In 2011 the old potato sheds behind the Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg were demolished to make way for the first major retail and leisure investment in the city for a while. Planned as a mixed-use node it is being developed by Atterbury Property, facilitated by the Johannesburg Property Company and the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) . For more see http://www.urbanjoburg.com/post/29075898815/the-potato-sheds-newtown-if-you-were-to-take-a .
Will this new injection of private investment help to re-energize this area? Post 1994 there were various plans for urban renewal of the City of Joburg with certain areas being ear-marked by the JDA in quite a programmatic way for development as specific precincts: the Fashion District in the eastern part of the CBD, the Sports Precinct near Ellis Park, the Health Precinct around the old Hospital in Hillbrow and the Cultural Precinct around Newtown. Despite the various organizations, institutions, corporates, restaurants and places of entertainment which have their base in an around Newtown, it never seems to have fully taken off as a vibrant, activated and busy space (apart from when there are large events on). While there might be pockets of activity and hustle and bustle, the connecting spaces are often empty, dead and soulless.
Newtown as cultural precinct is a quite different usage from the historical role of Newtown which had functioned as the electrical hub of Johannesburg and had housed the main fresh produce market. Both of these core activities relied on the railway which ran through the area. MuseumAfrika’s gradual relocation to the old market building from 1976 onwards, the building of Kippies (the jazz venue) in the late 1980s, and the large industrial warehouse spaces so favoured by the avant- garde and non-mainstream industries, provided the foundation and impetus for the programmed development of Newtown as the cultural precinct and the intended hub of Johannesburg (and Gauteng’s) creative industries.
The easiest way to make sense of Newtown’s development over time is via an annotated diagram plotting the various demolitions, developments and adaptive re-uses. Forgive the small size of the illustration but the vagaries of Word Press elude me and it seems most of my computer techies !
Key to map of Newtown
- 1. New Carr St M1 Interchange
- 2. Mandela Bridge: Opened July 2003 at cost of R120 million
- 3. Old Railway Station: Built in the 1890s in Holland, it was moved to the Transvaal and located at the station called Park Halt which was then officially named Johannesburg Station in 1913. It is still however referred to as Park Station. When the new station was built in 1952, the station was dismantled and rebuilt in Pretoria as a training centre. It was moved back to this Transnet site in the early 2000s and although there were plans for it to house a railway museum, nothing has transpired.
- Metro Mall and Taxi Rank: Opened Jan 2003 at a cost of R100 million It has 3 levels with space for informal traders, formal retailers & 300 vehicles. 150,000 commuters pass through daily.
- Brickfields Residential Development: This was finished around 2005. In the late 19th this area, with its rich clay, was home to extensive brick-making. At the time, brick-making was the 3rd largest industry in the Transvaal after mining and agriculture. However in 1896 much of the area was handed over to the Nederlands South African Railway Company (NZASM) to use as a marshalling yard – now known as the Kazerne railway yard.
- Old Potato Sheds: During the 1990s these buildings were occupied by NGOs like the Afrika Cultural Centre with the aim of establishing an Arts Centre. However lack of funds prevented any sustainable upkeep of the buildings and they have now been demolished and are to become the site of a major new retail development.
- Market Theatre Precinct: This used to include the Kippies Jazz Venue, built in the 1987 as a replica of the old Edwardian toilet still extant on the side of the parking lot to the north. Named after the saxophonist Kippie Morolong Moeketsi, the club was closed in 2005 and moved to another location in Quin St. The original 1987 Kippies has been refurbished and was to have become an events space and a jazz museum rather than a music venue. However nothing has happened and it remains empty and unused.
- Museum Africa After the destruction of the ‘Coolie’ location in 1904, a new town was built, appropriately named Newtown. Along with an abattoir a large fresh produce market was built which functioned from 1913 to 1974. When the market was relocated to City Deep on the south of Johannesburg, the City Council in 1976 allowed the then Africana Museum which had been housed in the Johannesburg Public Library, to use the building which finally opened in 1994 as MuseumAfrika. Funded by the Johannesburg Metro Council, this Museum which used to be a flagship, has been side-lined as far as funding is concerned and now is a soul-less venue with large cavernous empty spaces and insufficient staff to effectively manage the museum and its resources.
- Mary Fitzgerald Square: This square was named (in 1939) after the trade unionist who in 1911 led the wives of striking tram-workers. Upgraded as part of the Newtown urban renewal project at a cost of 15 million, the new square can hold 50,000 people, and was opened in December 2000. During the World Cup it was packed to capacity when it functioned as one of the fan parks with matches projected on the large screen.
- Cooling towers: Built in 1937, they were imploded in 1985.
- Worker’s Library and Museum: Built in 1913 as a Sanitary Compound (compound comes from the Malay word Kampong meaning ‘settlement’) for the City’s Department of Transport and Cleansing, the compound buildings were bought by the Gas and Electricity Department around 1928. The compound was a single storey U shaped building with a south facing courtyard which could sleep 313 workers. Built on the model of the mine compounds, it was occupied until the mid 1980s. To the north of the compound are several small houses built in 1928, facing onto Jeppe St, which were cottages for white workers.
- Site of 3 wooden cooling towers: These were destroyed in 1958
- Anglo Gold Ashanti building. This building was originally the last and largest of 3 steam driven power stations built in Newtown to supply power to Johannesburg in the early 20th Century. Built between 1927 and 1934, the Jeppe Street power station comprised a turbine hall and a north and south boiler house. During the 1970s the Electricity Department moved out of Newtown and despite attempts to redevelop the area, the Newtown electrical precinct continued to decline. Anglo Gold refurbished the building and built new additions, opening in 2008. The result is a dramatic daring and quite beautiful example of adaptive re-use of heritage resources.
- Newtown Music Centre: Formerly Megamusic, a popular venue for music concerts
- Dance Factory: Dance centre which organizes and holds classes workshops and performances
- Sci–Bono Discovery Centre: Located in what was the City’s first power station built in 1906 (rather than power stations which supplied the mines). Known as the ‘Generating Station’ it was built largely to power the electrical tram network. Imported gas engines fueled by coal were to be used to power the turbines. However the coal proved to be unusable for the imported equipment and the whole plant had to be closed down. As it was subsequently used as a workshop to repair machines and electric parts for the city’s substations, it became known as the ‘electric workshop.’ It was refurbished from the Gauteng Department of Education budget at a cost of R150 million, opening in 2006.
- World of Beer Museum: Opened in 1995 to coincide with South African Breweries centenary. Clearly no expense has been spared and although but some of the introductory content is a bit naïve, it is an interesting museum. It was built on the site of the 2nd power station which opened in 1907.
- South African Reserve Bank: Opened in 1996 it was built on the site of the old tram sheds which were built in 1906-7
- The Bus Factory: This building housed the City’s trams and buses. It now houses Unity Art Gallery and various arts and cultural organizations.
- and 21 Burghersdorp was established as a township to accommodate poor whites, just to the west of Newtown and the so-called Coolie location. A melting pot of race and cultures, a 1902 census of Burghersdorp showed that the people living there included 348 Dutch (Boers), 70 immigrants from Europe, 276 Africans, 145 Cape Malays, 67 Indians and 12 Chinese.) Burghersdorp and the Coolie Location proved a thorn in the side of the Johannesburg Town Council. Being so close to town the land was very valuable. And the mixture of races presented a threat to any attempts at racial segregation plus the crowded and dense living led to poor health and sanitary conditions. After resistance against the authorities’ attempts to expropriate the land, and after an outbreak of the plague in 1904, the some 3100 inhabitants of the Coolie Location were moved to a segregation camp in Klipspruit (which later became Pimville and was incorporated into Soweto); and the location was torched.