The Ruins of Rose Road: Photo Bonanza

by | Jan 26, 2020 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Museums and Buildings, Tours | 24 comments

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.

The ornate, rusty gate at the entrance to 3 Rose Road.

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.

Walking up to 3 Rose Road
Walking up to 3 Rose Road.

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.

3 Rose Road, Upper Houghton
3 Rose Road.

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.

Pathway up into the garden at 3 Rose Rd
A stone pathway up into the garden. Unusually for the time, the Proudfoots used lots of reclaimed stone and other materials in the garden — presumably scavenged from Alexander’s work projects.
Stone gazebo overlooking the Joburg northern suburbs
A stunning stone gazebo overlooking Joburg’s northern suburbs.
Heather in the 3 Rose Rd gazebo
I loved this gazebo so much, I asked Fiver to take my photo in it.
Misty window on Rose Rd
Misty window in an old garden cottage.
Ivy-covered wall at 3 Rose Rd
A very old, ivy-covered wall. Can you spot the door?

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.

The entrance to Quisisana on Rose Road
The entrance to Quisisana.

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 on Rose Rd
View from the garden at Quisisana
View from the garden beside the house.
Side entrance.

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.

View from the first floor of Quisisana
View from the first floor room above the front entrance.
View through the window and security gate at Quisisana
A view of Hillbrow through an elaborate security gate on Quisisana’s ground floor.
Playing cards on the ceiling of a room in Quisisana
Playing cards decorate the ceiling in this room, which seems to corroborate the gambling house rumors.
Poems on the wall at Quisisana
This room has all kinds of interesting poems and drawings on the wall, which Gail and Fiver enjoyed.
Fiver in the bath at Quisisana
Fiver models in Quisisana’s glorious upstairs bath.

9 Rose Road

Number 9 was my favorite.

9 Rose Road
9 Rose Road.

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.

Front room of 9 Rose Rd
The front room.
Kitchen at 9 Rose Rd
The kitchen.
Stairway at 9 Rose Road
The staircase.
Upstairs bathroom at 9 Rose Road
The groovy upstairs bathroom.
Living room at 9 Rose Rd
The living room, which looks and feels exactly like the prow of a ship.
Gail outside 9 Rose Rd
Oh look, there’s Gail.
9 Rose Rd from the side
9 Rose Road from the side.

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.

Top floor of 9 Rose Road, Johannesburg


  1. dizzylexa

    Great blog. I loved this tour and all the mystery that surrounds those houses.

  2. AutumnAshbough

    Quisana has a sad name and history, but I’d pick that one to refurbish.

    • 2summers

      Yeah, it’s a strong candidate!

  3. David Bristow

    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 …

    • 2summers

      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.

  4. Momo Street

    Thank you for the virtual tour. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

  5. Lester

    Thanks for the virtual tour – as a Rose Road resident I found it absolutely enchanting. Great history on our doorstep!

    • 2summers

      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?

      • Andrew Marsay

        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.

      • Andrew Marsay

        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.

        • 2summers

          Hi Andrew! Thanks so much. Feel free to email your piece to me through the ‘contact me’ page 🙂

  6. marie-louise.rouget

    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.

    • 2summers

      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.

  7. Joe

    Stayed in # 3 for seven years… 90’s.. commune… has a marble pool … an underground tunnel… hectic parties those daze…

  8. Gos Tsotetsi

    Hey thank you for writing this! and your blog in general. I think these articles are an amazing contribution to Johannesburg

  9. R R Leegerstee

    Thanks for sharing. We took our bikes this morning and cycled up to No 3 from where we exploded the neighbouring houses. Amazing heritage and highly recommendable diversion while exploring our Joburg old hoods on a Sunday bike ride.

    • 2summers

      Oh cool! Were you able to get inside any of the houses?

  10. R R Leegerstee

    Nope, not inside the houses but could roam the gardens and peak through the windows.

  11. Charles

    I would love to hear from anyone who has recollections from before 1962. My father owned #1 I think. It was a beautiful thatch roof place. He built the stone walls separating the terraced gardens. From old pictures I believe there was also a tennis court. He sold it in 60 or 61 to buy a farm in the Tsitsikamma and the house burnt down a short while later. As I understand the headmistress of a local school owned the house at the end of Rose rd.


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