Inappropriate Renovations of Port Elizabeth’s Historical Buildings

Many of Port Elizabeth’s historic gems such as the Custom’s House have already faced the demolisher’s wrecking ball yet the more compelling danger to Port Elizabeth’s magnificent architectural heritage, is not the building’s outright destruction, but rather inappropriate renovations which wrench these buildings from their historical and social taproots, transforming them into anodyne objects divorced from their past. 

For me, the amber light of caution has ineluctably been switched to red as unscrupulous developers and renovators take no heed either of the original design of the structure or the materials used in its construction. In such a callous manner is this irreplaceable heritage being flushed away, substituted by architecture shorn of its historical roots. 

This is a plea – nay clarion call – not for vigilance but action to stem the tide of ahistorical renovations couched in terms of restoration. For not to do so, will forever doom this jewel to its gradual but ultimate destruction.

Main picture:  Many sins of omission and commission were committed in the restoration of these terraced houses in Donkin Street

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Early Architecture

For the purposes of this blog, the architectural styles from the Late Georgian, in which No 7 Castle Hill was constructed, to the Edwardian Style which predominated from 1890 to 1914, will be covered. Unfortunately, many of these structures are being demolished, altered or “renovated” in such a way that their original character is lost. 

Perhaps, in a small measure, one’s understanding of the various styles will culminate in their appreciation and hence a desire to preserve them. 

Main picture: Fleming House at 20 Bird Street is a good example of architecture in the Regency Style

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Schoenmakerskop: A Murder Most Heinous

Noted more for its solitude and friendly demeanour and none of the city’s hustle and bustle and other vices, yet this quaint village has suffered its fair share of the most heinous crime over the course of its existence. 

This blog deals with the second of them; the murder of Mr JJ Janssen. Like the first murder in Schoenmakerskop, it was committed in the local tea room. However, unlike the first slaying in which the motive was purely robbery with murder as a consequence, in stark contrast, this one bore the hallmarks of baser emotions: a premeditated vicious murder. 

Main picture: Johannes Jacobus Jansen

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Baakens from Pristine Lagoon to Commercial Area

From a pristine lagoon in 1820 to a commercial area in forty years, is how long it took to destroy this once virgin wilderness. Unlike the Settlers, the previous inhabitants of this area, the Khoisan, without any discernible talent at building permanent structures, left no detectable evidence of their presence in the area over eons.

As my blog entitled “Port Elizabeth of Yore: What Happened to the Baakens Lagoon? deals with the why and how the lagoon was reclaimed, instead this blog will focus on the various attempts at bridging this normally placid waterway and the development of commerce and industries within the restricted confines of the valley floor.

Main picture: The bridge across the Baakens in 1866 before the flood showing the lagoon

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Market

Now considered an anachronism, but in the 19th century, the market was a millennia old method of connecting buyers and seller without the intermediation of shops. It occupied a pivotal place in the towns of yore, culturally and economically, normally being located at the centre of the town. So it was in the case of Port Elizabeth. 

Main picture: Market Square with bullock carts

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Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: The Bathing House at Humewood Beach

Tempis fugit – Time flies. I am unsure whether one would refer to the 50th anniversary of this building’s demolition as its golden anniversary, but I can vividly recall the floods of 1968 and this building even though I never once used the facilities. 

Probably one of the only elegant buildings constructed in Humewood during the turn of the century, it evinced an era of formality in beach attire more akin for modern day formal attire.

Main picture: Humewood Bathing House in the background

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Postal Service – Part 4

After much confusion and loss of mail, the Post Office had been relocated to the double storey house of the Harbour Engineer, Mr. Woodifield, adjacent to the Phoenix Hotel in Market Square. 

The first innovation, the use of prepaid stamps, had by now been accepted then the second radical change was proposed.

Main picture: Corner of Main & Jetty Street in 1876.  Originally the London and SA Bank occupied this site and then it was taken over by the Post Office. Later the then Union Castle Mail Steamship Company took it over. The little building two buildings on the left was the original building of T. Birch and Co.

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Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: The Cleghorn’s Building

Among the pantheon of buildings arranged around the Town Hall during the “classical” period of the town, was the Cleghorn’s Building. It is important not to forget that this building had a much more illustrious past as it initially served as the Herald’s offices after it relocated here from Titterton Lane just off Main Street.

Main picture: The original building at the foot of White’s Road, then occupied by the Eastern Province Herald

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The First Schools

The first order of business when the Settlers landed in Algoa Bay was to establish some sort of permanent roof over their heads. As such, schooling was not a priority. Nonetheless the residents desire for schooling for their children could not be trifled with. To this end, a meeting of the inhabitants was arranged for Friday 20th February 1824 at the Red Lion Tavern which was by then being used as the Custom’s House and as Public Offices. 

Main picture: Algoa House serving as Mrs. Harriet Joanna Eedes’ School for Young Ladies

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