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Notes on the Geography of South Africa: Cape Town Since 1900

Victorian Cape Town and its sequellae. (Don't you love that word? We almost never get a chance to fire it up.)

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South Africa: Cape Town Since 1900 picture 1

A cast-iron riot at the Blue Lodge, originally a boarding house built in 1900 by Max Rosenberg, father of Vera Atkins of spymaster fame. Enlarged in 1904, the building went into a long decline but was restored in the 1980s. The cast iron bits and the gables are original, but the ground floor exterior had been improved in the 1970s and it's been left as it was then.

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Somebody forgot the turret! The curved corner window formerly displayed a life-size statue of a woman. Creepy. When completed in 1899 to a design by R.M. Robertson, the building was a bottle shop for the chain called EK Green. The building to its right, twin shops, gained its facade in 1899 but has at its core a building from 1859.

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A near copy, this was formerly Shap's Central Pharmacy, Its ornamental details were added in 1900 by William Black, but those on the ground floor have been stripped. The owners of the taller buildings behind must shake their heads at the loss of leasable space.

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A bigger version, completed in 1883 and formerly the YMCA. The architect was Charles Freeman, who also designed the much larger Standard Bank building, coming up shortly. The top floor is a later addition, from 1903.

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A particularly elegant version, originally for Carl Herman and Co., restored with a high-risk but successful color.

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KFC finds a home in a gabled version. Behind it, Truworth's. On this side Cuthbert's, "the grand boot store," originally housed in an even more ornamented building. Cuthbert's had stores across South Africa, including a prominent building that still stands in Johannesburg.

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Terracotta had and has its devotees. Here's a good example, though it's crushed like a passenger wedged in a middle seat between offensive linemen.

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Despite the prominent date, the building dates from 1904, according to Desmond Martin (Walking Long Street, 2007, p. 27). Now an art gallery, it was formerly Sellars Gents Outfitters. In its incarnation as Gibson & Co, it carried that name in gilt on the upper wall, while short ornamental columns stood on either end of the parapet.

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Here's another terracotta building. It's from 1902 and was originally occupied by another firm, D. Isaacs. The architect was the eminent Herbert Baker, and it's probably best that he didn't see what happened to the building.

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A gabled version.

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The sergeant inspects the ranks and almost has a heart attack: his troops have mismatched uniforms. Still, he perks up when he gets to the left and sees the highrise Metro Health Corporation. He wants to see it on the regimental boxing team.

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Yikes. This building gained its second story in 1899, when it also acquired verandas and cast-iron railings. An out-of-control taxi brought much of the ironwork down in 1981; rather than fix it, the owners removed the iron and eventually replaced it with the architectural equivalent of full-body tattoos.

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Here's the Rhodes Building, designed by Baker and built in 1902 for De Beers. It stands at the corner of a block-sized development called Mandela-Rhodes Place in which the other older buildings have been replaced by new construction organized around that tower in the background.

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The same building. It's faced in sandstone and faces the granite column of a monument to Robert Gray, first bishop of Cape Town.

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This building looks puffed up, like a guy in a suit stuffed with shoulder padding. That's because the top two floors are a later addition, added in 1922 to a building completed in 1883. Perhaps the architect of the original building, Charles Freeman, was spared the sight. The dome and drum had to be raised.

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Flanking the Company Gardens, this building was modelled on the Library of Congress and originally housed the Cape Archives. Since 1996 is has been the Center for the Book, part of the national library. The rotunda is an event venue.

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All the stops were pulled for this, the city hall, completed in 1905, some 13 years after an architectural competition won by Harry Reid and Frederick Green. Plans can be traced back to 1887, the year of Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

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Millions watched the electrifying speech delivered by Nelson Mandela from this balcony on the day of his release from prison. The building looks good because the exterior has been cleaned, but the building no longer houses city offices, and the interior is shabby.

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The form staggers on, proportions mangled, here in the Southern Sun Cullinan hotel, opened in 1998.

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Classicism so restrained that it looks modern: the National Gallery.

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Entrance plaque.

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Mutual Heights, the Old Mutual building of 1939, was converted in 2003 to an apartment building. The entrance is 15 meters high.

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Entrance.

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Bas-reliefs wrap the building much like the Voortrekker Monument outside Pretoria. The carving is by Ivan Mitford-Barberton. The larger figures above represent ethnicities, with Xosa on the left, following by Pedi and Masai.

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Close-up of the frieze, extending almost 400 feet. This section shows the British negotiation with Shaka in 1824.

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Long the tallest building in the city, it looks like one of Hugh Ferris's fantasies.

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A variant faces the train station.

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Greenmarket Square, now a craft market, is set into the grid much like a county courthouse is parts of the United States. The square is now a craft market. It's fenced here by the former Shell House, built to echo the Shell-Mex building on the Strand in London but now converted to the Inn on the Square Hotel (formerly the Park Inn).

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There's no shortage of bland highrises.

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Early brutalism, but high school was never for the tender.

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Glass boxes have become increasingly popular.

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We're not on a high floor: instead, we're on a hilltop above Malay Town, and we're going to pan right. The V&A Waterfront is at the water's edge on the left, with the city's working port on the right.

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Busy, busy.

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Spot the Lutheran Church and its residential neighbors, both in shades of yellow? Just below the camera is a mosque with a minaret topped by a green Hershey's kiss.

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An awful lot of very big, very boring buildings.

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They don't look so big when Table Mountain comes into view.

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The name could hardly be improved.

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The view from the lower slope of Table Mountain. Topographic confinement is probably a blessing for cities, otherwise tempted to sprawl. Cape Town does find a way to sprawl, but within the bowl the bounds are clear and comforting, like a nest.

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Speaking of nests, yes, within the bowl there are residential neighborhoods, including this one with a bay window and stoep with decorative ironwork. Call it a baystoepkamer .

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Another, on the same short street, with a bargeboard gable and cast-iron veranda.

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A two-story neightbor.

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More like South Africa: a nice big wall.

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Still on Hofmeyr, it looks like verdant wilderness, but the fence suggests it isn't.

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It's a nursery specializing in native plants.


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