Rediscovering Johannesburg CBD 29-10-2011

On the 29th of October I once again joined Past Experiences on a walking tour around Johannesburg. Entitled “Through the Lens: 125 Years of Johannesburg Photography“, it was a relook at some of the famous places and buildings of Johannesburg as they are today, compared to what they were before. The last real trip I did in Johannesburg CBD were quick in and out dashes to grab pics of specific places. This was the first time in over 20 years that I was going to see some of the places from my past.
Beyers Naude Square looking towards the Cenotaph

Beyers Naude Square looking towards the Cenotaph

Parking was at the Gauteng Legislature parking garage under what is now Beyers Naude Square. The last time I had seen this area properly was when it had the ridiculous sheds erected on either side of what was then the Library Gardens. Those sheds were a money wasting abomination that ruined this whole space. The library itself is being renovated but this whole area really looks great. I visited it in July 2012, and it was quite an experience. 
Johannesburg Public Library

Johannesburg Public Library

We then set out on our walk, heading towards the former City Hall. This magnificent old building had its cornerstone laid on 29 November 1910 and served as the centre of Johannesburg local government until it eventually was sold to the Gauteng Legislature. Sadly access to the building is almost impossible, so we were left to look at the decaying façade of the former Rissik Street Post Office instead.   
Rissik Street Post Office from Commissioner Street

Rissik Street Post Office from Commissioner Street

The post office (1895-1897) was originally a two storey structure but an additional storey was added as the building was found to be too small, this gave the building presence and this oldie, opposite the City Hall, dominated Rissik Street. Sadly, when the post office vacated the building it fell into disrepair and became increasingly more derelict as time passed. Inevitably a fire swept through the internal structure and only the shell remained. Today renovation is happening, but the building has become an eyesore and restoration is going at snails pace.  
Just across President Street, standing all alone is the now restored Barbican Building. For many years this beautiful structure stood forlorn and derelict, now it has been restored to its former glory and it is really looking magnificent. 
Barbican: Before and After

Barbican: Before and After

Behind the post office is the site of the famous Impala Stampede statue that used to have pride of place in the Ernest Oppenheimer Park. The park is very different today, the Impala have relocated to Main Street, and a new park has been developed, with proper facilities and interesting artwork. Its a proper fenced off space where the hawkers and their wares have been banished from.   As an acknowledgement to the past, a wrought iron set of “bokkie” sit on their concrete pedestal and gaze at the people who now use this as a recreation space. 

Ernest Oppenheimer Park today

Heading up into Rissik Street I discovered that Kerk Street is now a tree lined sheltered informal trading area, although all I really saw were heaps of shoes for sale in the various stalls. The once mad Rissik street is being dug up for Rea-Vaya construction and all I foresee are traffic jams for any unfortunate driving in this street. Yes, its true, the traffic in Johannesburg is still a major problem. I did a slight detour from where we were outside the former Tony Factors Centre (now Edgars) and went to photograph yet another building from my past. 
Ansteys Building

Ansteys Building

Ansteys Building has two tie-ins with my past. In the early 1980 I used to frequent Joy Music which was on one of the shopping levels. We used to buy all our records there and they had the best collection of disco around! On the same level was an electronics shop that we knew as “Jakes”, I have no idea why it was called that, but that was where we used to buy all our components for our many electronics projects that we used to make when I was still an apprentice.  Joy is long gone, but Jakes was still around at least 10 years ago in Selby.
Then it was onto Eloff Street, once described as “a main street disguised as a bus lane”. It was also the home of 3 more oldies. Markhams, Cuthberts, and the OK Bazaars.  All three of these are on the intersection of Prichard and Eloff. 

OK Bazaars Building from Pritchard Street

Children from my era all seem to remember two things about the OK. At Christmas it was decorated to the nines and a special trip was usually made into town to see it. And, the cafeteria (The Tempting Tray) that used to serve the most divine pie, gravy and chips! We used to buy our monthly groceries here when I was small, and then they stopped delivering! The OK Bazaars is no longer, the building is now a Shoprite.
Just over the road is the wonderful old Cuthberts Building. My father and brother both worked for Cuthberts at one point and their old building still exists, although Cuthberts has faded away into history. 

Cuthberts Building

Just across Pritchard Street is the magnificent Markhams Building with its wonderful clock tower, the clock of which is marked 1897. It still houses a branch of Markhams, which was THE gents outfitters when I was youngish, although it was always way out of my price range.


I made another detour at this point and headed across to the court to try photograph Captain Carl Von Brandis who now has a statue in his honour. Sadly he was vandalised in 2015. 

Captain Carl Von Brandis 1827-1903

The area around the courts used to be referred to as Von Brandis Square, although I knew it as the area behind the courts where the Johannesburg Sun was erected, there even used to be a public library there as well as a big parking garage.
Our next direction was south towards Commissioner Street with His Majesties Building, Shakespeare House and the old CNA Building. The latter both bricked shut. His Majesties, along with the long demolished Colloseum, were THE premier bioscopes in Johannesburg, and many an afternoon was spent dressed to the nines watching a film at the latter. sadly though, only this building remains.
His Majesties Building

His Majesties Building

Continuing on our journey down Commissioner Street, we stopped at the arcade that used to be between Market and Commissioner Streets. I remember this as a place of small specialist shops that sold things like stamps or coins. The arcades were handy shortcuts and really pretty spaces. Today this one is a wreck. It appears as if the owners are trying to demolish the arcade but one tenant is hanging on. This shop has been in here for 19 years and is barely surviving in this dark and demolished space. 

Thank you Marban Christian Shop for hanging on.

I was able to take a few photographs inside the arcade, but there is literally nothing left, just empty shells, no ceilings, no indication of what this space used to look like. I suspect this is the only arcade left and as such it’s worth preserving. 

The old Arcade from Commissioner Str

Back on Commisioner, we were now outside a Rea-Vaya stop, which blocked off the view of the building across the street, but I was able to shoot the street looking towards the Carlton Centre.

Commissioner and Rissik Streets looking east

The building on the left is the old CNA building, then an empty lot, then Shakespeare House. Turning West the next landmark is the Rand Club which opened in 1904 in Loveday Street. This wonderful old building has been ruined somewhat by one of the blue painted shop fronts on its ground level, but I believe it is magnificent inside, so hold thumbs that I can get in there one day; although not as a member. 

The Rand Club

Diagonally opposite The Rand Club is the former Mayfair/Crosby/Brixton/Homestead Park bus terminus as well as the one building close to my heart; The Union-Castle Building.

As a child I used to stand waiting for my bus here and staring at the cool efficiency of the travel agent inside with its nautical memorabilia, models, brochures and everything connected to the long gone Union-Castle Line. At one point there used to be a huge display model in the window and I oohed and aahed so many times at its detail. Then in the mid 1970’s UC ceased operations to South Africa, and eventually they vacated the premises and all that was left was a huge picture of the Windsor Castle at sea  on the wall of a dry cleaners that took over one of the shops. 

The former Crosby/Mayfair/Brixton/Homestead Park Bus Stop

I stopped catching buses here by 1985 as I moved up to Hillbrow and ceased coming to this part of town. Playing catch up after all these years brings back so many memories. A last nautical oddity is the lighthouse on the roof of Security House.  
Leaving my favourite corner, our tour ended with a visit to the Guildhall Pub which was opposite where we started off. This old gem was quiet, but we enjoyed a quick beer on its balcony, but sadly though, this venue did not have pie, gravy and chips on its menu so I left early and headed off towards Main Street for more photography.

The Guildhall Pub.

I had photographed this area before, but was really curious to see if any new additions had been made, and to photograph the Oppenheimer Fountains again. And, once again though the water at the fountain had been turned off so I was left with just images of dry Impala. 

The Oppenheimer Fountain, (Impala Stampede)

My next goal was the Carlton Centre. I knew the photography from the top would be stupendous, but wasn’t too sure as to how full it would be, how much it cost, or whether photography was even allowed. There was however, only one real way to find out….   More images of JHB CBD may be found at my gallery.
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Updated: 08/04/2019 — 19:18
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