Many people once pejoratively called Prince Charles a sentimental old fool for deploring the destruction of the architectural coherence of an area by demolishing an old building within a section of a town or street which epitomised a particular architectural style. As such, Charles was roundly condemned for wanting to stifle progress and advancement. Instead, it was an earnest plea by Charles to preserve such sections of the town where there was merit to do so. For not to exercise caution would destroy the architectural integrity of that area.
Sadly, Port Elizabeth has witnessed the destruction of such an area which would fall within the remit of Charles’ rebuke. Without a doubt, this area encompasses the old Market Square and includes Jetty Street and the old Customs House. To this we can add the demolition of the Fleming building and the old Collegiate School for use as a parking area
Main picture: The Main Library in 1939. All of these buildings whether they were constructed in 1859 like the Grey Institute or the Donkin lighthouse in 1861 are still standing. At this date if one had to turn around and look across Market Square, all of the original buildings would still be standing. From Castle Corner to the Mosenthal and Richardson buildings, they would all be present. Then as in in fit of pique, in the 1970s they would all be demolished.
A century ago, Park Drive was akin to Houghton Estate in Joburg, housing the well-heeled of the town in the multitude of stylish and elegant houses lining Park Drive. Amongst them was a house, “The Aloes” at No. 56 Park Drive. Given the large stand sizes, many of these mansions, such as the Matopos of the Frielinghaus’, have already been converted into blocks of flats. Hopefully this one, which is currently on the market, will not be another victim of progress.
Information on the houses in this street were supplied by Tennyson Smith Bodill for which I am grateful.
Main picture: The “Aloes” – No. 56 Park Drive
Port Elizabeth was at the
centre of the burgeoning mohair industry in the 1800s. It still is except that
the industry is no longer flourishing. Before the motor vehicle assembly
industry was established in Port Elizabeth during the 1920s, wool as well as
mohair were the mainstays of the local economy.
This is the long-forgotten story of the rise of this industry off the back of the Angora goat and its fall in the twentieth century.
Main picture: One of the last batches of Angoras imported
from Turkey by Adolph Mosenthals & Co. in 1895. Mr.& Mrs. W. Mosenthal
are seated in the buggy with Mr. H. Goldschmidt standing in the background. In
the foreground are three Turkish goat handlers who accompanied the animals on
Despite being a small proportion of the town’s population, the Jewish community has always been prominent in Port Elizabeth mainly due to their business and commercial acumen, but they also played a prominent role in civic affairs.
It is fair to say that everybody either had a Jewish school mate, friend, or neighbour. In the case of the McCleland’s it was the Siesel’s who had escaped from Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. Arriving in Port Elizabeth with nothing but a suitcase, Mr Siesel opened a trading operation catering for the black population. The Siesel’s were our neighbours across the road in Mowbray Street, Newton Park.
Main picture: Western Road Synagogue used primarily by Jews of German and British extraction
For more than half a century Mosenthals was the most prominent and probably the largest enterprise in Port Elizabeth. Even my family has a connection to this once dominant company. Firstly, my maternal grandfather was a wool sorter and later my mother was a typist in their employ. For me, the firm Mosenthals epitomises both the growth and subsequent decline of Port Elizabeth, but also the trajectory of South Africa’s industrial, agricultural, and commercial growth.
Let us trace the journey that Mosenthals, Port Elizabeth and South Africa took.
Main picture: The original offices of Mosenthals in Port Elizabeth