The historical suburb of Richmond Hill has something for everyone – a fact long-time residents Max and Sue Hoppe, from El Gecko Publishing, can attest to.
The well-known Port Elizabeth couple have been married for 40 years and have lived in Richmond Hill for the past 14. Sue is an artist and Max works in the business administration field. Together they run independent publishing label, El Gecko Publishing, through which they have released a few popular local books.
The couple moved in to their Richmond Hill home in 2002, before the area’s revamp and subsequent “rebranding” from derelict, crime-ridden suburb to up-and-coming suburban hangout for the hip and trendy.
“We detected an upswing was on the way and took a chance on it,” says Sue. She says the setting, sea views and being able to walk through quaint streets to nearby shops and galleries is and still is a big drawcard for them.
There is also much more of a community spirit here than in other suburbs. We tend to know our neighbours and look out for each other
The vivacious artist teases that the fact that they only live 10 minutes away from “everything” makes them feel the need to take padkos when visiting the Western suburbs, as the distance suddenly feels like a journey.
The Hoppes say a lot has changed in the 14 years since they first moved in. “It was pretty dangerous here. Violent housebreakings were daily occurrences, you never walked anywhere without pepper spray, and if you heard a noise, you really did need to investigate. Many places were run-down and attracted vagrants and drug dealers to the area,” says Sue, adding that she and Max were part of the team that originally set up neighbourhood watch patrols.
“At that stage, Parliament Street was a haven for parties, booze and drugs, and people would be staggering home at all hours, making noise and smashing bottles in the streets. We regularly had to replace tyres on our vehicles because of all the broken glass. A combination of the MBDA (Mandela Bay Development Agency) upgrade to Parliament Street, and the efforts of our crime patrols, slowly but surely turned the tide on crime and grime. Then we got the SRA (Special Rating Area) going, and that has been a real turning point. Instead of a handful of residents giving time and money and struggling to keep on top of it all, now every property owner shares the load, and we can accomplish much more. We have a bakkie and team dedicated to clean-ups, and a patrol vehicle 24/7,” says Sue.
We sleep much better now, and from being one of the most dangerous parts of town, police stats now show us to be the second-best as far as crime is concerned.
Sue describes the area as a fun and vibrant melting pot of cultures. “Within a few blocks, there are awesome views across the bay, soccer games and kids playing in the park, fine dining, trendy shopping and art galleries, several educational establishments, and yet also quiet residential living.”
Their home dates back to 1925, which makes it one of the younger buildings – some date back to the late 1800s. “It has very high ceilings, deep skirting, panelled wooden doors, lovely wooden floors and an arch and pillars in the living room, all of which add great character,” she says.
“Our veranda looks across the park, and then across the bay and North End. One of our favourite times of day is just after sunset, when the bay turns pink, and the lights start twinkling down Govan Mbeki Avenue, towards Deal Party,” she says.
What are your three favourite places around your area?
- The park itself, with the big shady trees and the pretty old Erica building on the edge, is one.
- Stanley Street is another. We love strolling a block or two on a lovely evening, deciding what sort of meal we are in the mood for, and strolling home afterwards.
- One of our favourite occupations is taking sunrise or sunset strolls down to the bottom of the hill and back up.
What three things might people not know about the area?
- There is a surprising abundance of birdlife in the area. Max has photographed over 30 species here.
- A fascinating connection is that, from the edge of the park, you can look out across to New Brighton. Around 1902, there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in the Stranger’s Location, and the LMS lands. Houses were burned down, and many of the occupants were relocated to what is now Red Location.
- When PE was first settled, the more affluent citizens settled in Central, and at that time the part we now call Richmond Hill was more of a working-class area, with smaller semi-detached terraces.
Facts about the Hoppes
- The authors, known for their travel work (The Climax Collection and Travels-Troubles with Koos), launched their first children’s book, Santa’s New Helpers at the end of last year.
- The couple met while living next to each other in an apartment block in Harare, Zimbabwe.
- They have two children and four grandchildren.
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.