Boer Colonel Ignatius Ferreira would be tipping his brown felt hat in pleasure at developments in the inner city suburb of Ferreirastown. It’s here that in 1886 he halted his wagon, pitched his tent and hoped that he would have more luck making his fortune with gold than he’d had with diamonds.
This week another entrepreneur halted his wagon in Ferreirastown just several blocks from where Ferreira’s wagon stood, near the beautiful old St Alban’s Church, opposite the new BRT station. Landscape architect, writer, tour operator, and now developer Gerald Garner opened The Sheds@1 Fox on Thursday, a new 7-day “artisanal food and produce market and lifestyle emporium” which he plans as a permanent feature of this side of town. It will be open initially from 10am to 6pm from Thursday to Sunday as a pop-up market until the end of the year while it’s pegging out its ground, then open every day in 2015.
The market is in a cluster of old corrugated iron warehouses, soaring two-storey spaces with gorgeous thick Oregon pine posts and trusses, which Garner reckons were built before the South African War of 1899.
“It is here that Hubert Davies opened mining warehouses in 1893. While most of the buildings on site date from the 1920s and 1940s, the centre part of the main shed is possibly the oldest industrial structure in all of Joburg,” he explains, calling it “one of the most special properties in town”.
Garner is concerned about keeping the original footprint of the historic buildings. So all he’s done to the solid structures is replace the iron roof and its skylights, reinforced some of the posts which were rotting, put in electricity and toilets but otherwise he’s kept the grey distressed look. “We want to try to keep the look and feel, and retain its character,” he adds.
Two enormous original wooden doors open into the A-framed space where tables and chairs are laid out to seat 500 people, so it’s on a much bigger scale than the one-day-a-week Neighbourgoods market in Braamfontein, or Market on Main in Maboneng.
The story goes that a liquor licence was granted for the first bar in town, Ferreira’s Bar, on this site in 1893 and, two years later, the Good Luck Bar opened in 1895, in what was the heart of the early gold rush town. A month after President Paul Kruger declared the gold workings open in October 1886, Fillis’s Circus set up shop. Nine months later Wallet’s Circus came to town, and in 1889 Frank Fillis built a permanent big top of wood and iron in Bree Street. So Ferreirastown was the place to chill after a hard day at the gold diggings.
Well, the Good Luck Bar lives again, now as a boutique wine bar with one of the longest wooden counters in town. The craft beer bar counter is not quite as long but the beer pumps in tankardloads for thirsty Joburg throats. There are three coffee stalls, and lots of good food, including oysters, chilly preserves, tarts and quiches, souvlaki, ice cream, and speciality teas and juices. Entrepreneurs like Simphiwe Twala and Tshepo Lefoko of Soweto Art and Craft, with their home industry shoes, hats, jewellery, handbags, shorts and other home-grown stuff, sell their goods with huge dollops of enthusiasm.
Each stall has been created with wooden pallets, complementing the other rich, raw elements.
The warehouses belong to the Johannesburg Land Company, and they had planned to demolish them as they had stood empty and derelict for over a decade. But when Garner walked into the space for the first time, he says he “knew this should be a market. Every city in the world has a food and produce market, and Joburg needs one.”
Garner has teamed with up with innovative tea entrepreneur Jan Roode of Happy Me and they have signed a 10-year lease to revive some of the original Ferreirastown, which is served by nearby BRT and Gautrain buses, with plenty of parking across the road at the western end of town.
In time studio space will be created for bakers and craft brewers to make products for the market. Garner wants to see it as a place for “urban picnics”, encouraging families to make it a go-to place. Besides large potted trees, he has planted generous beds of herbs and veg at the entrance, to be used by the stall owners. There is a five-storey office block on the site, which Garner reckons could be turned into a residential space in future.
There are plenty of people to patronise the market – the mining corporates on Main Street, workers from Newtown, and even the cops from across the road at the Central Police Station, And of course the growing inner city resident population and suburbanites after work and on weekends. But Garner wants to focus on getting tourists to The Sheds, in what he describes as “an authentic urban African experience”. He says that 65% of those doing his tours are international visitors.
On opening night the Runaway Train Cult provided the smooth beats, and speaking to people munching on pizzas and shawarmas, they were enjoying the vibe and the ambience, and would definitely be back. Garner estimates that around 800 people turned up on Thursday night.
Jonathan Liebmann, the entrepreneur behind the hugely successful Maboneng precinct on the east side of town, says he is really happy to see anything that uplifts the CBD. “I always support city stuff. The CBD has outperformed growth relative to the rest of Joburg, and it’s been private sector driven.” He is keen to pop around to The Sheds@1Fox some time, he says.
Dr Hans Sauer was the first district surgeon in Johannesburg in those early days. He is quoted by historian Eric Rosenthal in Gold! Gold! Gold! as saying: “Within a fortnight after our arrival Ferreira’s Camp began to assume the aspect of a busy place; tents and tented wagons covered a wide area, and here and there primitive reed-and-clay shanties appeared. Newcomers turned up every day, by ox wagon, by horse wagon, by mule wagon, and by every imaginable sort of vehicle, from the Old Colony, from Natal, from the Orange Free State, from Kimberley, from Pretoria, in fact, from all parts of South Africa.” (A replica wagon similar to Ferreira’s is now in Main Street.)
Ferreira went on to float his own mine. Looks like Garner is about to float his too, drawing in people from all parts of Joburg, linking the city’s present to its past.