Below is a short write-up on the architectural style of our house

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

South Africa to come alive with the sights and sounds of 1930s Grand Prix Cars

In November 2018, South Africa will come alive to the sights and sounds of a grid full of 1930's Grand Prix cars for the first time in nearly 80 years. 

The occasion is the South African Historic Grand Prix Festival which is being organised as a celebration of the iconic racers that originally participated in the South African Grands Prix in the 1930s.

In this era, the South African GP took place at the Prince George Racetrack in East London between 1934 and 1939. These races were supported by two further events, the Grosvenor GP in Cape Town and the Rand GP in Johannesburg, the trio of events creating a mini 'Winter Series' for European and British racing drivers of the day. 

The UK organiser of the event, Speedstream Events, has undertaken considerable research to identify and trace as many of the original cars that participated in the South African events during the 1930's. The response has been tremendously positive, with several thrilling cars already committed to participating, including the Maserati 8CM with which Whitney Straight won the inaugural 1934 Grand Prix, the ERA which won the 1937 Grand Prix and the Riley Ulster Imp which finished second in the same event. 
1934 Maserati 8CM - Winner of the inaugural 1934 SA GP (3) Photo Credit - Dave Adams.
Other cars the organisers expect entries from include Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Talbot, Frazer Nash, Aston Martin, MG, Railton, Plymouth as well further ERAs, Maseratis and Rileys. 
Billed as a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience for the owners, the South African Historic Grand Prix Festival will comprise of three elements taking place between the 25th November and the 2nd December 2018.

The first leg, on the 25th November, is a commemorative race at the East London Grand Prix Circuit combined with a parade around the original 11-mile long Prince George race circuit. This will present a fantastic opportunity for vintage car and Grand Prix enthusiasts to see these cars being driven in anger in the country for the first time in 80 years.
1935 ERA R4A - Winner of the 1937 South African Grand Prix (3) Photo Credit - Alan Cox
The Festival then moves on to a private tour (from 26-30 November) for the road going Grand Prix cars, where they will drive some of South Africa’s most scenic and exhilarating roads between East London and the Western Cape. 

The event will culminate in a two-day Grand Prix Garden Party close to Cape Town. This element will see the Grand Prix cars on display as well as being demonstrated, providing a further opportunity for the public to interact with the cars and owners in celebration of South Africa's proud history of hosting Grand Prix racing. The venue for this element will be confirmed in due course.

The Grand Prix Garden Party will be set in a high-end venue and offer ticket holders the opportunity to get up close to the cars in a relaxed environment. There will also be a limited number of VIP hospitality tickets available in the Drivers Club hospitality at both the East London race event and the Cape Garden Party which will provide a unique opportunity to mingle with the owners of the GP cars, as well as network with celebrities, motorsport heroes, and like-minded enthusiasts. 

While preference will be given to entries where cars have authentic South African Grand Prix history, the ‘By Invitation Only’ event is also open to owners of age-related Grand Prix cars who may wish to participate in this once-off experience. Total entries are limited to 25 cars.

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Reproduced from The Heritage Portal 12 Oct 2017 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Forgotten fountain returns to the limelight

The fountain neglected in the bush (Cullinan Heritage Society)
A fountain built by Italian POWs who were interred at the nearby Zonderwater POW camp around 1943 has been moved from its original position to a new site in the garden of the McHardy House Museum in Cullinan.

The fountain being secured (Cullinan Heritage Society)
The fountain was built in an area called Hallsdorp. The miners houses built in this area in the early part of the last century were demolished at the end of the Second World War. The area became derelict and the fountain was quickly forgotten.

Many decades later the Cullinan Heritage Society located the fountain and later applied for permission to move it to an area where it could be appreciated by the many visitors to the village. Volunteers of the Heritage Society worked to secure the fountain to prevent any breakage of the stone structure.
The fountain being secured (Cullinan Heritage Society)

The Petra Mine supplied the essential crane and transport to move the fountain. The operation progressed smoothly with no damage to 75 year old structure.

Crane lowering the fountain into position (Cullinan Heritage Society)
The Cullinan Heritage Society aims to restore the fountain to its original glory as soon as the necessary funds can be raised. The story of the fountain demonstrates what can be achieved when local enthusiasts, heritage officials and generous businesses work together for the common good.
The fountain's new home in front of the McHardy House Museum
 (Cullinan Heritage Society)

Reproduced from: The Heritage Portal

Article Author: John Lincoln

Monday, 27 March 2017

The Early History of Irene Farm

Article Author: South African Panorama

Irene is a wonderful village located less than twenty kilometres south of Pretoria. Visitors can feel the history around them whether staying at a local hotel, visiting the Smuts House Museum or touring the working farm. Residents are proud of the area's rich history and rightly so! Below are a few edited passages revealing the early history of Irene Farm. A longer version of the article appeared in a 1961 edition of South African Panorama.

A recent photo of one of the historic farm buildings (The Heritage Portal)

John Albert van der Byl was a man of foresight. Coming to Pretoria in the 1890s at the suggestion of Percy Fitzpatrick, writer, politician and adventurer, he bought with him from his previous home in the Bredasdorp district of the Cape Province a shrewd planning instinct and a love of gardens. Settling down some ten miles south-east of Pretoria, John van der Byl established himself, his wife and his young son Henry on a farm bought from a famous figure at that time, Nellmapius. But it was a farm in name only. Nellmapius, an adventurer, transport rider and financier whose name is linked with many stirring ventures in the early days of the Transvaal, had built himself a house there and surrounded it with some avenues of Casaurina trees.
The main residence (South African Panorama)

For Nellmapius the farm was merely an investment, a part of one of the several fortunes which he made during his lifetime. He named the farm after his daughter Irene, and lived in the house for a while. Then he sold to John van der Byl. The latter took the garden and expanded it; he studied the 11000-acre farm and developed it. He spanned it with a network of irrigation furrows. He farmed crops, cattle and ostriches. Finding little market for his vegetables and milk he decided to create one. He cut up one section of the farm into plots, establishing the village of Irene. Soon the farm had a growing settlement; there was a market for its produce; and John van der Byl had become the local squire.
Riding on Irene Farm (South African Panorama)
John and son Henry farmed in partnership during the 1920s, the period which saw the end of the ostriches and the accent being placed on making Irene Estates a dairy farm. Eventually John handed over the farm to Henry, who continued its development and expansion. Under the care of Henry's wife the garden prospered, the avenues were extended, the trees grew into giants. The first Mrs van der Byl had landscaped the acres around the house into an old-world garden; Henry's wife added fountains, arbours and greenhouses, carpeted the shade with violets - which used to be sold in the village together with the farm's vegetables and dairy products. Nellmapius's house was enlarged, rivalling Pretoria's most gracious homes.

A remarkable avenue of trees (South African Panorama)
This was a period of elegance: transportation was by Cape cart - light two-horse carriages - and the main road to Pretoria crossed the Van der Byl farm, becoming the main avenue where it passed the door of the residence. But this was no inconvenience, for cars were almost unheard of, and scarcely two carriages passed during a day. The peace of the garden remained undisturbed. Its hydrangeas, wisteria and irises set the theme of quiet beauty.
Smuts House next door to Irene Estates
(The Heritage Portal)
Distinguished visitors came to the farm. Among these a neighbour, General Smuts, called in frequently. Smuts used to seek mental relaxation in long walks through the veld. Doornkloof - his farm - sliced into Irene Estates like a wedge. Often he would begin his walk by calling in on the Van der Byls and wandering for a while with them enjoying nature's beauty in the garden. Then he would be off at the cracking pace which he knew would leave his official bodyguards straggling miles behind. For him the veld was something to be enjoyed alone.

The Van der Byls are still deeply involved in Irene and have opened up a number of spaces for the public to visit. Click here for all the details.

Below are some more photos of the Irene Farm

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Another revamp for Pretoria's Church Square

Pretoria's historic Church Square is set for a major revamp and will receive its second make-over in three years. Landscaping and renovation work officially began yesterday and is set to give the city centre a whole new and improved look.

Church Square as it looks like at the moment.
The overhaul of the square is scheduled to take up to nine months and will include changing the look and feel of the popular park.

There will be new trees, with the lawns landscaped, and the street furniture will be redesigned.

City of Tshwane spokesperson Lindela Mashigo said the revamp would result in road closures and affect both motorists and pedestrians. It would also result in the removal of parking bays in some parts of the square.

"This redesigning will contribute to the cleanliness and rejuvenation of the city centre," he said.

Mashigo said the city had put up road signage informing people of the roadworks under way.

"Entry into Church Square and the adjacent Bank/Mutual Street, as well as Parliament/Palace Street, will be closed off for all vehicular traffic as of mid-October," he said.

Parking after the square's restoration would be limited to the staff of businesses within the area.

"Motorists are to note that all parking bays on Church Square will be removed and drivers are advised to make use of parking decks that are to remain around the square.
"A limited number of parking bays will remain on the peripheral area of the square on Mutual and Parliament streets," he said.

The spokesperson said upon completion of the facelift, a section of Paul Kruger Street around the inner perimeter of the square would no longer be accessible to motorists.
This road, he said, would be designated for use by A Re Yeng buses and emergency vehicles. "This will be done to allow pedestrians the pleasure of using the broad walkways."
Mashigo said the city wanted to thank the public in advance for co-operation during the construction period and hoped the reconstruction project would be completed within the set timelines.

The square is the centre of activity in the city, and hosts tourists, students and passers-by on the lawns and benches everyday. The City of Tshwane holds its New Year's bash at the venue.

Informal traders also ply their trade in the centre of the city, with florists, photographers, fruit and snack vendors camping there every day.

The availability of free wi-fi has become a major attraction to the site and people enjoy relaxing on the square so that can make use of it.

The square was established in 1855 and has undergone a lot of transformation since.
It's been a home for street performers, a testing ground for artists, a venue for impromptu sermons and a starting point for protests. It also turned into a popular meeting spot. Once the city's market place, it used to draw people from all corners of Pretoria to shop.

The square's most prominent feature is the statue of the late Boer leader and president of the then-South African Republic, Paul Kruger, which sits at its centre and is surrounded by statues of four anonymous Boer soldiers.

The Old Capitol Theatre, Tudor Chambers, Ou Raadsaal (Old Council Chamber) and the Palace of Justice where the famous Rivonia trial took place are just some of the historical buildings situated around the square.

Recent additions to the square included the A Re Yeng bus service lanes in 2014.
Construction workers unearthed tram lines believed to be 105 years old during the initial phase of the beautification process in 2014.

Pretoria adopted trams as its main mode of public transport in 1910 and they lasted until the advent of more modern modes.

The construction of the new bus system forms part of the route that will connect the inner city with Rainbow Junction (Wonderboom Station) in the north of the capital, through Paul Kruger Street and Mansfield Avenue.

The first phase of the project consisted of Line 1 which will connect with Mabopane, Soshanguve and the inner city via the R80 and Es'kia Mphahlele Drive.

Phase 1 consists of 68km of dedicated median bus lanes, 52 stations, three depots and four terminuses.

Motorists are advised to use the following alternative routes:

  • From the north going south: turn left on to Boom Street, then turn right into Thabo Sehume Street and again right on to Pretorius Street to access Paul Kruger Street.

  • From the south going north: turn left from Paul Kruger Street into Pretorius Street, then right into Bosman Street and continue all the way to Boom Street. There, turn right into Boom Street, from where drivers can turn left into Paul Kruger Street to exit the inner city.

Source: Pretoria News Jan 24, 2017 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Some information about the Eureka Cigarette Factory

The L te Groen building today
I am sure a number of Pretoria residents have driven past this quaint little building among all the high rise buildings and wondered exactly what this perfectly restored building's significance is. It is called the Eureka Factory. It is one of few remaining 'flat-above-store' buildings in Pretoria and is thus of typological importance.

The building used to be called the Eureka Factory
It is at 220 Madiba Street, Pretoria

Well, I came across some interesting facts in The Heritage Portal and a number of other sources. This post is reproduced from an article by Pat Ellis.

Centenary of the Leendert te Groen Building Contributed by Pat Ellis SC, Pretoria Bar 
The original text can be read here 

The building which currently houses the library of the Pretoria Bar is 100 years old. It was built in 1903, after the property had passed through the hands of such well-known owners as JHM Struben, GH Nellmapius, Sammy Marks and SA Breweries. 

E.P. Grant Building - taken on 16 December 1904
It was presumably built by one EP Grant, whose name used to appear faintly on the facade before restoration, who then sold it to the estate of one SF Richards, and became the tenant of the new owner. He was succeeded as tenant by the Pretoria Printing Works, the publisher of the Pretoria News until 1914, and thereafter by the Jewish Club, an architects' firm AG McGregor Ritchie and a construction company.

 In 1920 its new tenant, one Leendert te Groen, turned it into a cigarette factory where he produced Eureka cigarettes from locally produced Transvaal tobacco. The front portion of the lower level was used as a shop, and the rest was used for storage. 

Te Groen established his living quarters on the upper level. 

Leendert te Groen, 1877

In 1920 it became known as the L te Groen building 

The Pretoria News building next to the Eureka Factory

A view of the office

A view of the tobacco factory

A view of the shop floor

In 1935 the property was transferred to the Union Government and in 1982 it was declared a national monument. The building was meticulously restored to its former glory and two years later, in 1984, some 347 paintings of the famous painter JH Pierneef were donated by the Department of National Education to the National Cultural History Museum. The building was then converted into the Pierneef Museum where paintings and various other artefacts belonging to Pierneef were exhibited. 

A delightful coffee shop was added on the top floor to attract more custom. As such it formed, for many years, a popular meeting place of members of the legal profession, where many cases were settled or otherwise amicably disposed of in a spirit of postprandial contentment. 

Security, however, proved to be a problem and the number of visitors to the museum declined. In 1997 the Pierneef collection was moved to the new headquarters of the National Cultural History Museum, the newly renovated Mint Building in Visagie Street. 
The building was then simply locked up and left to decay. Fortunately, in 2002, when the Pretoria Bar took up chambers in the adjacent Mutual and Federal Building, later to be renamed the High Court Chambers, it was discovered that the new building was not structurally suited for a library, and it was decided to take a lease on the Pierneef Building, as it had by then become known. 

The building now houses those tools of the trade used by members of the Bar, as well as a valuable collection of old Roman-Dutch vellums donated by erstwhile members and referred to by some as 'those musty tomes of ancient learning'. Ironically, a superb watercolour painting of this building by the Pretoria artist, Peter Wykerd, recently commissioned by the Bar Council, was lost or stolen during the move from Momentum to the High Court Chambers. It is hoped that the artist will pick up the courage to repeat his earlier masterpiece (or that the painting may miraculously reappear). 

The Bar Council is still undecided as to what use the rooms on the top floor should be put. Members are invited to come up with suggestions in this regard. Perhaps part of the building may, with the blessing of the fire brigade of course, be turned into a smoking room in honour of the factory to which it owes its name?

Centenary of the Leendert te Groen Building Contributed by Pat Ellis SC, Pretoria Bar. Read it here 

Horstmann, A. 1984. Die gebou van die vroere Eureka-sigaretfabriek. Pretoriana No 86, 1984. Read it here

Eureka factory, 220 Madiba Street, Pretoria City Centre, Tshwane. Read it here 

The Heritage Portal

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Some ordinary and extraordinary events from Johannesburg in 1904

Reproduced from an article in The Heratage Portal by Article by James Ball

A while back we spent a few hours paging through the 1904 Minutes of the Johannesburg Town Council (still a town at that stage). It was a remarkable experience travelling back in time and imagining what life was like for people from all walks of life when Joburg was still a teenager. Below is a short selection of some ordinary and extraordinary events from 1904.

A Smallpox Scare
In mid 1904 a man named Mtumbela died of smallpox in Charlestown. This caused some panic among council officials as he was employed by a company based in Anderson Street. Urgent instructions were sent to disinfect the company’s premises and to ensure that all employees were vaccinated.

As more information emerged the chances of an outbreak seemed minimal. Mtumbela had been out of town for some time and no cases had been reported in the interim. Nevertheless, with outbreaks in the Orange River Colony and Natal happening at the time, the Council put stringent measures in place to increase the vaccination rate across the town.

Norwood Petition
Postcard of the Tram above the Orange Grove Waterfall 
The year 1904 brought good news for the residents of Orange Grove and those wishing to travel to the suburb’s famous Hotel: the Council had approved funding for the construction of a tramline. The proposed extension of the line from the Hotel to the southern boundary of Norwood was, however, rejected. Residents of Norwood were incensed and sent a petition with 80 signatures to the Council. The Council’s response to this petition and others was minuted as follows:

After careful consideration of these petitions, we are not prepared at present to recommend the Council to approve of an extension along either of the proposed routes. We think that in the first instance the line should be laid to the point about 600 yards beyond the Orange Grove Hotel, where the two alternative routes diverge and that any decision as to an extension beyond this point should be deferred. When the development of the district beyond is further advanced, the Council will be in a better position to judge as to the best route to adopt.

Death of President Kruger
1904 was the year when Paul Kruger passed away. The following statement by the Mayor William St John Carr relating to his death was adopted unanimously by the Town Council on 20 July 1904:

Paul Kruger - Seventy Golden Years
I would like to make, and I think it is the desire of every member of the Council that I should make, some allusion to an occurrence which has taken place since the last meeting of Council. I refer to the death of the late President Kruger, whose name will live in history as that of one who worked strenuously for an ideal, who ended his days away from the scene of the many stirring episodes in which he had taken so prominent a part, and whose last wish was that he should be buried on the soil he loved so well. One cannot pass in review before the mind’s eye the long succession of recent historical events in South Africa, which are so familiar to all here present, without being impressed by the fact that the two great representatives of the human forces who have been engaged in endeavouring to shape the destinies of South Africa, have both already ceased from their labours. Our sympathies must be and are certainly with the friends of the late President Kruger, and also with all those that looked to him as their trusted leader, and one who had their interests at heart. I move: That this Council desires to place on record, and to convey to the friends and relatives of the late President Kruger, its deep sympathy with them in the loss they have sustained.

The Spread of Billiard Rooms
In 1904 31 Billiard Room licenses were granted in Johannesburg. The only building still standing from this list as far as we can gather is the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Cosmopolitan Hotel
Electrocution in Fordsburg
Another noticeable event that happened during 1904 was the electrocution of a young man in Fordsburg. The Acting Manager of the Light and Power Department reported that he was killed on a high tension line (10 000 volts) running from The Rand Central main line to the Braamfontein Railway Station. Very little detail of how the accident occurred is given but the Council decided to ask the Rand Central Electric Company ‘to consider the advisability of having a few feet of barbed wire fixed around each pole belonging to the Company which carries a high tension cable, about 7 or 8 feet above the ground in such a manner as to prevent climbing.’

Early Litigation
In 1904 there were a number of claims against the Council for damage caused by municipal vehicles. One example was the settlement the Council reached with Dr J W Matthews after a Sanitary Cart collided with his carriage. Another was the payment of £9 to Mr G L MacGregor after he was knocked off his bicycle by horses from the Tramway Department. The payment covered damage to the bicycle, time away from work and medical expenses.

Fire at the Salisbury Mine
In July of 1904, the General Manager of the Salisbury Mine conveyed his sincere thanks to the Fire Brigade for the excellent work done to extinguish a potentially devastating fire at the mine. The following description of the courageous death of a miner appeared in the Chief Officer’s report and is worth repeating:

A native named Jim was suffocated in the Salisbury Mine. [He] went through the whole of the workings at No. 6 level and warned all the miners of their danger, and after doing so was overcome by smoke and suffocated. His body was found halfway between the Salisbury and Wemmer shafts.

Outbreak of Plague and the Opening of Klipspruit Camp
Cover of the Plague Report
One of the most significant events of 1904 was the outbreak of plague in Johannesburg (around present day Newtown). Africans and Indians in the area were removed to the farm Klipspruit twelve miles south west of the central area. This settlement became Johannesburg’s first municipal location and was renamed Pimville in 1934. Below is an excerpt from the Report of the Rand Plague Committee providing reasons (still controversial) for the opening of the Klipspruit Camp:

When on the 19th March it was obvious that there was in the Coolie Location an unknown number of centres of infection the first thing to be done was to prevent the spread of disease from any of these centres, and the area was therefore cordoned.
Every known centre was thoroughly disinfected but the danger of the unknown centres was so great both to the Indians themselves as well as to the community that it was at once decided that the inhabitants of the Location should be removed to an Accommodation Camp, and the Location burned.
Natives and Asiatics who were found living in overcrowded or insanitary parts of the town were from time to time removed to the camp.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Birth of the Union Buildings

Article Author: Claus Schutte

The Anglo-Boer (1900-1902) Vereeniging Peace Agreement document ending the war between the Boers and the British was signed at Pretoria’s gracious Melrose House on 31 May 1902 and formally announced on 2 June 1902 in front of the Raadzaal, Pretoria. This again put the whole country under the British rule. Alfred Milner, the High Commissioner for South Africa and Governor of Transvaal and Orange River Colony was responsible for the design and execution of the policy of South Africa until 1905.

After a long process the Transvaal (December 1906) and Orange River Colony (June 1907) were awarded responsible government. Jan Smuts had negotiated the deal in Britain in December 1905. But there was a greater goal in the minds of Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts: unification of the whole country. “I have the fullest faith that I shall be able …. to make those two great races of South Africa one solid, united and strong race,” Botha said at the 1907 Colonial Conference in London. Between October 1908 and May 1909 the National Convention was charged with the unification of the four provinces. (There was no Black, Coloured and Indian representation). Three years later Louis Botha became South Africa’s first Prime Minister and Herbert Gladstone the Governor General.

On the 31st May 1910 South Africa was united and the Union of South Africa was born.

To keep most people happy, Cape Town became the Seat of Parliament, Pretoria the Administrative Capital and Bloemfontein the Judicial Capital. By that time, due to the opening up of the gold fields on the Rand, Pretoria already had a number of prominent government department buildings e.g. the Raadzaal, the Palace of Justice, the Central Government Offices and the Post Office on Church Square. Other buildings of that time were the Artillery Barracks, the old Museum as well as many commercial buildings.

Cecil John Rhodes and Herbert Baker
Cecil John Rhodes
Herbert Baker
In 1890 Cecil John Rhodes became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and in 1891 Herbert Baker became Associate Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Baker came to South Africa in 1892 and the following year was commissioned by Rhodes to restore and remodel Groote Schuur, Rhodes' house on the slopes of Table Mountain. This was the start of a deep friendship that lasted until Rhodes’ death in 1902 aged 49, and resulted in Baker getting significant appointments from him.. Rhodes sponsored Baker's further education in Greece, Italy and Egypt, after which he returned to South Africa and stayed the next 20 years.

Baker also had the patronage of Lord Milner, and was invited to the Transvaal to design and build residences for the British colonials.

Baker also designed and built his own home Stonehouse in Parktown 

Sir Herbert Baker’s Commissions in Pretoria
At Bryntirion (1902-3) Baker was commissioned to design houses for Judges and Ministers of State, culminating in the appointment for the design in 1905 of Government House.

In 1909 Baker received his first large commission for a secular public building in the Transvaal, being the Railway Station in Pretoria.
Railway Station in Pretoria

Choosing the Site for the Union Buildings
Also during 1909 Herbert Baker was commissioned by the Transvaal Government to design the Government Building of the Union of South Africa. In choosing the site, Baker recounts in an article in the Pretoria News of 7 November 1941: “I was given a free hand in suggesting sites in and around the city. I was shown the blocks the Government had bought on Market (Paul Kruger) Street leading from Church Square to the new station” (which he was then building). “But with the high ideals we all had at the time, I thought this site unworthy of the capital buildings of the now united South Africa. So I explored the surrounding kopjes, and selected two sites overlooking the city”. “(The) One on the kopje to the south had the advantage of flat land on the top for the building and for extensions and gardens; and also of sunlit front (northern) facades. The other was opposite to it on the northern Meintjes Kop, which rises on the east of the city like an acropolis, and terminates in Government House at the other end. (Bryntirion). The only possible site on it near the city was a narrow platform halfway up, so that without the expense of colossal retaining walls it had to be a narrow building with its front fa├žade almost always in shadow. But there was in the rock platform a depression such as the Greeks might have chosen for an amphitheatre”…… “So the vision came to me of two great blocks built around an amphitheatre“. When visiting the sites with Lady Selbourne, “she stressed the importance of nearness to Government House (in Bryntirion) as well as the heart of Pretoria”. ”These factors, and the charm of the site, determined my recommendation. Making some rough sketches and visiting the site with General Smuts” ….. “he with his quick insight and imagination, at once visualised the idea with the power to give dignity and beauty to the instrument and symbol of the Union”.

There was some criticism of the site. The Earl of Selborne had no sympathy with the critics and said “that people who chose this site have chosen one of the finest sites in the world “ “people will come from all over the world to wonder at the beauty of the site, and to admire the forethought and courage of the men who selected it.”
Union Buildings and Gardens 1920

The Scheme
Baker made exquisite use of the chosen site. In considering the site he realised the design by placing the two blocks on the natural terraces on either side of a depression or gorge down to the valley, which he chose to place the colonnaded semi-circular amphitheatre block with two tall domed towers, standing as sentinels and joining the flanking blocks and framing the central amphitheatre.

The two blocks each have, at either end, strong columned porticos and a central entrance porch leading into a finely colonnaded courtyard of pink sandstone.

When the plans were made public the chief criticism was concentrated around the Amphitheatre - “what was the use of such a thing”? The value however was proven by many political gatherings held there and is still used today for important occasions. (Botha’s triumphant return from the conquest of South West Africa, Smuts’ victorious return from the East African Campaign, Verwoerd’s Funeral, and now the presidential inaugurations of our Presidents).
Early Sketch of the Union Buildings

The Building
General Jan Smuts gave the go-ahead for the planning. The Meintjies Kopje was surveyed; Baker further developed plans and estimates and submitted them for approval to the Minister of Public Works and the Cabinet. After a speedy approval General Louis Botha expressed the urgency for the work to proceed.

Two firms of contractors were appointed on the Building. Meischke, a Hollander to build the two blocks, and Messrs Prentice and Mackie for the central Amphitheatre Block. On the 26th November 1910 the cornerstone of the Union Building was laid by the Duke of Connaught.

Union Buildings - Corner stone being laid
Union Buildings - Hoisting Atlas Statue

According to communication from the Department of Works to the City Treasurer the building was completed in October 1913. Nearly three years from start to finish.
The Significance of the Union Buildings
Statement of Significance as formulated in the CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT PLAN by UBAC. The Union Buildings as a place or site of significance enriches people’s lives, providing a deep and inspirational sense of connection to community and city landscape, to the past (history) and memories. It is a tangible expression of a proudly South African identity and experience.
Mandela Statue Union Buildings
As a place of significance it reflects the diversity of the South African society, telling us who we are, the past that has formed us as well as the South African landscape. The site is therefore irreplaceable, precious and indeed of national importance; hence it must be conserved for present and future generations”.

(Information as gathered for the Conservation Management Plan by UBAC Consortium 2007)
Published in The Arcadian and an older version of The Heritage Portal in 2013