First Exert from ‘Restorica’ – Parktown 100 years

The University of Pretoria undertook to digitize Restorica – the publication of the ‘Simon van der Stel’ Foundation.

I am happy to report that the Restorica journals are now available to the public on the UPSpace platform.
Here is a link to the collection…


Sample: RESTORICA  vol 27, 1992


By Carmen Welz
author of children’s
books, translator, trustee
of Parktown Heritage
Trust and tour guide in
Parktown for groups and

In 1892, in the course of her explorations on horseback, Florence Phillips lighted upon a charming site on the edge of a high plateau. Lionel Phillips, taken to inspect her great discovery, was enraptured. The view, looking north over a great expanse of undulating plains, was splendid. To crown it all, the site lay on the part of the farm Braamfontein, owned by H Eckstein & Co, of which he was a director. Their little house in Noord Street, with roses and carnations behind a reed fence, had delighted them. After World War II, the value of properties in Parktown shot up, and with it, taxes. The completion of Hohenheim in 1894 set in motion a migration of Rand Mines glitterati to the newly surveyed township, Parktown. Other leading citizens like Godfray Lys, George Farrar and Thomas Cullinan soon followed and prices for stands rocketed. By 1896, 52 lots had been sold. Only one residence per stand, and no canteen, restaurant or shop was allowed. All the stands were one acre or more in size and the streets wide, gravelled and lined with trees from the start. The Jameson Raid and uneasy aftermath caused a loss of confidence and by 1898 only 38 residences had in fact been built. Tension mounted and in October 1899, when war between Britain and the Republic broke out, many residents had already left for the Cape or England. By January 1900 the streets of Parktown were deserted … In 1901, Sir Alfred Milner, British High Commissioner for SA, moved into Sunnyside, the Parktown house which had been built for Hennen Jennings, a Rand Mines engineer. Faith in the future as part of the great British Empire was restored even though the war was far from over. Soon after moving to Parktown, Milner was created a peer of the realm. With ‘Lord Milner of St James’ and of Cape Town, Governor of the Transvaal and of the Orange River Colony, in residence, the desirability of Parktown as an address was confirmed. By 1904, 170 mansions had been completed and by 1906, when Milner was succeeded by Lord Selborne, most of the suburb was built up. In this year, a newly elected Liberal government in England, and talk of responsible Government for the Transvaal, caused a stock market slump, an economic depression and an end to the Parktown building boom. After Union in 1910, the new GovernorGeneral, Viscount Gladstone, moved to Pretoria. Sunnyside’s glory days were over and soon it was being used as a student residence for the School of Mines. In 1915 Hohenheim became the Otto Beit Convalescent Home. In 1919 The Crescent Mansions was built- the first block of Bats – and in the twenties several others arose along Empire Road and large houses became Residential hotels. In South Africa the years around the First World War were marked by violent unrest and strikes. Parktown, the elitist suburb, became a symbol of capitalist exploitation. On various occasions, mobs marched on the homes of mining magnates such as Lionel Phillips and George Albu. A citizen defence force under Llewellyn Anderson, himself a prominent Parktonian, helped put down the unrest, which by 1922 had escalated to become ‘The Red Revolt’. In that year, the Phillipses sold Villa Arcadia, their home since 1910, to the Jewish Orphanage and retired to the Cape. In 1923 the first block of Bats went up along Empire Road. Gradually the mining fraternity of Parktown was outnumbered by members of the legal and medical professions, stockbrokers, accountants, bankers and wealthy representatives from the trade sector. After World War II the value of properties shot up, and with it, taxes. The maintenance cost of the huge houses became prohibitive, institutions moved in, gentle decay and sometimes ‘active neglect’ were the order of the day. In the mid-fifties the first expropriation took place when five large properties on the east side of Parktown were acquired for an Afrikaans commercial school. More expropriations soon followed – for a park, the motorway, the university. By 1967, after the demolition of houses on 67 acres for the College of Education had been perpetrated, only 70 out of 250 residential stands in Parktown were left. The last nail was knocked into the coffin of ‘old’ Parktown when, in 1968, the decision was taken to build a new hospital and medical school on the site of Hohenheim. In the seventies speculation caused rates to increase between three- and fourfold. Faced with the highest taxes in the country, many of the beleaguered residents had no option but to abandon Parktown. Not only has the vast majority of houses disappeared, but the outlay of the suburb has also changed; so much so that people who lived here once find parts unrecognisable. Hundreds of houses, once loved and admired, are gone for ever. Proof that they ever existed is to be found only in the odd sepia-brown photo in some forgotten shoebox or in official documents of the time. Two questions are often asked: Why was it allowed to happen, and did anybody try to prevent it? It happened for various reasons. When talk is about conservation, South Africans think first, and often only, of nature conservation. In Europe, city centres have for centuries been regarded as valued urban environments. An inherent sense of reverence and respect for the past forms part of the national psyche of many communities. This often makes urban con- years A roof detail from St Georges’ Parish Church in Parktown servation more of a matter for public concern than nature conservation. In South Africa this attitude simply does not exist. We suffer from a national sense of inferiority –: our built environment, compared to that of Europe, is so young that we feel it can’t be worth saving. The oldest building in Johannesburg- just 102 years old, is not worth as much as buildings in the Cape – some 200 or even .300 years old. And many in the Cape are unworthy of conserving because of their relative youth compared to 800- or 900-yearold buildings in Europe. This attitude partly explains why the man in the street watched without protest, why civil engineers added to the cacophonous din of the bulldozers with their deafening silence, why architects created buildings which will stand for a long time as monuments to insensitivity, why town planners supported applications irrespective of overwhelming environmental and social arguments. Another reason is the fact that conservation education is practically non-existent in South Africa. History is often raised to the level of the abstract. Nationalism, tradition and ancestors have become emotive buzz words, to be whispered reverently or misused politically, unrelated to such obvious manifestations of the past as buildings. Legislation was and still is totally inadequate. There was only one act – the National Monuments Act- which could be used to save the built environment. 1 Conservation area legislation was only promulgated in 1986, much too late to save most of Parktown. Thanks to the secret motorway plans, no development plan was drawn up for Parktown – effectively land was frozen. It seemed as if the City Council and provincial authorities were bent on destroying Parktown long before the developers and speculators moved in. Even today planning is often done in secret. In some instances, the Province overrode recommendations of the local authority and gave developers the go-ahead. Funds for conservation of the built environment hardly exist. Here, unlike in Europe and the United States, there are no financial incentives such as rate rebates, tax concessions and grants or assistance – even for national monuments. In light of the munificence with which, for instance, sport sponsorship is treated, this reflects very badly on priorities in our country. Did anybody try to save Parktown? Yes, indeed. Up to the end of the 60’s small groups of besieged home-owners objected, petitioned and appealed to no avail. In July 1973 the Parktown Association was formed to make a last-ditch stand. They were joined continued on page 20 CENTENARY Commemorating Sir Herbert Baker In March 1892 a young architect arrived in Cape Town and had the good fortune to be chosen by Cecil John Rhodes to undertake the reconstruction of his house Groote Schuur. Rhodes favoured Baker above all the local architects because he had shown an interest in Cape Dutch architecture, a most unfashionable taste at that time. Imbued with the ideals of John Ruskin, Baker was able to express Rhodes’s vision of Empire, fusing the local traditions with the European heritage and in this way creating a new style of architecture. The twenty years Baker spent in South Africa were times of vast changes and expansion: the development of the gold mines on the Witwatersrand, the Second Anglo-Boer War, the reconstruction of the Transvaal culminating in the Union of South Africa. He wrote that it had been his good fortune “to have known and worked for some of the chief actors in these stirring dramas; and to have had the opportunity of devoting my art to embody, in however small degree, their dreams in enduring monuments.” Milner brought him to the Transvaal where Baker’s own home, The Stonehouse, which was built as a bachelor establishment for himself and certain members of the Kindergarten, stood bravely atop the rocky Parktown ridge; today a monument, but then a most effective advertisement for ‘the new der of architecture’. . Baker revolutionised architecture in South Africa and until the thirties his dictates reigned supreme. Parktown boasts some of the finest works designed by him and his partners. While his major works were in the Transvaal, two of Cape Town’s most famous landmarks came from his drawing board: Groote Schuur and the Rhodes Memorial. Kimberley has the Boer War Memorial as well as one of his garden city housing schemes; the Orange Free State has the most complete of his Westminister’s estate and the Cathedral of St Andrew and St Michael in Bloemfontein. Schools, churches, chapels and cathedrals, observatories, boarding houses, commercial buildings – his works are to be found all over South Africa, culminating in the final accolade- the Union Buildings. • 199-.2. RESTORICA 1

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