Saturday, September 7, 2013

SA: Touring the Neighborhood, 1 of 3

After my conference ended, I stayed in the neighborhood of Parktown. September 24 is Heritage Day in South Africa. A little bit ahead of schedule, a local heritage group was giving tours around Joburg one weekend. I figured this would be a cheap way to pack in a lot of sight-seeing. When the (black) hotel-shuttle bus driver dropped me off at the church-school complex (gated, of course) on Saturday morning, I almost said to him, "I know we're in the right spot: look at all those white people!"

Indeed, the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust is a nucleus of not just white but English-speaking South Africans of mostly English descent with a particular interest in the historical buildings of Parktown. These interesting old Victorian and Edwardian mansions also symbolise a time when whites ruled the area, and the few people who sweltered in period costumes made me wonder about what exactly they were trying to save from the much-needed highway expansion that is slated to run through some of the properties.

Saturday morning I joined a 3-hour walking tour that began at Emoyeni Estate, built by Rand Lord and Finance Minister Henry Hull in 1905 on top of the highest ridge above Joburg. The name means "Place in the Air" in Nguni, and the view really is spectacular. These days it is rented out for wedding receptions and the like (the chair in the parking lot above was part of preparations underway for a party later that day).

~ * ~ * ~

Next stop was a dilapidated house with a small garden that is surely impressive in the summer. Hazeldene Hall was built in 1902 for a coal magnate with "brookie lace" ironwork along the balcony imported from New Orleans. It was undergoing extensive renovation at the time, but the stained-glass windows had been preserved.

~ * ~ * ~

Last stop was The View, a big old mansion built in 1897 for Sir Thomas Cullinan, owner of the mine in which the world's largest diamond was found in 1905. Naturally he named it after himself: the Cullinan diamond was about 4 inches large and 3106.75 carats raw. It was cut into 9 diamonds (the Great Star of Africa, the Second Star of Africa, and the Lesser Stars of Africa) that have been incorporated into the Crown Jewels of England. Today The View houses the headquarters and memorabilia of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment, which explains the kilts and bagpipes. The plumbing still works, btw.

Editor's note: coming soon! Parts 2 and 3 of this series.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments let me know that I am not just releasing these thoughts into the Ether...