Nurses Residence at the Children’s Memorial Institute
Wednesday, September 20, 2017 - 14:05
Thread Categories: 
2017 campaign nomination
2017 Top Ten Endangered Site
Thread Location: 
Local Champion: 
Children’s Memorial Institute - Historical Committee
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This residence, located at 13 Joubert Street Extension Parktown (click here to view on google maps) was opened in 1923 as part of the original Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children. Initiated by the National Council for Women to commemorate the lives lost in the First World War, the nurse’s residence, together with the Memorial Hall, two wards, a chapel and a synagogue, was designed in the Classicist mold by architects Cowin, Powers & Ellis. This hospital complex, opened in 1923 by Prince Arthur of Connaught, was the second dedicated children's hospital in South Africa making it one of the oldest children’s hospitals in Africa. It was an important training and research space for Paediatrics in South Africa, predating its more well-known counterpart the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town by over three decades. In October 2013, the Childrens Memorial Hospital Site received a blue plaque acknowledging its significance to the City of Johannesburg. 

A Building at Risk

The Nurse’s Residence site has been unoccupied since 1978 when the children’s hospital functions moved from here to the Johannesburg General Hospital (now Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital) on Parktown ridge. This building is the property of the Department of Infrastructure Development and the Department of Health and there has been little or no interest shown or action taken to secure their asset or protect it from further damage. After spending over three decades as a beautifully preserved time capsule its lack of security has resulted in vandalism and occupaton by squatters at various points in recent years. Vandalism following evictions resulted in severe water damage in 2015, and more recently the building has been stripped of many unique original features and equipment that was there in 2015 but is no longer on site.


A deteriorating staircase - 2015 (left) and 2017 (right)


With doors stolen and windows broken, the site remains difficult to secure and vulnerable to vandals. There are now structural concerns - wall cracks, damage to the roof and most rooms are exposed to the elements. Since the water damage, there has been deterioration of the state of the walls and passages, paint is peeling, there have been fires in some rooms, any metal pipes have been ripped out, radiators taken and many functional kitchen and other original items that were being stored in the building have been stolen or damaged. The building is in a condition that should refurbishment not happen urgently, it may well deteriorate beyond the point of salvage.


Deterioration of one of the bathrooms - 2015 (left) and 2017 (right)


Several pleas were made to the DoH and DID to provide additional security personnel to protect the building, but the eventual placement of a security guard only led to increased criminal activity and the CMI NPO had to draw from its own resources to try secure the area. 


Deterioration of a hallway within the building - 2015 (left) and 2017 (right)


Potential Solutions

Simple, effective security is essential and could have prevented the building’s deterioration into its current state.

In line with the intentions of its original purpose (to serve the city’s children) the other hospital buildings sharing the site currently provide a home for approximately 30 NPO’s (Not-for-Profit Organizations) all of whom have a focus on vulnerable children’s health, welfare and development. The rest of the buildings are occupied and maintained, with the income from the rent used to upgrade and improve the building and preserve the heritage features therein. The entire site caters for children from the immediate community and provides services and resources for vulnerable children and those with special needs. The site is well known in the local community and is recognized as a public service space ensuring that the founding beliefs for the hospital are continued into the future. There are constant requests for space by organisations wanting to set up in the community, and the CMI Organisation (an NPO itself) would be able to benefit from an additional functional building to help fund its maintenance. In particular, there have been discussions with the Department of Basic Education to renovate the Nurse’s Residence for the Johannesburg School for Autism, which itself is part of the building’s heritage, stemming from the Hospital School started by TMI volunteers over 90 years ago. Funds were committed to The School for Autism, but there has been no movement to start this process and due to the lack of action over the past 2 – 3 years, the costs have soared and are likely to be in the region of R200million. The School for Autism now has to operate in separate spaces across four floors to accommodate their ever-growing needs.

There were also newspaper articles at the end of 2016 that suggested the Nurse’s Residence would be renovated to house some of the Life Esidemeni patients, but little more is known of this suggestion.

As an initial start, an assessment by a heritage architect and a structural engineer would be required to establish the soundness of the building and the potential to restore it to a functioning asset. The larger site is used daily by young children and their carers and for this reason the security of the building is paramount. Restoration and repurposing of this building would remove the dangers and risks associated with an unsecured, damaged building and create additional opportunities and resources for development and optimizing vulnerable children’s potential.

The building committee is fully dedicated to protecting and promoting the site’s history and heritage, and there is currently a project underway to create a living museum space and social history project associated with the building‘s original features and items salvaged from the original archives that were vandalized in the past years. CMI has started a social media campaign to share the building’s unique history and currently has 6 volunteers.

Source: 2017 Endangered Heritage Sites Nomination Form.

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