Get in touch 

Johannesburg, South Africa

Richmond laundry site saga

Thursday, March 9, 2006

 

 

The 104-year-old Rand Steam Laundry site in Richmond was recently sold and the new owners plan to redevelop the site.


The historic four-acre site is now a ramshackle collection of light-industrial businesses, most located in the old buildings but others in additions to the original village in Napier Road.


The new owners are Imperial Properties. They bought the site from the Amoils brothers, property owners of buildings in the CBD.

 

John Carstens, MD of Imperial Properties, says of the purchase: “We plan to re-develop the site into something very attractive.” He adds that Imperial sees the purchase as a “strategic site for future expansion”.

 

Despite the age and significance of the site, it has no official heritage recognition.


Referring to the heritage of the site, Carstens says that he will be “sensitive to those matters”, at the same time acknowledging that the site has approval, obtained by the previous owners, for the construction of a 17-storey residential block.


”We would not do anything as intrusive as this,” he says, explaining that they would consider a building of 2-3 storeys for the site.


Whatever they build will be “very much an improvement” on the “eyesore” the site is at present, he adds.


Flo Bird, chairperson of the Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust and fierce defender of the city’s heritage, intends submitting an application to the Provincial Heritage Resources Agency to oppose the demolition of the site, and have it declared a provincial heritage site. 

 

“The survival of the laundry buildings in Richmond is a memento of the social history of early mining days and also a reminder of the reliance of the mining town on the natural streams of the Witwatersrand,” she says.

 

Carstens says he wants to be seen as an ally of those wanting to improve the area. “We will consult with all relevant people,” adding that the site’s relevance is “a perception thing”, but that Imperial would work within the framework of the law.

 

If there were too many objections to their plans, although not definite at present, he would consider using the rights they have – to build a high-density residential unit.


History

 

Rand Steam Laundries & Cleaning & Dyeing Works was begun in 1902 and consisted of a small village with cottages for workers and managers, a blacksmith and farrier for making and maintaining its carts (used for collecting and delivering laundry), and a soap-making section. It nestled on a curve of the Gas Works spruit, from which it drew its water supply.

 

It was believed to be “the largest establishment of its kind in the whole sub-continent”, according to the South African Who’s Who in Business 1919/1920.


The nearby Braamfontein Spruit was the site of the town’s early manual laundry service, dating from 1890, just three years after the town was established. Zulu washermen called Amawasha set up a laundry business on the banks of the spruit (where the German school is now). The men, from KwaZulu-Natal, where they had observed Indian men in turbans washing Durban’s laundry, set up as a guild and washed Johannesburg’s laundry up until they were finally forced out of business in 1914.

 

The reason men took to washing the town’s laundry was that there were very few women in the gold-rush town.

 

 

 

From 1946


Stanley Amoils said that towards the end the last year he had a large number of enquiries regarding the Richmond site. “Imperial offered a price we couldn’t refuse.” Besides, he said he and his brothers were getting old, with no children waiting in the wings to take over and manage the properties they own.

 

Amoils added that the family bought the property in 1946 when it was still a large laundry. “We had 400 employees – it was the biggest private laundry in South Africa.”


They used to take in laundry from hospitals as far afield as Vereeniging and Boksburg, as well as many hotels in Joburg. In addition, they collected laundry from 2 000 households in central and northern Joburg. “We had 15 vehicles, collecting from our regular customers every week,” he says. The operation ran night and day.

 

He says that when they moved into the complex in 1946 the cottages that exist on the site – housing managers and workmen originally – were already vacant and converted into offices. They installed their large accounting machines in these offices, necessary to keep track of their many customers.


”The cottages along Napier Road were used by the night watchmen and boilermen, who had to get the boilers going at 4am,” he explains.


But by the late 1950s the situation was changing – centralised laundries and dry-cleaning businesses were being established. “We saw what was happening.” They sold the business to Advance Laundries, their main opposition, in 1962.

 

Residential status


They applied to the council for general residential status for the site, with a view to building a 17-storey block of flats with a restaurant on the ground floor. They were granted this but very soon afterwards the council said they would be expropriating the property to make way for the A6, linking Carse O’Gowrie in Parktown with the northern suburbs, with a major intersection at the laundry site.

 

This never happened but a new proposal to build the A3 was put on the table, and after many delays, the A3 was finally finished towards the end of the 1990s, taking a corner of the property on its way to join Barry Hertzog Drive.


While the process dragged on they let the buildings for light industrial purposes, still their purpose today.


But the surrounding area had begun to change too. Milpark Hospital opened, the Milpark Holiday Inn was built, the SABC soared into the sky, the glass Auto & General building went up, and up the road in Napier Road office blocks and laboratories opened.

 

The 17-storey residential block was no longer suitable, says Amoils. The council suggested that they demolish and build an office park but the brothers weren’t keen to get involved in a business not within their stable.


Amoils says that the agreement of sale with Imperial includes them getting the necessary heritage approval for demolition.


Historic site

 

The site still contains a water storage and filtration tank as well as “roofscapes with large serried ranks of sheet metal ventilators”, used for steam outlet, which have become a well-known landmark in the area.


Bird believes that some of the buildings are “architecturally sophisticated”, where “longitudinal parallel girder trusses on columns supported smaller transverse roof trusses”, having been specially constructed to accommodate large steam machinery.

 

In addition, the cottages for coloureds and whites are a significant reminder of the times. A compound for blacks on the site has disappeared.


Bird wants this architecture recognised under “technical innovation”, as allowed for in the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999.


It is one of the last remaining examples of a steam-driven industrial site in the city.


”The site and buildings lend themselves to some potentially very successful adaptive re-use possibilities without destroying the original character,” says Bird, “demolition should be strenuously resisted.”

 

 

 

Richmond site given protection for 2 years

 

October 18, 2006

 

The steam laundry site in Richmond has been granted provisional protection for two years by the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority of Gauteng.


The 104-year-old site was sold in March this year and the new owners, Imperial Properties, plan to redevelop the site.


The historic four-acre site is now a ramshackle collection of light-industrial businesses, most located in the old buildings but also in additions to the original village in Napier Road.

 

John Carstens, MD of Imperial Properties, says they are in the process of applying for rezoning of the site, from residential to a motor dealership site.


”We are hoping to redevelop the site to a much better facility,” he says, adding that the site at the moment is an “eyesore”.


The site has approval, obtained by the previous owners, for the construction of a 17-storey residential block.


At the same time he says that if they undertook construction of the motor dealership, they would “retain the historically important features” of the site. However, “we cannot retain everything, it would not be in the interests of the community”.

 

Imperial is considering a building of 2-3 storeys for the site. Carstens says he is not averse to the protection the site has now received.


Flo Bird, chairperson of the Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust and fierce defender of the city’s heritage, is unhappy with the rezoning application. “I am bitterly offended at the application.”

 

When the property was sold to Imperial, she applied to the provincial authority to have the site protected.


In terms of the protection, Imperial will have to undertake a heritage impact assessment, which Carstens says is being attended to.

 

 

 

 

Historic Richmond laundry demolished

 

January 11, 2008

 

 

 

 

It looked like a scene in London after the nightly bombings of the city in World War 2: mangled sheets of corrugated iron, chunks of bricks, odd pipes stretching up into the sky, and a twirl of smoke idly rising into the air.

 

Most of the historic steam laundry site in Richmond, a site dating back to 1902, was demolished on Thursday, in defiance of provisional protection given to the site by the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority of Gauteng (PHRAG) in September 2006.

The four-acre site in Napier Road has for many years been a ramshackle collection of light-industrial businesses. All that remains are several cottages on the corner of Barry Hertzog Avenue although they have been stripped on doors and inner walls, in apparent preparation for demolition.

 

Dean Merredew, property consultant with Imperial Properties, the owners of the site, says a demolition permit was obtained from a building inspector, and this was forwarded to the PHRAG in November last year, as notice that the demolition was to proceed. An engineer’s report, stating that the site was a health hazard, was also sent.

 

“We didn’t hear from them. Our attorneys tried to contact them,” says Merredew.

 

Grant Botha of the PHRAG yesterday told the demolishers to stop work on the site. Today he plans to lay a charge with the police, siting the illegal demolition of a building. He was also going to fax through to Imperial an order to stop demolition.

 

Imperial bought the property in March 2006 with a view to building a showroom.

 

“If they say they have a demolition permit, it’s a lie. We need to see a copy of it,” says conservation architect Henry Paine, “they can’t demolish without a heritage survey. This is a criminal act.”

 

Paine estimates that they have demolished two acres of the four-acre site. The heritage survey would record the social history of the site, the date of construction and the architect, and the history of the buildings. He doubts that Imperial compiled a heritage survey.

 

Paine says the demolishers appeared to be instructed to demolish the building as quickly as possible. “Bricks were flying, traffic was being waved down with a stick. This method is illegal.”

 

The day before people were bidding for roofing sheets that had been removed. Paine says Merredew was told that this was illegal.


The site was originally where Rand Steam Laundries & Cleaning & Dyeing Works began business in 1902. It consisted of a small village with cottages for workers and managers, a blacksmith and farrier for making and maintaining its carts (used for collecting and delivering laundry), and a soap-making section. It nestled on a curve of the Gas Works spruit, from which it drew its water supply.
 

It was one of the last remaining examples of a steam-driven industrial site in the city.

 

 

 

Provisional protection

Shortly after the purchase in 2006, Flo Bird, chairperson of the Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust, requested that the site be provisionally protected. This was done, with notice being given in the Provincial Gazette, dated 20 September 2006.

 

Merredew says that the first time Imperial heard of this protection was when PHRAG sent a notice to them in October 2007, asking them to comment on extending that provisional protection to permanent protection. “We objected to it,” he says. He indicates that Imperial knew of the age of the site when they bought the property, the former owners having told them.

 

Merredew says the site was “lying barren”. A fire had broken out late last year, and Imperial feared another fire on the site. “What trouble would we have been in then?” he says.

 

Bird rushed over to the demolition site on Thursday. “You could smell the oregon pine from a block away,” she said. She expresses doubt that a demolition permit was obtained, saying that Imperial should be heavily penalised, the property should be confiscated, and they should be forced to reinstate the buildings.

 

“This was deliberate – they planned to demolish and pay the fine.” In 2006 architect Justus van der Hoven was fined R300 000 for demolishing an Art Deco building, Dudley Court, in Parktown North. He also received a five-year suspended sentence.

 

Bird says that the site is a reminder of the social history of early mining days and of the town’s the reliance on the natural streams of the Witwatersrand.

 

PHRAG was planning to declare the site a permanent heritage site.

 

 

 

Complete lawlessness

”My impression is that this is complete lawlessness, not an ordinary demolition. It is done is defiance of the legal status of the site as a provincial heritage site,” says Eric Itzkin, deputy director of immovable heritage in the City. He indicated that professor Phil Harrison, the city's executive director of development planning and urban management, was outraged by the demolition. Itzkin says the City is going to investigate the circumstances of the demolition.

 

In October 2006 John Carstens, MD of Imperial Properties, said that Imperial was in the process of applying for rezoning of the site, from residential to a motor dealership site. Merredew confirmed that this application had been submitted.

”We are hoping to redevelop the site to a much better facility,” Carstens said, adding that the site was an “eyesore”.

Carstens, who is unavailable to comment, indicated at the time that he was not averse to the protection the site had been given. In terms of the protection, Imperial will have to undertake a heritage impact assessment, which Carstens said was being done. Merredew couldn’t confirm whether this had been done.

 

When asked whether the demolition company had complied with city regulations regarding water, electricity, pest control and gas on the site, Merredew said: “I presume the demolition company have done this, that’s their problem.”

 

On Friday morning a company was cutting and removing the steel beams from the site, on instructions from Imperial. This, says Paine, is illegal as Imperial has been issued with an order to stop demolition, which includes removal of items from the site.

 

Paine says he would like to see the perpetrators charged in their personal capacity, and receive a prison sentence. “Nothing else will work. Merredew has been aware of the situation all week. ” Imperial should also be made to restore the building, he added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legal action to be taken against demolishers

 

16 January, 2008

 

 

The City is to take “strong legal action” against the owners of the historic Richmond laundry, in reaction to the buildings being demolished over the past five days.

“We are outraged that the owners and developers went ahead with the demolition of a 106-year-old building despite an order preventing them from doing so,” says professor Phil Harrison, executive director of development planning and urban management for the City.

 

The buildings were sold to Imperial Properties in March 2006, and they plan to build a showroom on the site.

 

Harrison says his department issued an order to stop demolition on the day it started, last Thursday. “The order was issued on site by Preggie Naidoo, the chief building control inspector.” Another order, from the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority of Gauteng (PHRAG), was issued on Friday, but still demolition continued. It was only on Monday afternoon, with another City order to stop, that the bulldozers were finally switched off. But by then it was too late – most of the landmark buildings on the site had been levelled.

 

The site was originally where Rand Steam Laundries & Cleaning & Dyeing Works began business in 1902. It consisted of a small village with cottages for workers and managers, a blacksmith and farrier and a soap-making area. The four-acre site in Napier Road has since the early 1960s been a ramshackle collection of light-industrial businesses. The site was the last remaining example of a steam-driven industry in the city.


The site has provisional protection for two years, given by the PHRAG in September 2006, but the owners claim they had no knowledge of this protection.

 

Demolition began on Thursday, 10 January, and has been ongoing 24 hours a day since then.

 

Harrison says that a dilapidation notice was sent to Imperial in November last year. This notice would indicate that the property was in a dilapidated state, and the owner should take action, which could either be to consider demolition, or to get a structural engineer’s report and repair the structures. At the same time it was made clear to Imperial that if they wanted to demolish the buildings they would have to formally apply for a demolition permit to the PHRAG, stresses Harrison. This would involve a heritage report as the buildings were older than 60 years.

 

John Carstens, MD of Imperial Properties, disputes this, saying that demolition went ahead because he received a demolition order from the City late last year. This happened, he says, following a fire in one of the buildings on the site, and he feared another fire would result in loss of life, as people were living in the derelict buildings.

 

Carstens said that all demolitions had now stopped, after having received the order to stop from the City on Monday, 14 January. The removal of rubble from the site continues. He denies having seen the first order to halt demolition issued by the City.

 

However, another order to halt demolition was issued by Grant Botha of the PHRAG, on Friday, 11 January. Carstens claims the company did not receive this order, otherwise they would have halted demolition. Botha also laid a charge of illegal demolition with the police on Friday.

 

“We could not wait for any further risks or problems,” says Carstens, referring to the state of the site after the fire last year. “We respect the order from the City of Johannesburg.”

 

He added: “We deeply regret what has happened and obviously don’t want the negative publicity.”

 

No knowledge of protection

 

He is adamant that Imperial had “absolutely no knowledge” of the provisional protection the site had received. “We disagree that the property was protected.”

 

Harrison disputes this. “The developers were well aware of the heritage status of the site but proceeded with the demolition in defiance of this,” he says. “We will take legal action against them and also charge them with the violation of building standards and demolition without the necessary permit.”

 

In a letter from Imperial’s lawyers dated 27 March 2006 to Flo Bird, chairperson of the Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust, said they made clear that they knew of the site’s provisional protection and intend respecting it. “Our client has instructed us that it is fully aware of the requirements of the National Heritage Resources Act, 1999 (“the Act”) and that it has at no time made any attempt to derogate from the requirements of the Act.

 

“In light of our client’s willingness to follow the due processes in consulting with the necessary authorities and conducting the necessary investigations, your allegation contained [in] your letter that our client is willing to pay the applicable fine in lieu of complying with the requirements of the Act is duly unfounded.”

 

The fine refers to an alleged comment made by Imperial to a journalist and repeated to Bird which states that the fine is “only R10 000” and is well worth the ignoring the provisional protection of an historic site.

 

The attorneys go on to say that “our client’s intentions to develop the property will be in accordance with the laws, by-laws, regulations, licences, consents, authorisations and permits required by the relevant authority with competent jurisdiction regarding the development of the property”.

 

The attorneys continue: “The conservation of the property cannot therefore be considered to be threatened at this point in time and as a result thereof we [do] not believe that it is necessary for the property to be provisionally protected.”

 

This indicates that Imperial were well aware that provisional protection was being applied for. This protection was granted and published in the provincial gazette of 20 September 2006.

 

Imperial have applied to have the site rezoned to allow for the building of the motorcar showroom. Harrison says that the application would require a number of reports from professionals in the industry, who would have made clear to them the significance of the site. “They would be very, very aware of the heritage of the property,” he adds.

 

Demolitions began on Wednesday

 

Bird says that demolition of the site began on Wednesday, 9 January, when roof sheeting and ventilators were being removed. Bird went to the site and indicated to the demolishers, DEMOB, that what they were doing was illegal. Despite this, work continued.

 

Bird maintains that the demolishers “drove back and forth across the rubble crushing the bricks, splintering the oregon pine and twisting any metal in its path. Whatever survived was lifted and dashed down repeatedly until it too was crumpled and useless”.

 

“We will work with the relevant conservation authorities to ensure that the demolishers are prosecuted and so send out a message to developers to keep their hands off historical buildings in Johannesburg,” says Harrison. The case is with the City’s lawyers at present.

 

Carstens said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if it goes to court.

 

Bird has called for the authorities to prosecute Imperial, and instead of imposing a fine, the owners should be ordered to re-instate the buildings.

 

“Imperial Group (Pty) Ltd has demonstrated its contempt for the law, for the heritage of Johannesburg, for due process and for the people of Johannesburg,” said Bird.

 

 

 

 

Imperial to sell Richmond site

 

February 11, 2008

 

Imperial properties intends selling the controversial laundry site in Richmond that they demolished in January.

 

“We are planning to sell the land, and have a few people in mind,” said Tak Hiemstra, executive director of group strategy for Imperial.

 

Over a period of five days in mid-January Imperial demolished the small village of the Rand Steam Laundries & Cleaning & Dyeing Works, which began business in 1902. It was one of the last remaining examples of a steam-driven industrial site in the city. Imperial bought the property in March 2006, with the intention of building a motor showroom on the site.

 

The site has provisional protection for two years, given by the Provincial Heritage Resources Agency of Gauteng (Phrag) in September 2006, but the owners claim they had no knowledge of this protection. This claim is rejected by Flo Bird, chairperson of the Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust, and professor Phil Harrison, the City’s executive director for development planning and urban management.

 

A letter to Bird, who originally applied for the protection shortly after Imperial purchased the site, indicates clearly that they knew of the site’s provisional protection and intended respecting it.

 

Hiemstra said that Imperial regretted the demolition, but believed they acted within the law.

 

On 15 November they received an order from the City’s department of development planning, transportation and environment, stating that the buildings had “become dangerous to life and property”, and that within 15 days Imperial should demolish the buildings or appoint a structural engineer to report on the condition of the buildings.

 

Imperial obtained a one-page engineer’s report, which was duly submitted to the City. The engineers “strongly recommend[ed]” that the buildings be demolished as soon as possible, saying the buildings would become a health hazard, a structural risk and a potential risk to life.

 

Imperial says this was as a result of a fire on the site, after which they feared another fire could result in loss of life.

 

Harrison said it was made clear to Imperial when the order was delivered to them that it was not permission to demolish, which would have to be applied for to the Phrag. He says Imperial then applied twice to the Phrag for a demolition permit, but both applications were rejected.

Hiemstra says this is not quite correct. He says the first communication with the Phrag concerned the notice regarding declaring the site a permanent heritage site. Imperial objected to this declaration. The second communication with Phrag concerned the notice received from the City, with its 15-day deadline. This time Imperial did request a demolition permit but received no reply from Phrag, “despite asking for an urgent response in view of the threat of penalties which could be imposed on us by the Council”, says Hiemstra.

 

The buildings were demolished between 9 and 13 January.

 

According to the City, it was only on the third order to stop demolition that Imperial switched off the bulldozers but by then most of the historic site had been flattened.


John Carstens, the MD of Imperial Properties, the person responsible for the demolition, has been removed from his position, and has resigned from the company.

 

Hiemstra admits that if he had been overseeing the process, he would have cleared the issue of demolition with both the provincial body and the City. “It was a case with two conflicting orders, and a junior official responded to the more urgent one,” he said, referring to Dean Merridew, one of Imperial’s property consultants who oversaw the demolition. “I am sorry a more senior official didn’t respond.” At the time Carstens was on holiday.

 

Hiemstra says that when the site is sold, Imperial will stipulate that some recognition be given to the heritage of the site, either by means of a tower, a façade or a plaque, telling the story of the laundry.

 

A protest

 

The heritage community has been up in arms over the demolition, and on Thursday last week the Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust called for a protest alongside the site.

 

One of the banners read “Hoot if you hate Imperial-ism”, and Joburgers responded with passion - it must have been the noisiest intersection in town.

 

Some 50 to 60 people turned up on the corner of Napier Road and Barry Hertzog Avenue and took turns to hold the banners which read: “Jail Imperialist Vandals”, “Don’t’ buy Imperial”, “Imperial trashes heritage call to action”, “Zero tolerance for law breakers”; and “Imperial trashes heritage, call to action”.

 

Bird described the protest as “very successful” and “a happy occasion”, despite the fact that the Metro Police had received a complaint beforehand, warning that the trust’s application for a protest had not been finalised. This would have meant that only 15 people could be present at the protest at any one time but the police did not bother the protesters, she said.

 

“We were delighted at the mix of people who supported us,” she said, “young and old, from a range of areas, even Sandton, as well as architecture students from Wits.”

 

Comments from those present were emotional: “The city’s so young, we don’t have much heritage, we don’t need another ghastly car dealership”; “I couldn’t believe it, they didn’t care”; and “They have to do something to make it up to the community – it belonged to everyone”.

 

The City has met several times with the provincial MEC for sport, recreation, art and culture, Barbara Creecy, and a criminal case against Imperial Properties is being prepared.

 

If found guilty, a fine or imprisonment could be imposed on Imperial. In addition, Creecy could order them to re-instate the buildings, or they could be prohibited from using the property for 10 years.

 

“People don’t realise that the demolition is a criminal offence,” said Bird. The trust circulated a petition prior to the protest, and collected more signatures at the protest.

 

Not everyone unhappy

 

But not everyone is unhappy the laundry site has been demolished. Several women from the retirement home Deutsches Altersheim Johannesburg, across the road from the site, said collectively they were “very happy it’s down”. They said they have been subjected to loud music after midnight, to the comings and goings of a shebeen, and to a girl who was passing the site being dragged into one of the buildings and raped.

 

“It didn’t look nice, the building was terrible, it wasn’t looked after,” said one woman.

 

Meanwhile, the site is being carefully monitored, says Harrison.

 

“We are monitoring the site on a daily basis, and have already chased someone off the site,” he says. The City is concerned that squatters may move in and set up shacks.

 

Imperial have placed a 24-hour guard at the site. There are several remaining structures on the site – a large hall-like building and a tall round cylinder, the former water tank of the site.

 

 

 

 

Imperial moves on laundry site

 

19 June 2011

 

 

Imperial Properties is planning to turn the flattened laundry site in Richmond into a temporary parking lot for Lancet Laboratories, but will in the long term be required to re-instate the demolished buildings.

 

Several loads of gravel have been deposited on the site, in preparation for the laying of the lot.

 

Imperial controversially demolished the small village of the Rand Steam Laundries & Cleaning & Dyeing Works, dating back to 1902, in January 2008. It was one of the last remaining examples of a steam-driven industrial site in the city.

 

Imperial bought the property in March 2006, with the intention of building a motor showroom on the site. They have subsequently built a showroom barely a kilometre from the site, in Empire Road in Parktown.

 

The village had received provisional heritage protection for two years, by the Provincial Heritage Resources Agency of Gauteng (Phrag) in September 2006, shortly after Imperial purchased the site.

 

Heritage bodies claimed that Imperial deliberately defied the law, and despite being aware that they had to get permission from the City and Phrag, they went ahead with the demolition. Once the bulldozers started their work, it was only at the third order to stop demolition, that they were switched off. By that time only two buildings remained on site – a large hall-like building and a tall cylinder, the former water tank of the site. The attractive line of cottages and factory buildings along Napier Road with their distinctive chimneys, were no more.

 

The site also has other significance – it was where the AmaWasha, Zulu washermen from KwaZulu-Natal, washed the town’s laundry in the 1890s.

 

Permission to demolish

 

Imperial apparently applied twice to Phrag for permission to demolish, but both applications were turned down. This suggests that they were aware of the importance of the site but acted in accordance with a disputed demolition order from the City.

 

This time Imperial appear to have forgotten the outrage their previous actions elicited in the heritage community.

 

Flo Bird, chairperson of the Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust (PWHT), was taken aback when she noticed that Imperial was levelling the site.

 

“We were very angry to discover work being done on site without consulting us and notified Imperial accordingly. Abject apologies, which we have accepted, now that they have agreed to apply for the appropriate consent use for temporary parking and to abide by the conditions we are seeking which will upgrade the pavements and public areas of Richmond,” she wrote in her recent annual chairman’s report.

 

Bird has drawn up a list of conditions for any work carried out on the site, and Imperial is working together with PWHT.

 

Rezoning

 

The first issue is that Imperial will have to have the site rezoned for business before any work is done. At present it is zoned as a residential site, obtained by the previous owners who had permission to erect a 16-storey block of flats on the site. It would be illegal for Imperial to use the site for business uses without it first being rezoned, stresses Bird.

 

The application for rezoning is at present with the City’s planning department, confirms Thando Sishuba, the head of Imperial Properties.

 

The parking lot is seen as a one or two year measure, but long term Imperial will be required to re-instate the buildings they demolished, a condition of the rezoning, says Bird.

 

Sishuba says that Imperial were approached by their neighbours, Lancet Laboratories, to do something with the site, which has be vacant since the demolition in 2008. Rubble has been dumped on the empty plot, and criminals are using portions of the site as a refuge.

 

Sishuba indicates that for the future re-development of the site, which will be mixed use, he is ideally looking at finding an anchor office tenant, with retail tenants along Napier Road.

 

“We would consider a major retailer as well as a combination of smaller businesses like coffee shops, bookshops or dry cleaners – anyone who would lend credibility and credence to the area. We want a 24-hour city feel, a bit of a vibe,” he says.

 

He stresses that Imperial is keen to undo any distress their 2008 demolition caused. “We are working hard to reverse whatever damage was done. We want the entire city of Johannesburg to be proud of what we do. We are doing everything acceptable to abide by the normal statutory processes.”

 

He talks of a “negotiated settlement with regard to the imposed rezoning conditions”, in which all parties are working towards.

 

Conditions

 

Bird is adamant that certain conditions will be fulfilled in the short-term development of the site. The parking area is to be gravelled not tarred, and the site is to be maintained and secured, to be undertaken by Lancet.

 

Two derelict houses on the north-western border of the site should be demolished and the rubble removed. The two remaining buildings on the site must be restored.

 

The pavement along Napier Road should be upgraded and planted with oak trees, right up to the Johannesburg Country Club.

 

“These trees [are] to be properly maintained and protected as saplings and replaced if necessary.  Oak trees are part of the heritage of Richmond and the road leading to the Country Club,” she says. 

 

Bird is also very specific about how the work is to be done. “Drawings by a specialist conservation architect of the heritage buildings along Napier Road which are to reconstructed must be submitted to PWHT and Phrag before the consent can be considered for renewal,” she has indicated to Imperial.

 

“We don’t want restoration to be a Mickey Mouse affair.”

 

She says that the style of the buildings is “not complicated”. She is not insisting that Imperial replace the original Oregon pine, which would be difficult and expensive to obtain. Instead they can use local materials but must re-create the original feel of the buildings.

 

In addition, no advertising is to be allowed on the site.

 

Conservation architect Herbert Prins of Phrag says the heritage body supports Bird’s proposals. Ideally, the site should be declared a heritage site, he adds.

 

 

 

 

Please reload