Earlier today I found myself standing on Houghton Drive beneath a cylindrical apartment building in Berea, on the outskirts of the Joburg CBD.
The Imbali Building, also known as “Mini Ponte” or “Little Ponte”. I took this photo from the side of Houghton Drive, just below Louis Botha Drive, where Mini Ponte is located at the corner of Tudhope Avenue.
I’d driven past this building dozens of times, and I knew it was nicknamed “Mini Ponte” for its resemblance to the much larger Ponte City apartment building just to the south. But this was the first time I’d looked at Mini Ponte up close.
“I’ve always wondered what that building is like on the inside,” I said to my friend Tecla, who was next to me.
“Maybe we should try to get in,” Tecla suggested.
“Sure,” I said, although inside, I wasn’t. Mini Ponte is in an edgy part of Johannesburg, just on the border of Hillbrow and Yeoville, and residential buildings in this area can be unpredictable in terms of how they’re managed and who lives there.
But…We were literally across the street. It seemed silly not to try.
We climbed the pedestrian stairway between Houghton Drive and Louis Botha, crossed the street, and looked up at Mini Ponte. The building’s real name, it turns out, is Imbali. (A friend just told me that Imbali means “flower” in Zulu.) We took one look at the entrance and knew that this building is safe.
Inside Mini Ponte
We opened the door and the security guard looked up from his desk. The lobby has one of those locked revolving doors — which only one person can awkwardly squeeze through at a time — with a computerized fingerprint recognition system. We called through the bars, explaining that we live in the area and have always wanted to see the inside of the building.
The guard looked at us dubiously but finally acquiesced. “I’ll take you to the first floor to look, but then you must leave,” he said.
We followed the guard up one flight of stairs and walked out of the stairwell. We saw this:
My jaw dropped. The inside of Mini Ponte looks just like the inside of Ponte City, except Mini Ponte is much cleaner and 100 times prettier.
The cement floor at the center of Mini Ponte is neatly painted and spotlessly clean. It felt cool, and a few drops of water pattered down — probably from someone watering the plants above. There are so many beautiful plants.
Unlike in Ponte City, the interior hallways in Mini Ponte are open, bordered by railings rather than walls. The railings on every floor are lined with lush, green plants, making the core feel like a tropical jungle.
I wish I’d had time to take more pictures, to convey more of an impression of what it really looks and feels like in there. Above all, I wish we’d been able to see inside one of the apartments. But I think my big camera made the security guard nervous. Before I knew it, he was hurrying us out.
Tecla and I were both enchanted by Mini Ponte and I’m dying to know more. The more I think about it, the more I feel like the building must have some affiliation to Ponte City — the similarities are too striking to be a coincidence. But so far my google searches have yielded very little. I’m guessing the building hasn’t always been called Imbali but I can’t find any previous names. I’ve also found very few rental or sales listings for the building’s apartments, and no photos of the interior.
Does anyone know anything?