Delight after Upper Houghton is declared a national heritage area
Upper Houghton has been declared a national heritage area. The suburb abuts the north-eastern fringe of the Joburg inner city, Hillbrow, Berea, Yeoville and Bellevue, and is separated by Louis Botha Avenue.
The area was originally bought for gold diggings by the Houghton Syndicate, a gold prospecting company, in 1888, but, when none was found, it was bought in 1903 by the Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company (JCI) and proclaimed a residential area.
Portions of land were donated to St John’s College and to King Edward’s School for half the valued price. The company established The Wilds, which it donated to the city.
The Star of January 4, 1902, quoted the JCI directors’ report stating that Houghton Estate was intended for a “very high class” that would enjoy properties of “the most generous proportions”.
The first house was established in 1902, in St Patrick’s Road.
Architect Rocco Bosman, who compiled the study, said he became involved because he had property there. “I saw there were beautiful, historic houses which had to be conserved. Many were being demolished by developers and the history was being lost,” he said.
He approached the Upper Houghton Residents’ Association and suggested that it put in an application to have the whole suburb turned into a heritage area.
Not only were houses being demolished, but townhouse developments were obstructing the view of the historic houses.
“It is not only about conserving the houses, but is also about the visual history. Members of the public must be able to see them from the streets,” he said.
The new status of the suburb did not mean that new development could not take place, or that additions could not be made to existing properties, provided that the history was not changed, he said.
“It just means that the original architecture cannot be changed. It also involves conserving the green heritage, which means that areas like The Wilds, which has already been declared a heritage site, cannot be tampered with.”
The company also built Munro Drive, a major landmark in Upper Houghton, connecting Upper Houghton with Lower Houghton through Houghton Ridge. From the Munro, amazing views are offered over the northern suburbs. A clear view is to be seen over Rosebank, Sandton, Houghton and Midrand.
On a clear day one could see as far as the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, said Bosman.
The supporting wall of Munro Drive was originally built with loose stones. Upper Houghton’s oldest resident, Malcolm Freeland, recalls that bees loved to hive there. Unfortunately, this wall collapsed in about 1938, creating a massive earth tremor. The town council of that time carefully rebuilt the supporting wall to the way it looked today, said Bosman.
Besides the collapsing of the wall, there have been other notable events surrounding Munro Drive in the past 100 years. With the advent of the car, Munro Drive was not only favoured for its marvellous views, but many motorists committed suicide by driving off the cliff at the Munro.
Aircraft caused their fair share of havoc when, in the 1920s, the house built on the corner of Elm and St Patrick streets had its chimney taken off by a plane flying a little too low. Residents wanting to make alterations will, in future, have to get permission from the provincial heritage authorities before submitting plans to the City of Joburg.
The chairman of the Upper Houghton Residents’ Association, Paul Stuart, said he was delighted that the application had been approved. “We just need buy-in from the City of Joburg which has to enforce the heritage rules,” he said,
Brenda Randera, who owns a house in St Patrick Road, is proud of her house which was built in 1903.
“We love the house. It has wonderful views. We have retained all the historical aspects, including the pressed ceilings, wooden floors and old fireplaces. We have done alterations, but these have all been in line with the original architecture,” she said.
Randera is keen to retain the history of Upper Houghton. When The Star visited, she was on her way to speak to a neighbour who was building a new wall, but demolishing the old stone one. “I need to get the old stones – they can’t be taken away,” she said.