The Johannesburg central business district (locals call it the CBD) has experienced tumultuous change over the past 50 years. Nowhere is that change more visible than at the once glitzy, now abandoned Carlton Hotel. The Carlton opened at the height of apartheid in 1972, when black South Africans in Joburg still had to carry passbooks. The hotel was grand, by all accounts, albeit with ugly (in my opinion at least) brutalist architecture. The Carlton had 31 storeys, more than 600 rooms, a rooftop pool, and several fancy restaurants and shops. Only the richest South Africans could afford to stay there. Less than 30 years later, in 1998, the Carlton Hotel was closed and mothballed as the CBD collapsed around it. The Carlton has never re-opened. This hulking skyscraper has been sitting empty for more than two decades, and as far as I know there is no plan to revive it. (It’s not alone, either. The old Joburg Sun Hotel, a few blocks away, suffered the same fate.) The Carlton is closed to the public and it’s not easy (or advisable) to get inside. But thanks to a gutsy friend who shall remain nameless, I recently spent a few minutes snooping […]
Yesterday morning I watched the Bank of Lisbon Building, a 31-storey tower in downtown Joburg, fold inward on itself and collapse to the ground in a cloud of dust. I photographed the implosion from just under three blocks away, on the eighth floor of Corner House — one of Joburg’s oldest and most iconic buildings — while peering through the porthole-shaped window of a turret with a giant jacuzzi tub in it. Before I get to the exciting demolition pictures, let me back up a bit. The Sad Story of the Bank of Lisbon Building The Bank of Lisbon was built in 1967 in a Late Modernist/Brutalist style of architecture. Based on the name, I assume the building once housed the offices of a bank from Lisbon. Most recently it was home to three Gauteng provincial government offices. In September 2018, amidst tenant complaints about potential safety issues in the building, the Bank of Lisbon caught fire on the 23rd floor. The blaze burned for three days before the fire department managed to extinguish it (water supply issues reportedly hindered efforts to put out the fire), and three Joburg firefighters lost their lives. The building’s shell remained standing after the […]
I was on a walking tour today, talking to someone about Joburg. It suddenly occurred to me there are so many insanely beautiful places in downtown Joburg that Joburgers either: a) don’t know about because the places are really hidden; or b) are afraid to visit, or would never consider visiting because they think the place is too dangerous or too trashed or just not worth the trouble. I talk about some of these places until I’m blue in the face, but I still get the same responses: a) blank looks; or b) questions like, “But is it really safe to go there?” So I thought I’d write an article like this, with a really click-baity title, to get your attention. Here are my five favorite beautiful, secret places in downtown Joburg. If you like beautiful, secret things (and who doesn’t?) you should visit them all. 1) Cathedral of Christ the King Yes, it’s in Hillbrow and Hillbrow can be a little daunting. But the Cathedral of Christ the King has a parking lot with 24-hour security and it’s really not very hard to drive to. Inside, the cathedral is pristine and it’s without a doubt the most beautiful church […]
Last week I got an incredible opportunity to visit the Sentech Tower, a.k.a. the Brixton Tower. A picture I took a few years ago of the Sentech Tower at sunset. While not as tall as the Hillbrow Tower, which is 269 meters (883 feet) high and the tallest structure in Africa, the Sentech Tower is still massive at 237 meters (778 feet). Also, the Sentech Tower is closed to the public and virtually no one gets to go inside. So this was a lucky break. The Sentech Tower was built in 1961 to broadcast radio stations, and later TV stations. It used to have a viewing deck open to the public, but it closed in 1982 due to apartheid paranoia. Same goes for the Hillbrow Tower, which used to have a revolving restaurant at the top. Joburgers live in hope that the towers will both reopen someday. Anyway, visiting the Sentech Tower was cool. I got to see the radio broadcasting equipment on the bottom floor, then took the remarkably fast elevator to the top, and even checked out the hollow inside of the tower on one of the middle floors, with nothing inside it but an elevator shaft. Since […]
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 […]
Yesterday I went to the roof of the Sandton City Office Tower to take photos for the SandtonPlaces book. Those of you familiar with Joburg know the building I’m talking about — the office block in the middle of Sandton City mall with the pyramid-shaped cap on top. This is what the cap looks like from underneath. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the building from below, but they are easy to find on Google. The Sandton City Office Tower has 21 floors labeled in the elevator, but is actually a few storeys taller than that.