The Ruins of Rose Road
The moment I saw the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation announce this tour — even before I read the description — I signed up.
I had never heard of Rose Road. But the tour’s title was so evocative…My mind’s eye quickly filled with images of haunted mansions and stately gardens of a bygone era.
My mind’s eye was spot on. The Ruins of Rose Road were everything I could have imagined, and more.
Rose Road is a dead-end street at the top of a ridge in Joburg’s wealthy Upper Houghton neighborhood, overlooking the Wilds Municipal Nature Reserve. All the north-facing mansions along the western end of the road, built between the 1920s and 1940s, are — for reasons I don’t completely understand — unoccupied.
The land is owned by a property development company and slated for redevelopment, taking into account the historic heritage of several of the homes. But due to South Africa’s stagnant economy there are no immediate plans for this redevelopment to begin.
Johannesburg heritage gurus Brett McDougall and Flo Bird took us on an exploration of three houses along the road, each of which required climbing a steep, winding driveway.
3 Rose Road
Number 3, the first house we visited, was built in 1935 by architect Frank Lawson. Alexander Proudfoot, the owner, was a Scottish engineer who moved to South Africa after the Anglo-Boer War. Proudfoot died in 1947. His wife, Adeline, continued living in the house until she died in 1979.
This house does not have historic heritage status but the sprawling gardens around it do, and will hence be preserved if/when the redevelopment takes place. I can see why: This garden was enchanting, especially since it had just stopped raining and the whole place had a mossy, misty, Midnight-in-the-Garden-of-Good-and-Evil kind of vibe.
I spent so much time exploring the garden that I never made it inside the house.
Quisisana: 7 Rose Road
Quisisana, the second house we visited, is named after a hotel/sanatorium on the island of Capri. “Qui si sana” means “here one heals” in Italian.
Quisisana was built in 1936 (architect unknown) and owned by Robert Craib who, like his neighbor, was a Scottish engineer. Craib built the house for his wife Martha, who was dying of a terminal illness (hence the name Quisisana). Sadly Martha died a year after moving into the house. Robert lived there for another 20 years.
Quisisana had a series of owners after Craib’s death and, according to various Facebook rumors and stories, was once an illegal gambling house and the site of many wild parties. As recently as 2010, when South Africa hosted the Soccer World Cup, Quisisana was listed online as guest accommodation for rent.
At some point over the past decade, the house fell into disrepair.
9 Rose Road
Number 9 was my favorite.
Built in 1939 by architect Duncan Sinclair for South African scientist Petrus Lategan, 9 Rose Road has an avant-garde nautical theme. Nearly every room is curved.
I walked round and round #9, shooting photos from every angle, dreaming about what it would feel like to live in this house, atop this ridge, in this weird, wonderful, confounding city.
The JHF tours are often once-offs so there’s no telling if/when this particular tour will happen again. But I urge you to follow the foundation online or on Facebook and keep an eye out for similar tours.
Not only is this a volunteer-run organization that does amazing work protecting Joburg’s historical and cultural heritage, but the tours are affordable — this one was R170 ($12) for non-members and only R100 for JHF members. Also you get to experience places and things, like the glorious ruins of Rose Road, that you won’t see any other way.
Don’t dawdle — the tours sell out quickly.
7 Rose Road was used in the local movie Jozi some years ago I think.
Oh wow cool!
Great blog. I loved this tour and all the mystery that surrounds those houses.
It was so good.
Quisana has a sad name and history, but I’d pick that one to refurbish.
Yeah, it’s a strong candidate!
I’m a long way from the ridge or white waters now, but still pray the developers, whenever they do, incorporate as much of the old architecture and garden features as possible. Then again, developers …
Well, there’s certainly nothing happening at these properties now. But the good news is the owners have good security at the houses and they don’t seem to be deteriorating any further at this point.
Thank you for the virtual tour. Thoroughly enjoyed it!
Thanks for the virtual tour – as a Rose Road resident I found it absolutely enchanting. Great history on our doorstep!
Ah! It’s great to hear from a current resident. Do you live in one of the houses on the other side of the street?
As a member of the Marsay family who lived at no 7 from 1964 to 1966 (before the gambling period!), here are some memories:
Our Mum and dad brought us 8 children out from the UK in December 1963. 7 Rose Road was our amazing first house in South Africa. A 9th ‘laat lammetjie’ arrived during our tenure.
Careful readers will have noticed that the review speaks of nos 3, 7 and 9, but not no 5. This is because no 7 was built on two stands to facilitate construction of the extraordinary driveway that encircles the house, allowing cars to arrive at the breathtaking vista in front of the house. The driveway would later constrain any attempts to sub-divide the two stands.
Our two sisters, together with the little girls from no 4 across the road from us, would regularly ‘invite themselves for tea at Mrs Proudfoot’s (no 3) and also the very, very elderly Mrs van der Bijl at no 1.
Mrs. Proudfoot once invited all 8 of us children round for an Easter Egg hunt in her garden (the laat lammetjie being too small to join in). We were rather frightened of her two beautiful but scary chow dogs – because of their purple tongues!
Mrs. van der Bijl was the widow of the great South African industrialist, Hendrik van der Bijl, founder of ESKOM and ISCOR (among many other institutions). She had an extraordinary, huge, still ‘out of the box’ Chrysler parked and virtually unused in her garage! Mrs. van der Byl was a lovely Christian lady and gave Bibles to our two sisters. One sister traces her own knowledge of God, in Jesus Christ, in part to this dear lady’s faithfulness.
Our garden was terraced down to the Wilds on the northern side. On the penultimate terrace, there was a lovely swimming pool. The water was pumped up to a filter at the driveway level and could be channelled to come down to the pool using a beautiful waterfall constructed in the local stone.
Many of the Marsay boys and girls became good runners – with both sisters achieving SA distance records and one brother (Julian) becoming a Springbok. The running all started because of our Dad’s efforts to channel off excess teenage energy. He would send us up to the top of Rose Road and, with the younger ones being given starts, give the signal for a flat out race back down to the gate. Later, training extended to more serious runs all around the Wilds’ steep hills.
Many business functions for Dad’s work and fun children’s parties were held, with the verandah and its glorious views in the evenings making a perfect setting. Indoors, the boys colonised a large space on the landing for a huge Scalextric set. Neighbours’ children were charged a tickey to come and have a drive, and the girls sold them orange juice.
Many wonderful memories. Thank you ‘2summers’ for bringing it all back.
Andrew Marsay (now of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) with thanks to the family for their various recollections of 7 Rose Road.
Hello ‘2summers’. Thank you so much for these memories – from the Marsay family who lived at no 7 from 1964 to 1966. We’d love to share some memories and have a short piece (+/- 1p) that may be too long here but could post it separately if you would like to see it.
Hi Andrew! Thanks so much. Feel free to email your piece to me through the ‘contact me’ page 🙂
Hello! My mother lived at No. 2 Rose Road and my father lived at No. 9 between 2000 and 2001. We used to explore the grounds of other houses on the street as children, and the gardens of No. 2 and No. 9 were endlessly fascinating to my brothers and I. It is sad to see No. 9 so run down now. Thanks for posting.
Hi Marie-Louise, wow that’s so interesting! And kinda cool that your parents lived in two houses on the same street 🙂 Thanks for sharing.