One of the Bay’s most historic suburbs is a family favourite with beautiful homes, leafy streets, a vibrant township life and bustling formal and informal businesses.
Well-located, beautifully established with tree-lined streets and a successful mix of commercial, schools, churches and residential properties, Walmer has it all and so much more.
The green and leafy area often tops everyone’s list as one of the best places to live in the city – and has one of Port Elizabeth’s biggest natural assets, Settlers Park, running directly through it.
Situated a mere 10 minutes from the city’s centre of Central and North End and only five minutes from the beachfront and airport, Walmer properties are high in demand when it comes to residential or commercial use.
It also has the popular Walmer Park Shopping Centre, Sixth Avenue and Ninth Avenue Shopping Centres and some of the best restaurants in the city.
Nature lovers can go bird-watching or for walks along the picturesque Settlers Park, part of the green lung of the city, and tranquil Victoria Park. The lawn tennis club at the corner of Villiers Road and 10th Avenue is popular for social tennis on a Saturday and for adventure lovers paintball is offered at Paintball Heaven along Victoria Drive.
Walmer resident Tim Hewitt-Coleman, who runs an award-winning architectural practice in Port Elizabeth, said he had been living in Walmer with his family for the past 16 years.
For me it is perfect because it’s not ostentatious and it is not trying to be a fancy place. It is a suburb for ordinary working people like you and me. It is not for the Kardashians
He said their 1500m² home in Prospect Road was built in 1933.
“The plots are bigger because the area is older but it is also the perfect mixed use suburb. Nowhere else can you simply walk to some of the city’s best restaurants. Whatever you cannot find in walking distance you can find in cycling distance. Its mix of businesses and beautiful homes makes it unique in that aspect.
Walmer is not sterile and dormant, because of the vibrancy and diversity of the area. The township of Gqebera and its traders at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Main Road also add to the texture of the area and its vibrancy.
He said while the homes had a variety of architectural and design styles, businesses along Heugh Road and Main Road were always upgrading and renovating to more modern styles.
“Over time things do change. This does not spoil the area. We must allow the economy to grow and allow businesses to reinvent themselves.”
Because the area is former farm land Hewitt-Coleman said he and his family had a range of fruit trees with everything from avocados and plums to bananas and grapes growing in their backyard.
“My wife also grows vegetables. We love our house with its wooden floors and wrap-around stoep. It was built in the Neo Cape Dutch style.”
Ward 3 councillor David Hayselden said some of Port Elizabeth’s most prominent business people lived in Walmer.
It is an upmarket area with some of the best schools in the city. The properties are well looked after and well maintained. People put a lot of money into upgrading and renovating their properties and I believe this is an indication of their passion for the area
He said Walmer streets such as Short Road, Water Road and Church Road had some of the biggest properties in the city which luscious green lawns, tennis courts and swimming pools.
The Walmer Kids Traffic Park was upgraded in 2011 after I approached some business people in the area for assistance and this is a hug attraction for many schools and creches in the metro who use it as a training course to teach children about traffic rules.
He said Walmer was also home to two major golf courses, the Walmer Country Club and the Little Walmer Golf Estate, the latter boasting beautiful homes with sweeping views of the majestic Settlers Park.
According to Port Elizabeth historian Margaret Harradine, the area of Walmer was once known as Welbedacht when it belonged to a family called the Mullers who were one of the first families to settle in Port Elizabeth during the 1790s.
“In 1853, after their father died, the Muller sons decided to sell off sections of the farm into building lots. Some sections were also sold off as smallholdings. They were going to name the land Muller’s Town but the Duke of Wellington had just died and because he was such an important and popular figure they named the area Walmer after Walmer Castle where the duke had settled and later died,” she said.
Harradine said while some homes had already been built from the late 1850s, real development took off during the early 1900’s with the introduction of the first trams and the railway to the area.
“Those who could not do any type of farming and who did not have transport had to go down to Port Elizabeth for work. There was nothing else in Walmer back then. Transport is the key to development in any area,” she said.
She said the village of Walmer had formed its own municipality by 1899 which continued with its own mayor and town hall until it joined the Port Elizabeth municipality during the 1960s.
“Gqebera (Walmer township) was actually a piece of land set aside for people who worked for the Walmer municipality. Walmer was mainly a residential area until then as there had not been any real commercial industry. It is only recently that all these businesses started in the area.”
According to Harradine, the area has an exciting mix of old and modern properties.
“I always tell young architecture students that if they want to see everything from A to Z when it comes to architectural styles then they should go to Walmer. Some of the older houses have been destroyed and modernised but there are still very old ones in the area.”
Walmer Park Shopping Centre
Sixth Avenue Shopping Centre
Ninth Avenue Shopping Centre
Moffett on Main
The Garden Restrobar
Mangiamo at Wicker Woods
Chingada’s Mexican Cantina
Cape Town Fish Market
Little Walmer Golf Club
Walmer Country Club
Walking and mountain-biking in Settlers Park
Social tennis at the Lawn Tennis Club on 10th Avenue/Villiers Road
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.