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Monday, May 31, 2021 - 09:54

We have heard that the blue plaque at Temple Israel, Paul Nel Street Hillbrow has been destroyed. However the good news is that we have heard from Eric Itzkin at the City of Johannesburg will be replacing this blue plaque as part of its restoration budget. 


Temple Israel (The Heritage Portal)


Wanton destruction of a blue plaque is the work of ignorant iconoclasts and is to be deplored. A blue plaque celebrates, commemorates, informs, educates and explains. A blue plaque tells a great story of a place, event or a heritage building. Blue plaques in Johannesburg tell a remarkable story of a young city with a rich, diverse, complex and controversial history. We celebrate our ancient origins in blue plaques (the Melville Koppies and Cave), our Johannesburg original town plan within Randjeslaagte and our ridges (the Munro drive). We share our earliest and quirkiest of buildings (the Fort and the Berea Dolls House fire station are examples). We celebrate education for all (Jeppe Girls, Forest High, Orlando High school).


The Old Fort (The Heritage Portal)


Berea Fire Station (The Heritage Portal)


We celebrate our industrial history with plaques at Turbine Hall, the Gas Works, the Yeoville Water Tower. Labour history, strikes and the mineworkers contributions are marked by the Miners Monument, the NUM building and the Solomon Street hostel building.


Gas Works (The Heritage Portal)


Miner's Monument (The Heritage Portal)


In 1986 the Simon Van der Stel Foundation working with the City of Johannesburg commemorated the centenary of the city with 100  blue plaques at places as diverse as the Zoo and the Grand Station Hotel whilst around the same time the Geological society of Southern Africa explained the uniqueness of the geology of the Witwatersrand in a series of blue geological blue plaques. At the end of the 20th century, the Greater Johannesburg Anglo Boer War centenary Committee remembered the centenary of the war with a series of blue plaques called Follow the Flag, offering the military and heritage enthusiast a walking trail in search of  that history. Personalities of the city are celebrated in blue plaques, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu, struggle heroes, boxers (Jake Tuli), writers, artists (Moses Tladi) and musicians (Hugh Masekela) all feature on blue plaques. There is also an Alexandra Heritage Series.


Grand Station Hotel Plaque


Alexandra Beer Hall (The Heritage Portal)


Mandela's Place Plaque (The Heritage Portal)


The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation works closely with the Public Arts and Culture division of the Johannesburg  City and we value our partnership with Eric Itzkin of the City. Johannesburg has been very successful in saving and marking heritage through the blue plaque enterprise and the initiative of Flo Bird, founding chairman of the JHF and active player in the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage  Trust. There are cross references to the Heritage Register where many blue plaques have been captured (click here to view).


Eric Itzkin, Flo Bird and others at the unveiling of the Blue Plaque for Temple Israel (The Heritage Portal)


The easy blue plaques are the heritage houses of Johannesburg - because an architect or a commissioning owner of the house express a style of a period or tell a story perhaps of love  and romance or a story of ambition and aspiration. A grand house expresses the arrival of the newly rich who wanted a Baker mansion (for example Northwards) and the Blue plaque movement has played a healing role and invited inclusiveness in bringing the past to the present in the Soweto Heritage Trail, the June 16 Heritage Trail, the Dube Struggle history. The Blue plaque is a thumb nail narrative of our history, our architecture, our heroes, our places of workshop and our common humanity. The  blue plaque is a mark of pride and respect. A blue plaque is an honour. We are the makers of our own history. We have probably close to 300 blue plaques in Joburg in 2021. When we fail to celebrate the past or we destroy a marker and a clue to history we impoverish ourselves but also future generations.


Northwards (The Heritage Portal)


Home of Hastings Ndlovu, one of the plaques on the June 16 Trail (The Heritage Portal)


I am currently compiling a full data base of all the blue plaques complete with as many photographs of the blue plaque and their context. I would welcome receiving photographs of blue plaques and their location to add to our database and collection. Email kathy@zimstone.co.za.

Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories. She researches and writes on historical architecture and heritage matters. She is a member of the Board of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and is a docent at the Wits Arts Museum. She is currently working on a couple of projects on Johannesburg architects and is researching South African architects, war cemeteries and memorials. Kathy is a member of the online book community the Library thing and recommends this cataloging website and worldwide network as a book lover's haven.


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