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The Angel of the North sculpture outside Constitution Hill in Hillbrow

From Mansions to Muti Shops: Exploring Johannesburg’s Heritage

Last Saturday was Heritage Day, a South African public holiday celebrating the nation’s heritage. This holiday is interesting because “heritage” can mean so many things. South Africa has 11 official languages and dozens of distinct cultural groups, each with its own heritage. There’s also historical heritage, architectural heritage, artistic heritage, archeological heritage…Pretty much anything can be heritage. On top of that, South Africa’s big-brand advertising industry has rebranded Heritage Day as “Braai Day” (braai means barbecue in South African), in an effort to convince South Africans — as if they need convincing — to consume piles of meat and gallons of beer on this holiday. All this means that there are dozens of different Heritage Day activities to choose from in Joburg, especially when the day falls on a weekend. I was overwhelmed by all the options, but settled on a full weekend of historical tours with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. Holy Family College, opened as the Parktown Convent in 1905, where the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation tours started and ended. How cool is that intricate latticework? The beautiful staircase inside Holy Family. Flo Bird, founder of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, in the chapel at Holy Family. This woman is a legend and so […]

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Corner House Capital Cafe coffeeshop ceiling

Downtown Joburg’s Newest Secret Coffeeshop

2017 Update: I’m very sad to break the news that the Capital Café has closed. Sniff. 2017 Update #2: A new coffee shop has moved into this space. Yay! It’s called DM Coffee. I haven’t been yet but I’ve heard good reports. Secret coffee shops are popping up in downtown Joburg, in strange, wonderful little corners where the city is coming alive. Craft Coffee in Newtown was my favorite discovery last year. This year’s discovery is Capital Café in the center of the Joburg CBD. Capital Café. I first glimpsed Capital Café a few weeks ago on my friend Jay Jay’s Instagram feed. (Jay Jay’s feed is fantastic, by the way. You should follow him.) I have been looking for an excuse to go there ever since, and finally found one last weekend when I scheduled an Internations Coffee Time get-together there. Capital Café’s coffee is decent. The café also serves nice breakfast sandwiches, baked goods, and other light fare. But this café’s big selling point is not the food or the coffee. It’s the ceiling. Have you seen a more beautiful coffeeshop ceiling in your life? I haven’t.  Another look at the Capital Café ceiling. It looks like there was once a grand chandelier hanging from the center. […]

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Mini Ponte: My New Favorite Joburg Building

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 […]

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One Eloff Joburg

Big News About Joburg’s Newest Inner City Development

This week I got a behind-the-scenes look at No. One Eloff, an exciting new development project in downtown Joburg. No. One Eloff, at the corner of Eloff Street and Wemmer Jubilee Road in Johannesburg. You can’t miss it, as it’s the only neon-blue-and-yellow building in town. You’ve probably seen it while driving down the M2 highway toward the airport. No. One Eloff is a huge, 1950s-era building that used to be an automotive storage/sales facility (for Rolls Royce and then for Chrysler) and later became an OK Bazaar and then an auction house for repossessed cars. A couple of years ago, a company called Molten Black purchased the building, with the plan of turning it into a residential/retail property. That plan is now in full swing. This building, which was basically a huge garage when Molten Black bought it, has been converted into an apartment building with 300 loft-style apartments. These apartments, which target young South Africans earning in the range of R10,000 to R15,000 (roughly $650-$1000) per month, are now for rent and the building is already about half occupied. Webster Maboka, the friendly doorman in the No. One Eloff lobby, which is already complete. I dig Webster’s three-piece suit. Inside one of […]

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Walking on the Roof of Johannesburg

On a tour with Dlala Nje last weekend, I visited some high-rise rooftops in Berea. Pigeons enjoy a view of Ponte City from the roof of the Metropolitan building in Berea. I’ve written about Jozi’s rooftops before (read here and here and here). And here’s the thing about these rooftops: They’re the greatest places in town to enjoy the city, and yet a huge proportion of the city’s population never visits them. Because the best rooftops tend to be in the parts of town where people are scared to go to. Berea is one of those parts of town. It’s adjacent to Hillbrow, and most Joburgers consider Hillbrow a no-go zone. Fortunately tour companies like Dlala Nje and JoburgPlaces and Past Experiences are helping to change things, encouraging people to come into town on tours like this one. I, for one, jumped onto this tour as soon as I saw the listing. I can never have enough Jozi rooftopping in my life. The tour concept was simple. We met at Dlala Nje’s headquarters in Ponte City, walked through Berea to the first building, walked some more to the second building, then went back to Ponte for the best Jozi skyline view in town. Before the tour started, my friend Fiver and […]

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Art Deco Hunting on the Wild, Wacky East Rand

In February 2012 I went on a tour of Art Deco architecture in the East Rand, organized by the Joburg Photowalkers. I have fond memories of that tour — I loved getting to know this far-flung part of Joburg that I had never visited before. The East Rand was quirky and weird and I liked it. (Read my post about the 2012 tour.) When I saw the Joburg Photowalkers were doing another East Rand Art Deco tour last weekend, I signed up immediately. I brought my friend Ruth, a relative newcomer to Joburg who hadn’t been to the East Rand before. The East Rand, now officially called Ekurhuleni, is the municipality east of the City of Joburg. There are several small towns on the East Rand — Benoni and Springs are the most prominent — which were prosperous gold-mining towns in the early- and mid-20th century. During the 1920s and 30s, these towns produced an inordinate number of Art-Deco-style buildings. Like many small towns around the world, the East Rand’s towns have declined over the last several decades. Most of the beautiful Art Deco buildings are still there, and many of them are nicely preserved. But many of the buildings have decayed significantly. In some […]

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Brixton on Fire: My Second Limited-Edition Print

At this time last year I put my first-ever limited-edition print, “Hazy Blue Hour”, up for sale on my blog. The sale went remarkably well — I sold all ten prints — so I’ve decided to make it an annual event. I hearby introduce my second limited-edition print, “Brixton on Fire”: Thanks to Martin Gibbs Photography and Framing in Pretoria for helping me to get this photo ready for printing. I’ve said this many times, but you guys are the best. Some of you may remember this picture, which I shot a few months ago while working on the Canon Iconic Buildings campaign. I took several photos of my favorite Joburg buildings and Canon chose one of them for a magazine ad campaign. Canon selected my shot from inside the core of Ponte City for their ad. (See all of my original iconic building photos in this post.) I also asked my readers to vote for their favorite iconic building shot, with the idea that I would use the winner for my next limited-edition print. But there was no clear consensus — everyone seemed to have a different favorite. In the end I chose the picture that I like best: a shot of the Sentech Tower, also known […]

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Hallmark House: Big Changes Coming to Maboneng

Here’s an article I wrote about Hallmark House, the Maboneng Precinct’s most recent development project, for JHBLive. (Read the original JHBLive article.) I’m also working on a follow-up opinion piece about Maboneng, coming soon. Enjoy: I have always thought of Maboneng as a place: a trendy place, along Fox Street on the east side of the Joburg CBD, where I go for breakfast at Market on Main on Sunday mornings or to eat Ethiopian food on Saturday afternoons. I go to Maboneng for art exhibitions, for urban photowalks, and to entertain my aunt from New York when she passes through Joburg on her way to the Kruger. But I recently went to the opening of Hallmark House, a 15-story building on Siemert Road that Maboneng is redeveloping. And now I realise that Maboneng is not just a place. It’s a thing. Looking up at Hallmark House, formerly called Hallmark Towers. Propertuity, the company that created Maboneng, is buying buildings all over the city – branching out slowly from its little enclave along Fox Street – and earmarking those buildings for development. Hallmark House, formerly called Hallmark Towers, is the grandest Maboneng undertaking to date. Propertuity is transforming the tower into […]

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Joburg’s Most Iconic Buildings: Pick Your Favorite

I love Joburg. I love Joburg buildings. I love shooting pictures of Joburg buildings. I love shooting pictures of Joburg buildings with my Canon. For all of the reasons listed above, I was stoked when Canon hired me to shoot pictures of iconic Joburg buildings for an advertising campaign they’re working on. I was out the door, camera in hand, almost before I hung up the phone. I’ve spent the past few weeks driving all over Joburg looking for the perfect iconic building photo. Here are my favorites, in the order that I took them: Looking up from inside the core of Ponte City. View from the 30th floor of Ponte City (thanks for letting me borrow your apartment, Ryan), featuring the Hillbrow Tower and various Hillbrow high-rises. Another view of the Hillbrow Tower from the 30th floor of Ponte. Ponte City on a Sunday morning, viewed from Yeoville Ridge. Yeoville Ridge is my #1 favorite Jozi skyline viewpoint. The people in the foreground are Zionist Christians who come to the ridge to pray. Another view of Hillbrow and the Hillbrow Tower, also from Yeoville Ridge.  Hillbrow Tower, shot from the ramparts of Constitution Hill. As you can see I really like […]

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Need a Quaint Escape From Jozi? Go Here.

I recently decided to get out of town for a few days to work on a writing project. I wanted to stay somewhere inexpensive, relatively close to Joburg, and conducive to thinking and writing. I pulled up Tripadvisor and and started browsing B&Bs around Magaliesburg. One click led to another and I found myself on the listing for Willinga Lodge, a small B&B in Kosmos on Hartbeespoort Dam. Willinga’s website didn’t blow me away but there were some nice Tripadvisor reviews and something prompted me to call. After 90 seconds on the phone with Ingrid, Willinga’s owner, I knew I’d be staying there. Willinga’s full name is “Bali at Willinga Lodge”. Ingrid and Will, who are from the Netherlands but have lived in South Africa for decades, visited Bali several years ago and loved it so much that they decided to redecorate their lodge in a Balinese style. A Balinese B&B, run by a Dutch couple, on Hartbeespoort Dam in South Africa…Sounds weird, right? Just trust me though. It works. A Buddha outside the main house at Willinga Lodge. View of Hartbeespoort Dam from my breakfast table at Willinga. Willinga Lodge’s incredible Balinese roof, which was designed and built in Bali and then shipped to South […]

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Behind the Scenes: The Sheds @1Fox

Downtown Joburg enthusiasts are buzzing about the Sheds @1Fox. This is one of those quintessentially Jozi projects that make me love living in this city. In short: There is a complex of cavernous, historic warehouses where Fox Street dead-ends on the western edge of the city. These warehouses were formerly part of Anglo American and are now owned by the Johannesburg Land Company. Until recently, the buildings were slated to be torn down to make way for an office building. But a group of Jozi-lovers, including Gerald Garner of JoburgPlaces and Jan and Jay Roode of Happy.Me, are now working with the Johannesburg Land Company to develop the warehouses into an innovative “food, wine and lifestyle emporium”. The Sheds @1Fox are scheduled to open during the Joburg City Festival in October 2014. The buildings are currently empty except for some piles of rubbish, crude graffiti, and lots (and lots) of pigeon poop. Construction will start any day now. This week I got a behind-the-scenes look at what will soon become the Sheds @1Fox. I took about 1,000 pictures, knowing this was my last chance to photograph the place before everything changes. I suspect that the before-and-after comparison will be dramatic. In the meantime, here is the “before”: Gerald outside one of the warehouses. […]

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The Tower Lost Its Ball

The Hillbrow Tower was neutered last month. The giant sphere that floated atop the Hillbrow Tower (aka Telkom Tower) for the last four years — painted first like a soccer ball (for the 2010 World Cup) and later like a hot pink dot (an ad for Telkom’s 8•ta mobile phone service) — came down in September. A before-and-after Hillbrow Tower Instagram. Telkom is phasing out 8•ta as a brand, replacing it with Telkom Mobile. This is at least one of the reasons why Telkom removed the ball.

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