How heritage creates a solid link to progress
Businesses are playing an essential role in preserving the heritage of Johannesburg by lovingly restoring many of its stately homes into working spaces.
From the balcony of Beauvais, a magnificent white mansion built in Mountain View, Johannesburg, in 1907, there is an unimpeded view across the city’s suburbs to beyond the Kelvin power station more than 40km away.
The original owner, Percival White Tracey, apparently built it there for easy access to the road to Cullinan, where he owned diamond mines. Louis Botha Avenue is a short distance from Parktown Ridge, where the other Randlords built their houses – so the house was nicknamed Tracey’s Folly.
Today, Beauvais is the head office of logistics company Cargo Carriers, and has been lovingly restored and preserved by owners Garth and Murray Bolton. The reception area, which used to be the ballroom, has a small minstrels’ gallery. The high ceiling provides natural air conditioning. The staircases and doors are made with Burmese teak.
The Boltons bid for the property at an auction in 2008, acquiring it for R28m. It has been a hugely rewarding investment, Garth Bolton says, although replacing some of the teak cost an arm and a leg.
A stickler for authenticity, he had the modern bathroom fixtures taken out, replacing them with marble basins and porcelain toilets more in keeping with a Victorian pile.
One of the previous owners was an interior decorator and removed some walls upstairs to create an open-plan feel.
Bolton added glass panels and a small lounge with the killer view, creating a pleasant working environment for his 48 employees.
Percival and his wife Marcella were known for their glittering social functions. The large kitchen, where elaborate meals were prepared for these has been transformed into an open-plan office and the scullery turned into a kitchen.
There is a similar ambience at Villa Arcadia, a Herbert Baker house completed in 1909, and now Hollard Insurance’s offices on Oxford Road in Parktown.
Built as a home for Sir Lionel and Lady Florence Phillips, it was sold to the South African Jewish Orphanage in 1922.
Hollard bought the villa and surrounding 16-acre estate in 2003, developing its modern campus in harmony with the villa’s style.
Used for conferences and functions, the house’s enduring beauty can be attributed to Baker’s meticulous attention to detail and feel for the highveld landscape, says the company.
The Phillips’s were "the king and queen" of the Johannesburg social scene, and entertained Jan Smuts, Louis Botha, business entrepreneurs and artists such as Anton van Wouw.
The company is not subject to regulations regarding the building’s maintenance and preservation, but 'as a good corporate citizen, we feel there is a clear sense of obligation that comes with the responsibility of owning a piece of SA’s history'
Warwick Bloom of Hollard group marketing says other structures on the property, such as the stables, also have heritage value. He says the villa symbolises the company’s aspirations: "Respect, care and dignity, and having a long-term view are some of the values that are evident in the way the villa has been restored, is used and the way it is cared for."
The company is not subject to regulations regarding the building’s maintenance and preservation, but "as a good corporate citizen, we feel there is a clear sense of obligation that comes with the responsibility of owning a piece of SA’s history, including restraints on further development and a more intensive maintenance regime.
"We ... retain contact with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and often consult with them before embarking on anything that could have an impact on the aesthetics or architectural integrity of the villa," Bloom says.
Heritage structures and sites are protected by the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, says Eric Itzkin, head of heritage at the City of Johannesburg. Section 34, known as the 60-year clause, confers general protection for all structures older than 60 years — "no person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority".
Section 45 of the act provides for compulsory repair orders. "Where a heritage site has been allowed to fall into disrepair for the purpose of enabling its demolition or destruction, or is neglected to the point that it will lose its potential for conservation, the heritage authority may serve on the owner an order to repair or maintain the property," Itzkin says. "Upon failure of the owner to comply, the heritage authority may itself effect the repairs, and recover the costs from the owner."
Many owners are happy to comply, and are considered partners in heritage preservation by the city and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, says Katherine Munro, vice-chairwoman of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and honorary associate professor at the Wits School of Architecture and Planning.
"Johannesburg’s gritty rich history as a thrusting mining camp growing to an African metropolis and the place that was, and still is, a magnet for people with hopes and drive is expressed in its pioneering buildings," says Munro.
"Success and wealth speedily came to be expressed in significant homes, businesses and industrial enterprises.
"But Johannesburg also had a reputation to demolish and rebuild in line with new wealth and new technologies."
Munro says there is another route to preserving large, older homes and buildings — corporate commitment.
"We deplore the situation that arises when older, large properties end up derelict through neglect, decay and a lack of love, she says. "Or we see property developers moving in to demolish with little thought for possible changes working with a top-ranking heritage architect to save and celebrate the past."
Munro cites "the labour of love" of Oresti Patricios and his company Ornico’s restoration of the oldest bank building in Johannesburg — the Natal Bank at 90 Market Street.
Newtown has had a facelift too, and AngloGold Ashanti’s decision to build its headquarters inside and adjoining the Jeppe Street Power Station, which contains the Turbine Hall, can only be described as inspired
Newtown has had a facelift too, and AngloGold Ashanti’s decision to build its headquarters inside and adjoining the Jeppe Street Power Station, which contains the Turbine Hall, can only be described as inspired. After protracted talks between architects and heritage practitioners, it was agreed the station’s North boiler house would be demolished to develop the hi-tech modern offices.
The Newtown Renewal Programme was what really saved the building; redevelopment started in 2005 and AngloGold Ashanti moved in in 2009.The move came about when AngloGold Ashanti became a standalone company and needed a new home, says Chris Nthite, vice-president: Group Communications. "As a vote of confidence in the inner city, the company set its sights on the Turbine Hall.
"The premises offered the company the opportunity to live up to its core value of leaving its host communities with a sustainable future," says AngloGold Ashanti spokesman Chris Nthite.
"The site has been declared a heritage site and AngloGold Ashanti cannot make any structural changes to the building. We are proudly preserving it in its current form." he says.
Nthite says an advantage of the location is its proximity to transport hubs such as the Gautrain.
A downside is crime but he says there is fine collaboration between the police, the Newtown Improvement District and other stakeholders to ensure safety and security.
The award-winning Turbine Hall, with its chic glass and metal interior, is a desirable companion to the AnglGold Ashanti headquarters; the two blue plaques at the entrance and the artwork in the spacious, shared foyer speak of fine taste and the most enlightened sophistication.
Nthite says the offices are eco-designed: "This is the most sustainable building as exemplified by double-glazed windows, an insulated ground floor, solar power, efficient air conditioning and light-sensitive lighting," Nthite says.Together with maximum use of available sunlight, it has a light and airy feel. "We are a proud resident of the Joburg CBD."