As its name implies, Forest Town was established in a forest: the largest man-made forest in the world in point of fact. According to records, trees were originally planted in the area at the end of the 19th century to provide wood for the burgeoning mining industry. Over time, the area became a fully - fledged forest and workers and domestic employees started taking up residence in small dwellings in the forest to be close to their places of work in Westcliff and Parktown.
Over the years, well-to-do houses were erected in the area. A number of these original homes have survived with their wooden floors, pressed ceilings, leaded windows and magnificent fireplaces intact. According to Russell Fisher, a local real estate agent, these homes are now highly sought after with some properties selling for as much as R7 million in some instances.
In the 1960’s Forest Town became famous for a high profile police raid carried out at a gay party in the area. The raid elicited a massive public outcry and catalysed the infamous Immorality Amendment Bill of 1967 which criminalised all sexual activity between same sex people.
In 2005 another high profile raid took place at a Forest Town house Jacob Zuma happened to be renting at the time. This time the Scorpions conducted the raid in search of documentation for his corruption trial. Famous raids aside, Forest Town also enjoys links to a number of well-known attractions including the Johannesburg Zoo, Zoo Lake and the Westcliff Hotel.
The Johannesburg Zoo was founded in 1904. It has grown and evolved over the years and is popular with both locals and foreigners alike. It covers an area measuring 81 hectares and houses a wide variety of animals and reptiles. Importantly, it now also plays a role in the conservation of rare animals. According to Fisher, many Forest Town residents have remarked that they fall asleep to the sound of lions roaring at night.
Zoo Lake is another popular destination and is commonly used by Forest Town’s residents to walk their dogs. The famous five star Westcliff Hotel also lies a stone’s throw from Forest Town. This hillside hotel prides itself on impeccable service and attention to detail and offers all the mod cons along with magnificent views.
Nearby upmarket shopping nodes are plentiful; access into the city centre is excellent, and residents can take their pick of night time activities. According to Fisher, many of the residents who purchase homes in the area are professors, doctors and professional given Forest Town’s proximity to Wits University, the Johannesburg General Hospital and Hollard’s offices. What is more is that Forest Town is still evolving. A number of stylish, contemporary houses have taken root and a holocaust centre is set to open soon on Jan Smuts Avenue.
The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre (JHGC) has taken the place of the Bernberg Costume Museum which previously occupied the site. The costumes were moved to Museum Africa a few years ago and the house has stood empty ever since.
Tali Nates, Director of the JHGC explained that the purpose of the JHGC will be to examine racism, xenophobia and human rights abuses. The centre will contain a permanent exhibition, a book shop, a resource centre, a coffee shop and venues for workshops and will no doubt prove a successful addition to Forest Town’s dynamic mix.