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Looking up at the Carlton Hotel and Carlton Centre

Memories From Joburg’s Carlton Hotel

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 […]

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Sunset From the Top of Africa

The top floor of the Carlton Centre, officially named the Top of Africa, is one of the most underrated attractions in this highly underrated city. Sure, the observation deck is run-down and the windows are smudged. (In fact, smudged is an understatement. Try filthy.) Sure, this part of downtown is a little sketchy. But this is the tallest building in Africa. It costs R15 (about $2) to take the elevator to the top. The view is phenomenal, unlike any other on this continent. It’s like looking over the edge of the world. Pardon the smudgy sky — not even the magical PhotoShop spot-healing brush can heal this many window smudges.

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Jozi From Above

Africa’s tallest building lives in Joburg. At 50 stories and 223 meters (730 feet) tall, the Carlton Center is modest by Western and Far-Eastern skyscraper standards. Even when you get within a couple of blocks, the Carlton Center looks strangely unimpressive. It doesn’t appear much taller than the buildings around it. The Carlton is straight ahead.

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