church on the mountainside of Main Road, corner of Mount Nelson Road, dating from 1898 was designed by John Parker (1866-1921), who also designed the nearby Congregational Church. Built of Fish Hoek stone with plaster copings, buttresses, and window surrounds the building has aged well. Above the entrance vestibule are three lancet windows and the overall visual effect is very satisfactory.
Methodist Church designed by John Parker (S J de Klerk)
Parker started his architectural training at fourteen, apprenticed to John Baird in Glasgow. When the Parker family immigrated to Cape Town in 1883, he worked for Charles Freeman for some years prior to setting up his own practice in 1890. Parker also designed the Great Synagogue in Gardens, an outstanding example of the Free Style. He lived at ‘The Firs’ now the Irma Stern Museum.
Back on the Promenade you will find a moving artwork by André Carl Van der Merwe entitled Rhinosaur publicising the poaching of rhinos in this country.
Rhinosaur by artist André Carl Van der Merwe viewed from the south (SJ de Klerk)
Initially appearing as disjointed steel plates, from a certain angle the multiple elements integrate to display the crosshair sights of a rifle aimed at a rhino.
The Rhinosaur artwork appear as disjointed steel plates when viewed from the north (SJ de Klerk)
The SABC building dating from 1955, just north of St James Road can easily be overlooked, now appearing rather bland amongst its more modern neighbours. Architect JC (Jan) van Wijk (1926-2005) designed it in the ‘Little Brazil’ style, while employed by the architectural firm of Meiring and Naudé. The undulating roof is meant to resemble the nearby waves.
Sea Point SABC building 1955 (SJ de Klerk)
Brazilian Modernism became popular in Southern Africa, following the Brazil Builds exhibition of 1943 and the subsequent publication of the same name. Graduates from the architectural schools of Wits and Pretoria were attracted to this style because of the similarity of our climate to Brazil and architecturally the Highveld soon became known as 'Little Brazil'. This description gradually expanded to include all Southern African architecture of the 1950s and 60s, that reflected the Brazilian influence. It was apparently most flamboyant in the then Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, and particularly in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). This style is typified by buildings styled against sun penetration - exaggerated louvers, brise soleils (sun blockers) and egg-crate sun-guards and the first local building of its kind was Helmut Stauch’s Pretoria Meat Board Building of 1952.
Van Wijk studied architecture at the University of Pretoria in a class with Gawie Fagan and spent his practical year in the offices of famed architect Norman Eaton, before becoming only the fourth graduate from the University’s fledgling architectural school in 1950.
In 1965 Van Wijk won in competition the design of the Afrikaans Taal Monument on Paarlberg, Paarl. He retired to Wilderness and after his death his ashes were interred at the foot of the Afrikaans Taal Monument, where a memorial plaque marks the spot.
The SABC building has an unusual wall mounted sculpture displaying the Signs of the Zodiac set around what seems to be a celestial maiden, possibly signifying ’truth’, which would be somewhat incongruous considering the SABC’s long perceived reputation as ‘his master’s voice’.
Wall mounted sculpture surrounded by Signs of the Zodiac (SJ de Klerk)
The Save Our Seas Foundation has mounted a temporary outdoor photographic exhibition entitled Wild Seas by National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak against the sea wall of the Promenade. The exhibition consists of 31 images photographed by Peschak over a period of two decades. One of the disturbing images is an 1890’s photograph of an African penguin colony contrasted against a backdrop of the same location in 2012. Halifax Island, located just off the coast of Namibia, probably hosted more than 100 000 penguins. Today less than 2 000 penguins remain having been decimated by decades of unregulated egg and guano gathering.
An 1890’s photograph contrasted against a recent photograph of the much-reduced penguin colony on Halifax Island, Namibia (SJ de Klerk)
A little distance along we reach a large pair of stainless-steel sunglasses directed towards Robben Island.
‘Perceiving Freedom’ by artist Michael Elion (SJ de Klerk)
According to the artist Michael Elion, the sculpture ‘links us to the mind of a man whose incredible capacity to transcend enduring physical hardship, with unwavering mental fortitude and dignity, transformed the consciousness of an entire country’. Elion also explains that the clear shades of the sunglasses ‘symbolize the invisible barriers and prejudice that exist in our perceptions and shape the way we view the world’.
There was some debate about the suitability of this image, especially as Mandela’s tear ducts were damaged by the dust and sun while labouring in the stone quarries on Robben Island, but perhaps this had all along been the intention of the artist.
At Three Anchor Bay we are reminded of the suicide of the young Afrikaans poetess Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965), who here walked into the freezing ocean in the early hours of 19 July 1965, to end her unhappy life.
Three Anchor Bay (SJ de Klerk)
On the pavement next to the Beach Road pavement at Three Anchor Bay is a small plaque commemorating the Three Anchor Bay Station of the Sea Point Railway, operated by the Metropolitan and Suburban Railway Company from 1892 to 1898. The Cape Government Railway reopened the railway in 1905, electrifying it in 1927, before finally closing it down in 1929.
Plaque commemorating the Three Anchor Bay Railway Station (SJ de Klerk)
Our meander now approaches its end with only one historical building left to view. This is the Green Point Lighthouse, sometimes also called the Mouille Point Lighthouse. This latter name is not quite correct as that lighthouse was built in 1842 but demolished when rendered unnecessary by the Breakwater Light in 1908. Only the base of the Mouille Point Lighthouse is still visible near Granger Bay.
Green Point Lighthouse (SJ de Klerk)
The Green Point Lighthouse was designed and erected in 1823 by Herman Schutte (1761-1844) and his plans for this structure are apparently still preserved in London. Schutte was a very competent builder and amongst others, built the old St Georges Cathedral, the Groote Kerk, and the still extant Woutersen Vault in Wessels Road, Green Point, built in the neo classical style.
The Green Point Lighthouse originally had two lanterns with the present lantern installed in 1865 and electrified in 1929. The symmetrical pitched roofed one-storey lighthouse keeper’s quarters on either side are most likely from a later date but complement the appearance of the original structure.
I trust you have enjoyed our stroll along the Sea Point Promenade and hope it will inspire you to look at these surroundings from a new perspective when next you complete this journey, either on foot or perhaps on one of the hired bicycles available from the kiosk next to the Sea Point Swimming Pool.
Profitez de la promenade!
About the author: SJ De Klerk held many senior positions in HR during a distinguished career in the private sector. Since retiring he has dedicated time and resources to researching, exploring and writing about South African history.
- Argusnews@intl.co.za (30 January 2019). Phase 2 of Sea Point promenade update complete. Cape Town.
- Fox J. and Werstwood A. (Not dated). Secret Cape Town. Jonglez publishing, France.
- Fransen H. (2004). The Old Buildings of the Cape. Jonathan Ball Publishers. Jeppe, Johannesburg.
- Metelerkamp P. (2018). Ingrid Jonker: ŉ Biografie. Penguin House, Cape Town.
- Muir J. (2013). Walking Cape Town: Urban walks and drives in the Cape Peninsula. Struik, Cape Town.
- O’Donoghue B. (Not dated). History of the Promenade in Annexure 10 of Archaeological Environmental Impact Analysis Report for Desalination Plant Granger Bay.
- Refer to news.artnet.com on the memorial ‘Perceiving Freedom’.
- Refer to newsline.co.za for article on the Van der Stel Foundation objecting to demolition of structures in Bantry Bay.
- Refer to www.artefacts.co.za for information on South African architects and structures.
- Refer to www.iol.co.za for news article on Sea Point Ratepayers objecting to proposed conversion of flats to hotel.
- Visagie JC (1976) Herman Schutte in Suid-Afrikaanse Biografiese Woordeboek. Tafelberg-Uitgewers Beperk, Kaapstad.
- Viljoen MJ & Reimold WU. (1999). An Introduction to South Africa’s Geological and Mining Heritage. Mintek, South Africa.
- Walker M. (2010). A Statement in Stone – The early buildings and their architects: Muizenberg, St. James, Kalk Bay. 1897-1927.