line decor
line decor


Current Issues


Rand Steam Laundries, Richmond:   Update   14th November 2015

At our request on Tuesday 9th November we met with Willem Reitsma and Osman Arbee of Imperial as we wanted to know the results of the costing of the downscaled project for the new development including the reconstruction of the buildings along Napier Road and commemorative section for the Amawasha site.

They reported that the quotes for the work came to R78 million which exceeded their expectation, and with the structural economic slowdown and reduced motor sales did not make an investment in a motor dealership viable. Forecasts indicate that the proposed investment will not be able to generate returns over the next five years. Motor car sales are declining and are unlikely to recover in the present economy and as such Imperial is critically reviewing its current dealership footprint.

Car dealerships are out. Student housing and mixed uses might be the answer
So Imperial wants to find an alternative solution. They are looking for another use, preferably a buyer who will take the land and rebuild the Napier Road structures. They say they are not trying to escape this requirement, but wanted to know what other uses we thought possible or likely to work.

Richmond is improving with UJ taking over Auto & General and Hollard taking on the old Chamber of Commerce building. Located between the two universities student housing is one very attractive possibility and depending on the quality of the architects who are adapting the buildings it might work in many of them. The old Palace Steam Laundry Building was simply a great hall which could be used for a gym, basketball courts, indoor cricket etc.    
Imperial did not take this decision in a dispassionate way, and will NOT be reneging on its responsibility and we certainly accept that it should be possible to adapt most of the buildings to other uses. POSSIBLE but not necessarily financially feasible.  

Provided Imperial takes responsibility for reconstructing the buildings as agreed with their heritage architect and over which we have spent many hours discussing the details, it is possible that more sympathetic uses may be found. But if it is to be student housing and we believe the zoning might permit this, we shall certainly insist on ample recreational space. It needs vision such as a well-endowed campus would have – an Olympic swimming pool, playing fields and lots and lots of trees.

Flo Bird and William Gaul





Since February  this year members of the heritage lobby have been attending meetings with the National Department of Public Works discussing the development of the Marshall Street Police Barracks and the site they call 65 Anderson Street.

We were more than sceptical at the first meeting, became even more suspicious when no heritage architect was appointed, so only at the final meeting on 18th May did we accept their bona fides and really enjoy the discussions.  Yasmin Mayat of Mayat Hart architects has been appointed as the heritage architect. She laid down the law very firmly and we certainly intend supporting her whenever possible.


Bhavid of Creative Axis architects presented the design for the 2 new office buildings, one of which will be entirely new in form in that area. No pretence or pastiche. They relate in some respects to the old, but with the freedom Norman Foster claimed for the Hearst Tower in New York these buildings will stand out in Marshallstown as unashamedly 21st Century.

Space is created between the old and new recalling the parade ground which was the breathing space behind the barracks building. In fact the 9 storeyed eastern “barrel” block is scooped out to bring in more light. The ground floor opens possibilities for café/canteen, breakaway area and rest area from the gym. I predict it might prove a more human area for queuing as one does so often outside government buildings.

Transparency has been an important quality in sharp contrast to the old military building. Bhavid has created a transparent connection between Marshall and Anderson Street which we support as it extends the link through to Gandhi Square. The central atrium which links the two office buildings underlines this quality which is a principle fundamental to our constitution.

At street level the upper range of the new blocks will be seen, but floating above rather than emerging directly from the rooftop of the Barracks building.   

More difficult to manage is the retention of the old wall on Anderson Street which is also the façade with vehicular access to the underground parking.

SO IT IS VERY GOOD NEWS!!!  We’ll have a professionally researched report on the site, the restoration which will include some reconstruction of the old and rather fine neo-Colonial building, possibly the commemoration of elements which may be significant of the two old buildings which will be demolished; a small display of any artefacts and photographs providing a history of the site – and two astonishing new public buildings which should make the civil servants inside more civil due to the exciting environment. Oh yes. The new buildings will certainly have to meet green standards.

Congratulations to Lerato Lenong and her team.






Press Release: The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation welcomes debate on heritage
13 April 2015

The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation welcomes debate on heritage, and in Johannesburg we are very proud not only of the effort made by the authorities to commemorate the past and particularly of the Liberation Struggle but also of the way they have handled transforming the past. A palpable example is the old City Hall, now the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. The Gauteng Province took what had been an elitist space and made into the most important place in the province for public debate. It is a pleasure to go to the old Council chamber when making a submission to a Committee, and feel the huge difference between the bullying and heckling witnessed against the one and only woman councillor, Dr Selma Browde, and now when we are welcomed, given refreshments and the Chair tries to ensure that those members of the public making representations do not feel intimidated, but an integral part of the process of government.

The old Transvaal Memorial Hospital, commemorating the white soldiers who died in the First World War, provided health care for white children but has now been transformed into the Children’s Memorial Institute, accommodating the NGO’s which serve children regardless of race: two crèches, the school for autistic children, the Teddy Bear Clinic.

Most moving of all is a visit to Constitution Hill where bitter and cruel memories are revived and violations of human rights are recounted so that ultimately when the visitor reaches the Constitutional Court there is a sense of catharsis, respect and pride in the huge achievement of the Democratic South Africa.

The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation likes showing off the varied heritage of our City. We have pride in the plaques we erected for Adam Asvat in Fietas – the man who refused to recognise the Group Areas Act and stayed put while bulldozers raged around him. We erected one to Rusty and Hilda Bernstein in Observatory, the Weinbergs and Harmels in The Gardens and restored the house of James Mpanza Sofasonke in Orlando East, the man who first invaded land and erected shacks drawing attention to the desperate housing situation. It was an effective protest. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer found the funds (refused by the government )  to enable to City Council to start building houses and to do so at an ever increasing rate.

We walk Fordsburg to talk about the struggle of the miners for job reservation and decent pay in the face of early death through Phthisis, and then the Indian community’s history of economic progress, Forced Removals and the struggle against Apartheid. We look at Bree Street School, the movie houses and talk of the obliteration of the houses for the Oriental Plaza and end the tour with the beauty of the Minaret of the Hamidia Masjid and the Gandhi sculpture which commemorates the burning of passes in 1907.

We visit Old Chinatown, another pioneering community which survives in the shadow of John Vorster Square. Their Indian and Coloured neighbours were all forcibly removed from Ferreirasdorp. Only one family escaped this purge.

Joburg has an enthralling heritage for its 129 years, layered and twisted much like the rock of the Witwatersrand. The gold isn’t found in nuggets, but in very fine grained conglomerate which needs to be processed and transformed to reveal its true value. Any attempt to simplify the narrative of our city’s heritage is unlikely to succeed.

For more information, please contact us on mail@joburgheritage.co.za




The Planning Committee of the City of Johannesburg has approved the rezoning of the site inclduing the requirement to rebuild the laundry buildings along Napier Road and to commemorate the Amawasha site.


So now we’ll be working with Imeorial to ensure the reconstruction of the buildings is as accurate and authentic as can be managed, bearing in mind that the laundries stopped operating in 1970 so there was another 40 years in which changes took place.


News from the Heritage Battle Front:


JHF was invited to comment on an HIA for an old mine hostel in Fleurhof. Rand leases Gold mine started working at the turn of the last century but the mine Compound or Hostel was enormous and probably only built in the 1940”s

Joburgheritage Entrance to Compound

Entrance to the Compound

Joburgheritage Compound


Joburgheritage Fleurhof Hostel

Fleurhof Hostels

All around it are brand new apartment buildings 4 storey walk ups and some tiny bungalows – bright and colourful. Really no signs of the old mine apart from the mine dam overlooked by a brand new school all in prefabs, the distant mine dumps, a few blue gums  and the large brick hostel.  We chatted to a few residents and they made it clear that there are no facilities nearby. Shops are a long way away over East  Main Reef Road, there is no clinic, no library, no crèche and just a few very small stalls inside the compound selling fruit, vegetables and cigarettes.

So we have lodged our comments – keep the hostel, honour the migrant workers on whom the City’s wealth is built, give the very new community some sense of the past and our roots and provide a mini-Melrose Arch – residential units, shops, shops and more shops, taverns, clinic, crèche, library. Make it buzz with a small open air market and don’t let cars into the huge square.

The photographs are not good because it was raining and we were shocked to find the demolition had started BEFORE the Heritage Impact Assessment had been undertaken but we have already received the assurance that the demolition was not done by the developers but by people stealing metal and that the developers do intend making this the heart of the community.  SO GOOD NEWS!


Driving back from Roodepoort we spotted this marvellous Art Deco factory building in Industria – right across the road from Croesus station. Looking a lot like the Hoover building in London  it was built originally for the Lion Match Company and designed by Herbert Jones and Richard Day of Cape Town  with K.E.F. Gardiner of Johannesburg . “Jazzed up classicism with windstream shapes” as Chipkin describes it  “it was dazzling. Visitors to Johannesburg  and local residents alike took drives out in the evening to see the great floodlit spectacle of Lion Match  - one of the principal sights of Johannesburg in its jubilee year.” That would have been 1936 when the City was celebrating its half century.

It was lovely to spot this wonderful building through the avenue of plane trees along Edison Street.  We simply have to organise a tour of  fine industrial buildings.

Joburgheritage Ullman Brothers

Ullman Brothers Pty Ltd

Joburgheritage Ullman Brothers


On Freedom ay we’ll be unveiling a heritage plaque to commemorate Adam Asvat , the founder of the Save Page view Association. Adam was born in Sophiatown and when the forced removals started there he refused to be pushed 30 miles out of town to Lenasia and moved into a house in Fietas (Pageview) . When in turn that was declared a white group area and the residents were being moved out, he decided he had had enough. The roof was removed from their home in 11th Street, but with bulldozers all around them and the neighbours being packed off to Lenasia, he and his wife, Khadija, moved into a house in 12th Street before the demolishers could start on it. They sat tight and persuaded the other 66 families who remained to stand together. They fought through the courts to prevent the demolitions and stayed in their homes as walls were torn apart around them. Only in 1989 were they finally saved when F.W. de Klerk confirmed that the eviction orders against them would not be pursued.


17 October 2012, answering a question put by Anchen Dreyer, the Minister of Public Works told Parliament that R53.1 million had been allocated in the budget for the next financial year (April  2013-March 2014) for consultants and contractor for the commencement of rehabilitation works on the building. Total value of this project is estimated at R233.5 million over a period of three years for work on the Marshall Street Barracks. Certainly there is no sign of that money having been spent on the building itself which is still falling apart, bits of timber dentillated cornice dropping on the pavement in strong winds.  

We notice that the Public protector found that the funds for Nklandla came from two sources in the Department of Public Works. One was for  inner city regeneration.





Fire at Holy Family College formerly Parktown Convent

Pic Pic Pic

27 May 2013

The Beautiful art deco brickwork of the school hall is still standing. The stage was gutted. This is where MOIRA LISTER and Vanessa Cooke as hid Barbara Kinghorn and Sheilagh Hamilton.

23 May 2013

A fire broke out last night just before 9pm starting in the roof of the old Art Deco brick hall. The roof timbers and blue slate had collapsed by the time I got there and we watched it rage on the Oxford Road end where the stage was. It burned more slowly at the other end where the timber gallery still hung in the air. Gradually the flames consumed the beams and we thought the gable wall would fall, but it was still standing when we left. So was the statue of the Virgin in the niche.

By 10.45 the fire seemed out and we left. It had gutted the hall but not spread to the old building. The Museum and Chapel are intact and it was nowhere near the Research Centre.



Indaba 21 September 2013

This is a great concept, and all the intentions are supported. The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation would like to participate BUT with so little time and no budget available it is difficult for us to do so.

We are therefore proposing a number of measures which are not costly and which can be privately sponsored if your committee creates a PROGRAMME OF OPPORTUNITIES in which lots of people can be involved.

We propose the following:


This is a relatively inexpensive way to place a permanent marker on the places which are of special significance. The City of Johannesburg has done excellent work in creating routes in Sophiatown, Vilakazi Street and Alexandra linking the plaques.  

The point is the plaques are available every day for the general public. The local community gains increasing pride in its achievements because they are reminded regularly in passing such plaques. This is something for the people of Gauteng, not just for tourists.


The name of the site plus a limited amount of information is then given. There may be a logo specific to that section or to the organisation which is responsible for erecting the plaque. That may be the province or one of the municipalities or one of the voluntary groups like the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. To me a spread of these organisations being involved indicates that it may be led by the province but it has the backing of people from all over Gauteng. 


The list of sites to be marked can be published and sponsors invited for the different plaques. It doesn’t have to be a big business organisation.  It can be the shop around the corner from the site.   The sponsor’s name would not appear on the plaque, so framed letters of thanks signed by the Premier would be a good form of acknowledgement which the sponsor will be able to display.


The articles should be prepared and scrutinised to match and extend the information on the plaques. It is useful for students, learners and tourists and provides accurate information rapidly and very inexpensively. 


This information would probably come best from the History Departments of our universities. They should be sent a letter asking if they are willing to contribute, listing  the 186 sites and if they are willing to research and write up certain topics, be asked to list them.


Once again this is an inexpensive way to spread the information widely, making it accessible to local people, tourists and investors. 


There are many private colleges and institutions which might be willing to assist with this. They would have to undertake to do a certain number and also to check the work of others because each site needs to endorsed by someone else to be accepted by Google Maps.



The legislature is the historic heart of Gauteng.  We propose that the Sports, Recreation Arts and Culture Committee adopt a project of placing granite paving blocks in the paving recording important events leading up to the new dispensation, but also recording events after that. For example a block next to the flagpoles recording the first time the flag for the new democratic South Africa was raised one minute after midnight on 26th April 1992.

The story of the Province of Gauteng is part of the liberation history as is the adoption of the new Constitution.

As people walk around the historic section of the Legislature, the Cenotaph and Beyers Naude Square the history starts building up. It works in New York and other cities and reminds all the people passing-by of special events we might otherwise forget.  


Old high schools in Johannesburg, especially boys’ schools, all have Rolls of Honour recording the names of pupils who lost their lives fighting for their country. The Gauteng Education Department could be asked to sponsor Scrolls of Honour for schools attended by struggle leaders and heroes. They would not have had to die for the cause, but been active and their names should be listed. There is probably too little time left to get these done in gold lettering on wooden boards, but scrolls with artwork could be created and framed.

Just as the old Rolls of Honour are remembered on 11th November  Remembrance Day , the Scrolls of Honour could be read out  every year on 27th April on (or before)  Freedom Day.

                        OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE

Some wealthy schools are already twinned with underprivileged schools. They could be invited to assist in mounting the Scrolls and share in honouring those who participated in the Liberation Struggle.   It would be much more meaningful if these were people whose names they came to know and appreciate their contribution.


These should be solid ceramic blocks which would allow a different colour to be used so that visitors can follow a trail and recognise the sites.  It should be a standard marker. If the grave has no headstone then there is also the motivation to have one made.

                        OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE

Some graves already have inscriptions which indicate their role, but if there is no such grave stone then these need to be identified for special sponsorships.  

Organisations could be asked to provide the markers needed in a specific cemetery, hopefully accompanied with a leaflet showing the plan of the cemetery and where the special graves are to be found.


If the aim is to remember the liberation struggle then memory has to created for those who were not yet born. This means organising school tours with worksheets and information they can derive from the plaques, their textbooks and the guides who lead them. There are many tour guides in Johannesburg with not enough work to do. They could be trained to handle specific routes.

                        OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE

Private companies should be invited to sponsor school tours with various identifiable routes. The sponsor’s name would appear on the worksheets.

Ours is a constant battle against forgetfulness

Blue Plaques, granite paving blocks around the Legislature and ceramic blocks on graves would be permanent markers, requiring very little maintenance, only a degree of watchfulness and reminders to Councillors,  teachers and guides to make use of them.

Putting the relevant history onto Wikipaedia and Mapping the heritage sites on Google Maps offer permanent ways of making information accessible and free of charge. Additions can be made over the years. It is not a finite task. 

Scrolls of Honour would be semi-permanent because they would require respectful care on the part of the Schools.  However, just as we expect school to take of the national flag surely we should be able to entrust something precious like this to the schools.

Building memory
A programme of School tours is something which the Province should be engaged in yearly.  The noted educator and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, Jonathan Jansen, recently wrote how important it is to take children out of the classroom and extend the learning environment. It is so much more exciting and memorable.

Learners should be walking down Vilakazi Street, or round the Legislature, the Workers’ Museum and Museum Africa.  Johannesburg Tourism which includes Soweto Tourism and all local municipal tourist offices should be asked to submit ideas for Liberation Routes and assist in training the tour leaders.

These may be very modest measures, but they offer a range of opportunities of people, businesses and local authorities to become involved in the recognition of those who made great sacrifices for the struggle. They should have a lasting and cumulative impact especially for local communities in Gauteng.  

Flo Bird
Johannesburg Heritage Foundation
5th October 2013




The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) and the Egoli Heritage Foundation (EHF) are two bodies that for many years have been dedicated to the conservation of the  National Estate as defined in the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 (NHRA).

We have been hampered by the lack of commitment of Gauteng Province
to rigorously implementing the provisions of the NHRA.  This lack of commitment has resulted in the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority, Gauteng (PHRAG) not being properly funded and capacitated to perform its functions in terms of the NHRA.

Appeals to successive MEC’s over the years have had no effect which is why we ask the Portfolio Committee to take up the cause of Heritage Conservation in Gauteng.

At the root of the problem lies the proper establishment of the PHRAG in terms of Section 23 of the NHRA that states:

Establishment of provincial heritage resources authorities
23. An MEC may establish a provincial heritage resources authority which shall be
responsible for the management of the relevant heritage resources within the province,
which shall be a body corporate capable of suing and being sued in its corporate name
and which shall be governed by a Council constituted as prescribed by regulations
published in the Provincial Gazette: Provided that the members of the Council shall be
appointed in a manner which applies the principles of transparency and representivity
and takes into account special competence, experience and interest in the field of
heritage resources.

The MEC for Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture has established the PHRAG and nominated PHRAG Councils (from time to time) but NOT established their autonomy.  As a consequence the Council is a de facto part of the provincial department, depending for financial and administrative support on what the department deigns to give it.

A report has been prepared detailing the shortcomings of the PHRAG in relation to its obligations has been prepared and we would like the opportunity to present this to the portfolio committee at a later date.  Meanwhile we want to draw your attention to the following:  

  1. PHRAG has refused to register the heritage organisations which have applied for registration in terms of Section 25 (1) (b)  of the National Heritage Resources Act and by so doing, negates the effectiveness of organisations (such as ours) to contribute towards the objectives of the NHRA.

The application was made on 21ST January 2010 under our original name of Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust (see attached letter) and also by the Egoli Heritage Foundation. We received no reply. When eventually members of our organisations who were members of PHRAG Council raised the matter at a meeting of the PHRAG Council the Council agreed that both organisations should be registered, but the Deputy-Director responded that as PHRAG itself was not properly constitute we could not be registered.

    1. If PHRAG is not properly constituted why nothing has been done in the past 10 years to correct that position?
    2. How is PHRAG taking action in terms of other sections of the act - issuing or refusing permits, holding appeal hearings, declaring sites heritage sites and spending its budget every year if it is NOT properly constituted ?
  1. We agree that PHRAG is not properly constituted in so much as it remains subservient to the Department.
    1. The result of its NOT being an independent body is that the officials are accountable only to the Department and not to the PHRAG Council or PHRAG committees. We mention only two of the implications. 
    1. The Department is utterly inadequate in its role of monitoring the officials so that, for example, it continues to provide transport free of charge for officials to get from Pretoria to Johannesburg and back again, permitting them to work different hours from the rest of Gauteng province. Whilst money is made available for officials to travel there is no adequate provision for the transportation of sub-committee members in the course of their official inspections and these have on occasions had to be cancelled because cars are being used for other departmental activities that seem to be given priority.  Money spent on transporting officials to and from Pretoria, in the light of limited financial resources, should be spent protecting the heritage.
    1. Properties owned by the Province of Gauteng appear to be exempt from the strictures and surveillance to which other property owners are subject. This is in conflict with the Constitution and the NHRA. Properties owned by the province within a few hundred metres of the legislature are in abominable condition and no action has been taken to remedy this position.  

PHRAG is ineffectual, failing to meet its obligations as outlined in the Act and yet at the same time causing extensive problems to those who try to obey and uphold the law. Developers are held up for months, even years, but those who break the law are not prosecuted or pursued.

For us the heritage organisations, it seems the Gauteng Province does not take the issue of Heritage seriously, yet heritage is the competency of the provinces according to the Constitution.

We want to express our appreciation to the Chairperson and members of this committee for having done what PHRAG refuses to do i.e. to recognize both the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and the Egoli Heritage Foundation as stakeholders in promoting and protecting the heritage of this part of Gauteng.  

Flo Bird
15 October 2013




Sponsorship for St-Mary-The Less

The Mackenzie Foundation has once again come to the rescue and made a further donation to enable us to install bigger downpipes and paint the interior of the Church in time for its 125th birthday next year. St Mary-the-Less in Jeppestown is the City’s oldest Church and its second oldest building. 

Ideas for the National Liberation Struggle Routes

We were invited to the Indaba on Saturday 21st September and invited to comment. Since there was apparently no budget available we suggested a number of fairly inexpensive options.  ( See  Current Issues for details.)

Portfolio Committee for Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture:  Annual Report

Recognised as stakeholders Mike Fleming and Flo Bird attended on behalf of the JHF and put forward our gripe (shared with Egoli Heritage Foundation) that the PHRAG is not properly constituted as an independent and autonomous body as required by the National Heritage Resources Act. It is a small section of the Department and gets the resources to match.  (Try Current Issues for the argument)  We have had ten years of excuses – under-funded, under-resourced. It’s ENOUGH!



Rissik Street Post Office Restoration Watch  19th February 2013

Things are going rather badly now. First the Executive Mayor decided he didn’t want to move down to the heart of Johannesburg. Perhaps he didn’t care to be quite so close to the Premier and the Gauteng Legislature.   Then the developer started dealing with the Gauteng legislature – the obvious tenant for a restored Rissik Street Post Office, but that has proved not so promising . He didn’t attend the meeting with the Johannesburg City Property Company last week so they have decided to put him on terms.

All is not well with the project anyway because Johannesburg City Parks is most unwilling to have the Oppenheimer Gardens excavated for a parking garage underneath. They have clearly learned their lesson from what happened at the Frank Brown Park in Parktown where the developer used the park for a building site promising to restore it and upgrade it and then reneged on the deal. City Parks is not blessed with a large legal department to deal with faithless villains.

Finally,  we do know who the Heritage Architects are appointed to deal with the Rissik Street Post Office. They are Mashabane Rose a partnership which has other important work in Johannesburg including the Potato Sheds development.  We trust them to be a lot more insistent about retaining and not reconstructing this time since our faith in developers fulfilling such promises is rather less than that of Johannesburg City Parks. 

Flo Bird





The University of the Witwatersrand denies any intention of demolishing the Tower and says it is indeed very proud of the structure which it is has recently repainted.




City of Johannesburg

Arts, Culture and Heritage Services




Name of Site:                Tower of Light

Other Names (if any):

Location:                       West Campus, University of the Witwatersrand

District/Region:             Johannesburg, Gauteng


Previous Owner:           Witwatersrand Agricultural Society

Present Owner:             University of the Witwatersrand

Site Type:                       Landmark



Pretoria Portland Cement

 “Meet us at the Tower of Light – Power- Strength
from 1936 Empire  Exhibition Catalogue

Contemporary Advertisement:




Photograph by Dennis Adams; Johannesburg 100 Exhibition.

State of Conservation:

Excellent condition. Minor changes made at base in 1964 to accommodate the cableway -  which was subsequently removed.


The Tower of Light was commissioned by the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Company (precursor to Eskom) and built of reinforced concrete using Pretoria Portland Cement for the Empire Exhibition in 1936.  It was the focal point of the Showgrounds standing at the top of the main axis (later Victory Road) and remained the icon of the Rand Show until the Showgrounds were moved and the land was given to the University of the Witwatersrand.

Designed by Professor G.E. Pearse, according to Bernard Cooke who worked on the drawings, it is a simple soaring circular tower with fins.  Chipkin calls it “a major futuristic monument.”

It was apparently never completed to its full height. Bernard Cooke said they were running out of time and other sources attribute this to budgetary constraints.

Architectural description:

The Tower of Light is a fine example of a ‘deco-moderne’ building - conceived and designed by an important South African architect in what was then a bold new international architectural style. It was designed as the focal point of a large Exhibition layout, and was to be the beacon visible from all points within the grounds, and in fact from the surrounding suburbs. Sited at the highest point of the central axis through the Exhibition Grounds it provided an anchor for the layout of the rest of the grounds.

The tower consists of a hollow circular reinforced concrete shaft of large diameter with four substantial concrete fins attached on each of the four diagonals. The fins rise from the ground plane with a nominal taper and terminate at a short distance above the full height of the shaft. The overall effect is one of a soaring verticality and power.

A raised circular cantilevered viewing platform was originally provided at the base of the tower. The curved outer edge of this platform was slightly recessed behind the faces of the four fins and was protected with a wrought iron deco-style balustrade. Circulation around the viewing platform was made possible with door ways let through each of the fins at their junction with the curved face of the tower. Access to the viewing platform was via an attached, curved open stair on the west side of the tower, set between two of the fins.

Access to the top of the tower (for staff) was provided via a narrow wrought iron cat-ladder fixed to the internal face of the column shaft in line with the northeast fin. The ladder terminated at a trap door in the upper platform. Access to this level was required in order to service the flagpole and the light fittings.

The tower shaft was capped with a circular cantilevered upper platform, which intersected with, and was supported by, the four fins. The four fins rose about 1 200 mm above the level of the platform but did not extend onto the platform further than the inside face of the circular shaft and became four free standing piers, joined by the wrought iron balustrade at the curved slab edge. A tall flagpole was installed at the centre point of the upper platform.

In 1964 the exhibition grounds were provided with a suspended cable car system whereby the small cable cars travelled up and down the central north-south axis. The Tower of Light was used as the point of return for the cable cars. A large circular reinforced concrete cantilevered canopy was then installed as the loading platform and a second smaller canopy was installed overhead to support the cables.

Since Wits University took over the show grounds the cable car system has been removed and the Tower of Light now accommodates a small tuck shop at ground floor, and the West campus Security offices on the upper level. Circular Perspex windows have been installed to provide light within the security office.

Despite the minor modifications made to the building, it is an extraordinarily important urban marker, and unusual example of Deco Moderne architecture. It should be retained, conserved and valued as an important part of the architectural heritage of Johannesburg, and indeed, South Africa.

Statement of Significance:

  • The Tower of Light is a landmark in the City, familiar to generations of South Africans who visited the Rand Easter Show.
  • The Tower of Light meant to earlier generations what the Brixton and Hillbrow towers mean to later generations. It was the symbol of Johannesburg’s achievements and vision.
  • It was designed to be lit as a shining beacon and could be seen from across the Reef.
  • It was not acclaimed by the architects of the time as an important Modern Movement structure despite its simple lines and use of the most common of materials – concrete and steel.   While the academics kept silent the people who associated it with a pleasurable outing and annual event they enjoyed acclaimed it. So it is a landmark in time as well as in space.
  • It was chosen in 1986 as one of the 100 structures as milestones in Johannesburg’s history.
  • It has positive associations for black and white people because once the Rand Show was open to all races it became an important symbol of accessibility.
  • The Empire Exhibition was held in Johannesburg in 1936 as part of the City’s Golden Jubilee. The Tower of Light is the only significant structure of that important milestone in one of the World’s youngest Cities. 
  • Towers beaming light for international exhibitions were used similarly for Paris in 1937, Glasgow the Tower of Empire 1938 and the obelisk in New York’s World Fair 1939   They expressed a joy in the use of electricity which later advertising was to exploit so effectively as at Times Square.
  • It was designed by Professor G.E. Pearse the first professor of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Legal Status (Decree/Act):  

Over 60 years old protected by Section 34 (c)

Authority Responsible


Previous                                                   Current




Photos           Maps            Site Plans                 Others .....................................

Source(s) of Information

Chipkin, Clive:  Johannesburg Style 1993
Empire Exhibition:    Souvenir Catalogue 1936
Gutsche, Thelma  A Very Smart Medal 1970
Martinson, WA  The Tower of Light: an architectural description 2008
Murray, Bruce K Wits, The Early Years 1982
Stoloff, Cyril. A  The International exhibition and its relationship to functional architecture. S.A.A.R. June 1946

Name & Address of Recorder:
Flo Bird
Joburg Heritage Foundation Trust
“Northwards 21 Rockridge Road, Parktown. 2193


Signature                                Date


......................................................................................         .......................................................




Last Edit : 15/11/2015


















All Rights Reserved. Copyright ©Johannesburg Heritage Foundation 2008.
Designed & Hosted by BirdieBox Internet Services -