The Fairview Fire Station Tower in Jeppestown is 100 years old and, like any person of that age, was in need of attention. Repairs have been carried out and the restored tower was unveiled last weekend.
“Fears for the future of the historic Fairview Tower will soon be a thing of the past,” said Irene Mafune, Projects Manager of Immovable Heritage from the City’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Services.
Arts and Culture and the Emergency Management Services (EMS) pooled resources to restore the 35-metre tower, sections of which were crumbling and falling to the ground, posing a danger to passersby. Each department contributed R300 000 to the restoration.
In a ceremony on Saturday, councillor Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, speaker of the city, reminded the 100-strong audience of how, when the tower was being built, Mahatma Gandhi lived down the road in Albermarle Street in Troyeville.
”He would have had a good view of the tower from his house,” she said.
She described the tower as unique, and its restoration as a symbol of inner city renewal. And, it still had a use – pilots using the Rand Airport on the East Rand use the tower for navigation purposes.
Mayathula-Khoza unveiled the new blue plaque on the tower.
Built in 1905
The original fire station, built together with the tower in 1905, was demolished in the mid-1970s, having become inadequate for the demands being placed on it. In 1983 a modern fire station was completed, slightly back from the tower, giving it more prominence.
The station was built on a site chosen because of its far-reaching view over the town. Built with a Neo-Baroque cupola, it was the town’s first formal fire station and is the only remaining fire tower in Johannesburg.
It is built originally with red brick but later plastered, with a dressed sandstone base. Its foundation stone was laid by Sir Julius Jeppe, a property developer who lived in Jeppestown, named after him. The stone had become worn and illegible and has been replaced with a granite stone.
The tower was used as a look-out for fires before telephones were invented, and the town’s early buildings were built of wood and iron, and easily flammable. Because the town had very scarce water supplies, buildings burnt down very quickly.
The tower had another function: it was used as a washing line for the early canvas fire hoses, which were hooked from wrought iron clamps attached to the timber handrail at the top of the tower.
The last 20 years have seen the upper sections of the tower deteriorate under constant damage from thunderstorms and lightning - copings have cracked and drainage problems have caused dampness within the walls; and mouldings have been attacked by mould growth and paint separation. Reinforcing bars had been exposed and were rusting, causing further damage to the concrete. The original lightning conductor had been displaced.
”The tower, being an integral historical part of the fire station, should be well preserved, as are all other assets of a fire station and we believe that the proposed renovations will enhance the tower’s one hundred year history as a significant city landmark of early Johannesburg,” said Henry Paine, the architect who restored the tower, prior to the restoration.
The interior of the tower has also been subject to the ravages of the weather. Many of the cast iron and steel fittings have rusted. The spiral stair inside the tower was damaged by rust and will be restored at a later stage. A cast iron platform was intact despite the exposure to weather.
The deterioration of the interior was exacerbated by bird droppings, making the walls very dirty. The inside has now been painted, and made bird proof with mesh.
New lighting for the inside of the tower has been installed, as well as exterior lights. Two new rainwater drainage pipes have been installed.
“It must be emphasised that the restoration of the tower is not intended to make it look like a ‘new’ tower. Its charm, and indeed its value is in its age and it is that which should be celebrated,” said Payne.
He explained that the additions should be seen as new items which enhance the structure but that the repairs to the plaster mouldings and the lower plaster levels will soon be made invisible with natural weathering.
”I believe that the value of our public landmarks is linked to the perception that they do not change and remain recognisable in all their details from one generation to the next,” he added.
“As the tower looks towards its second century, the view from the lookout post seems bright once again,” said Mafune.