I recently discovered a Facebook page dedicated to the Cape’s threatened buildings. Jim Hislop, who manages the page, takes most of the present-day photos and researches the history of the buildings. The result is a fascinating look at the history of this interesting city, and region, that is all too easy to take for granted as we rush from one place to the next in our modern busy lives. It’s a miracle that many of old Cape buildings are still standing, albeit somewhat altered!
Many thanks to Jim for the use of his words and photos. If anyone has been omitted from the credits please comment below and I will make the necessary correction.
All black and white photographs : Cape Archives Elliot Collection
60 COMMERCIAL STREET – CITY CENTRE
The top photo shows this 18th century townhouse as it looked in about 1900, when it was a lodging house. The bottom photo shows the same house today, now with warehouse windows downstairs but with the original windows upstairs, and the original Cape Dutch fanlight still there above the front door. The little coach house on the left in the top photo has since been incorporated into the house, as can be seen in the bottom picture. The stone stoep was hacked off and the attractive door surround that can be seen in the top picture is long gone.
SPOLANDER HOUSE – BO-KAAP
This house, on the corner of Dorp and Pentz Streets, was one of many thatched homesteads in the greater Cape Town area, which were gradually replaced by flat-roofed structures because of the fire risk, until it was the only one left on this side of town. The top photo was taken late in the 19th century or early in the 20th century, when it still had its thatch and half-hipped roof, and the area still had a rural character (note the chicken!). The bottom photo shows how it looks today, with a corrugated-iron roof and rather lonesome among long grass, but well maintained. The house, which dates from the early 19th century (sometime between 1818 and 1830), was declared a Provincial Heritage Site in 1999, after being much neglected. It was possibly built to house freed slaves. There used to be a small outbuilding at the back – you can still see the foundations of it behind the house, off Pentz Street. It’s a miracle that Spolander House wasn’t demolished, because many of the surrounding houses have disappeared.
STRAND STREET, CITY CENTRE
The top image is from the late 19th century. In those days the sea was quite close to Strand Street, just behind the houses in the photo (in Waterkant Street). The red arrow marks the old White House Hotel building, an 18th-century townhouse that was a Strand Street landmark. It is the only building shown in the top photo that still exists (see the bottom photo, where it’s marked again with a red arrow). Half of the White House building was demolished and the remainder was engulfed by a modern building, built on top of it, but at least part of it is still there to remind us of when Strand Street was lined with fine 18th-century townhouses. The Strand Street Parkade now covers the site of all the other old houses in the top picture. The White House hotel was later relocated to an ornate Victorian building lower down in Strand Street.
SAASVELD – FRENCH HUGUENOT MUSEUM, FRANSCHHOEK
This is one of my favourite stories about the Cape’s old houses!
Originally the elegant 18th century home of Baron Willem Ferdinand van Reede van Oudtshoorn, erected around 1791 in Cape Town, Saasveld was demolished in 1954 against all attempts to save it and it was agreed to rebuild it in Franschhoek, next to the Huguenot Monument, and use it as a Huguenot Museum.
Each brick was numbered, and after transporting it 70 km to Franschhoek, was replaced exactly. It is believed that the architect was the Frenchman Louis Michel Thibault, and that the decorations on the building were done by the well-known sculptor Anton Anreith.
The Memorial Museum elaborates on the history of the French Huguenots who settled in the Cape, and especially in the Franschhoek valley. On exhibition are the various tools they used to make wine, the clothes they wore, and the everyday utensils they used, which illustrate the life of the Huguenots at the Cape of Good Hope. (Info from the Huguenot Museum website).
RUSTENBURG HOUSE, RONDEBSOSCH
This house survived a bad fire and many efforts by the School Board to demolish it. When the VoC granted land in Rondebosch to the first free burghers, Jan van Riebeeck reserved a piece of this land to be used as an orchard by the company. A house was probably completed by 1663. The farm, later known as Rustenburg, was used by successive Commanders of the Cape as a country residence to entertain important visitors, one of them being Commander Hakius, who died here in 1671. In 1683 Simon van der Stel made it his preferred place of residence, and although it eventually fell out of favour as an official residence, by the middle of the 18th century it retained its place as a model state farm. A second storey was added to the house in about 1780 when the façade was also altered by the addition of four fine pilasters. By 1794 the house was reported to have fallen into a “ruinous” condition, although when the British invaded the Cape in 1795 it was considered to be important enough to be used as the site of negotiations between the two parties and the terms of Dutch surrender were signed here on 16 November 1795. During the short-lived occupation that followed, General Dundas took up residence at Rustenburg, but when the Cape was returned to Dutch administration in 1804, the farm, including its house and summer house, was sold to Johannes Hoets. In the middle of the 19th century the house was destroyed by fire, and although many parts of the original building were retained during the course of reconstruction, it was redesigned in a neo-classical idiom. During the early years of the 20th century, the building came into the possession of the Cape School Board, who in 1939 attempted to have it demolished. This was prevented and the two buildings were declared separately as National Monuments under old NMC legislation on 22 August 1941, and 3 June 1960 respectively. The top photo is from approximately 1830.
131 BREE STREET
Originally called Hertzog House, this fine 18th-century townhouse was designed by French architect and land surveyor Louis Michel Thibault. The sculptural pediment was created by Anton Anreith. It was pointlessly demolished in about 1970 for a parking lot, which was then built over again. The current house on the site is a modern partial (rather half-hearted) recreation, but no attempt was made at recreating the interesting features of the original house, like the fanlight and scrolls over the top middle window (also an Anreith detail). When the house was demolished the pediment was kept in storage and proclaimed a National Monument. It was supposedly placed inside the present building, but should have been replaced on the front facade where it belongs!
OLD KRYNAUWSHOF HOMESTEAD – WANDEL STREET, GARDENS
Once the home of the Krynauw family in the mid-19th century, it was damaged in the 1990s by filling in the veranda with ugly windows. The famous Cape artist Charles Davidson Bell’s wife grew up here. It should be restored to its former glory and those windows need removing. Top pic courtesy of ‘The Life & Work of Charles Bell’ by Phillida Brooke Simons (Fernwood Press).
Bottom photo: Google Streetview
This is just a small selection of old Cape buildings history and photographs – visit the Facebook page for more. Do look out for the story and pics of the first house to be built in Clifton and which is still there, albeit in different form. The Cape’s threatened buildings.
For more information on the prolific French architect Louis Thibault click here.