One of the first high-rise buildings in Johannesburg, “Astor”, referred to an extremely wealthy American family whose fortune came from real estate in New York, thus linking it to the grand apartment buildings and skyscrapers of Manhattan. In 1932, with the name emblazoned on glass between the twin towers, the architects, Obel & Obel, were able to meet their brief to make it the tallest building in town.
This block of flats with shops on the ground floor was designed in 1931 by J.C. Cook & Cowen. The elaborate decoration on the facade, combined with the name of the fashionably grand hotel being built at the same time in London, were used to attract wealthy tenants. The decorative plasterwork resembles the striking linear forms used in jewellery of the period, culminating in the diadem which crowns the central bay.
26 Pallinghurst Road,
Westcliff (Originally Abegweit)
Built in 1919 for W Jarvis Palmer the double storey central block was designed by Harold Porter. In 1936 Emley and Williamson completed the original design for the new owners, Percival and Gladys Rillstone. Although the additions were substantial, the scale is cleverly concealed by a series of tiered roofs. An Australian, who served in both Egypt and France in World War I, Rillstone came to South Africa in 1928 and established a large motor dealership bearing his name.
In 1932 Eric Gallo bought this property for the company he had started in 1926 which sold records, musical instruments and sheet music. It expanded rapidly and, in 1936, architects Harrison, Tomkin and Richardson added three storeys and a recording studio as well as remodelling the facade. In 1949 Gallo Africa (Pty) Ltd, commissioned Stark, Harrison & Small to create more space and a distinctive new look. It proved a fine example of Art Deco Revival. The record mills are historic markets of the first place where many famous South African recording artists began their careers.
10 Park Lane, Parktown
This luxurious and elegant apartment building, designed by P Rogers Cooke for Janeal (Pty) Ltd was built in 1944, and given the name of the 1911 house which it replaced. Commissioned by Michael Miller, co-founder of OK Bazaars, and his wife Jane, Lyndon Hall echoed the sophisticated lifestyle they experienced in New York. The asymmetrical façade reflects the division between very large apartments to the north and much smaller flats on the south side for senior staff or employees.
Designed in 1937 by Stucke, Harrison & Smail for the South African Permanent Mutual Building Society, the large span structure necessitated a heavy perforated beam above the grand space of the banking hall. This carried the massive weight of the eleven levels above. The curvilinear corners, emphasised by the horizontal bands of green and pink terrazzo, are reminiscent of the German architect, Mendelsohn. It was the first building in the city centre to have underground parking. The original double volume brass and glass entrance screen on the corner and doorway gave a sense of lightness and welcome to clients, without detracting from the gravitas conveyed by the polished black granite.
S.A. MUTUAL BUILDINGS
This fine office block was designed in 1935 by Stucke, Harrison & Smail for the South African Mutual Life Assurance Society (now Old Mutual) and served as its Johannesburg headquarters for over fifty years. The fine bronze lamps, and the brass fittings for doors and lifts were made in Johannesburg by Frederick Sage and Co. and adorned the impressive banking hall on the ground floor. They are worthy echoes of the Rockefeller Centre in New York. A special Act of Parliament exempted the Mutual Assurance from taxation levied on banks and building societies.
Swiss architect, Theophile Schaerer, designed this residence in 1936 for Bernard Kaumhelmer, a Rand pioneer. His daughter Ellen Hellman, the first anthropologist to study urban black communities and the first South African woman to be awarded a Ph.D., lived here. She was chairperson of the SA Institute of Race Relations and a trustee for the Defence and Aid Fund during the Treason Trials. Schaerer used Art Deco elements and contemporary materials such as raw plaster, reinforced-concrete and steel. He created a building which is prestigious and respectful of architectural tradition, with a sense of eduring stability.
Designed in 1934 by J.C. Cook & Cowen, this block of relatively modest flats and uses stylised patterns depicting plants, sunburst designs, rondels and radials in bas relief to embellish what would otherwise be a rather plain exterior.
UNION CASTLE BUILDINGS
This was designed in 1938 by J.A. Moffatt & T.N. Duncan as the Johannesburg office of the Union Castle Mail Steamship Company Limited, founded in by Donald Currie whose name is associated with competitions in cricket and rugby. Until 197 the Union Castle line had regular passenger and freight services between South Africa and England which also carried the mail
NATIONAL UNION OF MINEWORKERS
Formerly HUDACO HOUSE
Built in 1934 for Hubert Davies and Company which imported, manufactured and installed engineering equipment and machinery for industry and the mines throughout Southern Africa. Founded in 1894 by J Hubert Davies a consulting engineer from Scotland who had come to the Rand in1889, the company’s first big projects were the electrification of various mines. The strong vertical lines of the building build up to the dramatically sculpted corner tower with the simple straight lines of the beamed entrance to an Egyptian temple. Perhaps appropriately this structure holds the lift motor rooms, the machinery which empowers workers to rise to the top.
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