Mention the phrase ‘ancient cities’ and people generally think of cities such as Rome, Paris, London and Prague. Although Johannesburg doesn’t exactly fit this bill, it does have a story to tell. A city’s story can usually be read by its buildings. In Johannesburg’s case, some of the oldest and finest residential buildings are located in Upper Houghton which was populated by wealthy professionals, merchants and ‘Randlords’ a mere 15 years after Johannesburg was formally established in 1886. Fittingly, a collection of these properties were opened to the public over the past weekend in line with the celebration of Heritage Day.
Charitable organisation Gardens of the Golden City organised the viewings which spanned the duration of the long weekend. Although the interior of the buildings could not understandably be viewed, the exteriors, settings and gardens provided ample insight into the area’s formative days and were a treat to explore.
Upper Houghton was declared a heritage area in 2010 thanks largely to the efforts of the late, great architect Rocco Bosman who created the Upper Houghton Heritage Register which classifies the area’s notable properties as Houses of Significance, Heritage Buildings, Houses of Merit or National Monuments. Upper Houghton features a healthy mix of these of properties, the majority of which are now thankfully protected from being demolished or radically altered.
The property ‘tour’ began at 36 St. Patrick Road with the 100 year old ‘Gentleman’s Villa’ designed by Russian born architect Saul Margo. Like many houses of the Edwardian era, this house sports a mixture of architectural influences but primarily follows Neoclassical, Cape Dutch lines. Classified as a ‘House of Significance’, number 36 was commissioned by David Bradlow, founder of the Bradlows furniture chain. Number 36 also served as the setting for a delightful tea garden over the weekend.
43 St. David was next on the list and immediately became a personal favourite of mine. The property started out fairly modestly as a single storey home for one Edwin Hawkes in 1908. Over the years, number 43 changed hands a number of times and was lived in by an eclectic mix of residents including the Hunts of Williams Hunt fame, a Rabi and a reverend. As the years passed the property evolved, first gaining elegant gables on the northern façade and later a second storey. The property has been well maintained and its red face brick façade, white trimmed gables, whimsical coach house flat and lavish garden do Upper Houghton proud.
43 St David
The next property, number 37 St. Andrew Road sported an appealing cottage-style aesthetic complete with wooden shutters, country garden and a tennis court, the walls of which have been engulfed by beautiful creepers over the years.
Just around the corner from number 37 is Cullinan House, the only remaining example of the Art Nouveau style in Johannesburg. This imposing property was originally designed for Joseph Mitchell, brother in law and business associate of Thomas Cullinan of Cullinan diamond fame. Cullinan House is characterised by striking glazed brown, white and bronze bricks and has housed a number of families, organisations and even Dominican monks over the years. It was declared a national monument in 1991.
‘Bear Lodge’ – another national monument - lies but a short walk away from Cullinan House. Located at 17 Elm Street, Bear Lodge was designed for Councillor Henry Hofmeyr in 1906. Described as “neoclassical in quite a purist style”, this property fell into disrepair and was being used as a commune when it was ‘rescued’ by Rocco Bosman in later years. Restoration work on the lodge is on-going.
‘Longnor House’, situated on St. Patrick Road was also included in the heritage weekend tour. Built in 1905 and designed by Phillip Treeby, Longnor House is described as a superb example of the Arts and Crafts style in the Queen Anne vernacular and is best known as once being the home of Des and Dawn Lindberg.
Several other properties of note were opened to public over the weekend including 55 St. Patrick Road which featured not one, but a cluster of magnificent, architecturally varied properties all of which occupy a seemingly communal stand. Although the main house – a 100 year old Arts and Crafts style property dubbed ‘Iona’ is attractive, it was the thatched, chocolate box pretty house at the bottom of the stand which really caught my eye.
55 St. Patrick Road
The nearby Saint John’s College, King Edward VII School and the Heritage Foundation also participated over the weekend through arranging various historical and architectural tours, a bagpipe recital and viewings which rounded off a fascinating weekend steeped in heritage to a tee. Suffice to say it’s gratifying to know that Johannesburg’s early history and heritage is being preserved for future generations.