During the construction of the Union Buildings a need for accommodation for workers, the storage of building materials and workshops for keeping and maintaining tools, resulted in several buildings being erected below Meintjeskop. One of these buildings was the Union Hotel which was named after its original use as accommodation for workers involved with the construction of the union Buildings between 1910 and 1913.
The Hotel is depicted on a postcard indicating its isolated location below Meintjeskop with a single road leading from the building’s western elevation directly westwards, towards the eastern outskirts of the town of Pretoria. The postcard indicates young orchards located both sides of the entrance road which may suggest that the hotel was supplied with fresh vegetables by the small settlement resembling a farmstead at the end of the T-junction of the entrance road. Several large tents appear in the vicinity of the orchards while a row of corrugated iron sheds lead to a yard for building material in front.
It was a timber frame building, clad with galvanised iron and a veranda along four sides. The shading on the corrugated iron veranda roofs suggests that the original building was enlarged and that the verandas may have been added later. The building was elevated from the ground with the western and northern elevations being the highest, rendering the entrance to be more monumental. The view from the entrance along the western elevation had a vista along the driveway towards town. The building was located within walking distance from the construction site of the Union Buildings. According to some authors it was previously used as a school.
A key role player in establishing it as a residence, was Philip Lapin who started as a caterer in 1890 at his Bodega Bar in Market Street (later Paul Kruger Street). When the need for accommodation for the many workers on the Union Buildings project, became evident, Lapin applied for a hotel license. He was granted a temporary license and converted the school into a hotel which he named the Union Hotel.
After the completion of the Union Buildings the contract workers left and the financially viable flow of business at the hotel deteriorated. It now had to serve the comforts of travellers who became the new clientele. In July 1913 the building was destroyed by fire, while the license for the hotel was still valid.
The new owner applied to the Licensed Victuallers Association in Pretoria to have the license transferred to a new hotel he intended to erect on a site a few hundred metres from the old site. The Association rejected the application. The special circumstances that existed during the first license application did not exist anymore. The decision of the Association turning down the application was also ratified by the License Board on 22 September 1913.
One of the members of the License Board was John Johnstone Kirkness – the owner of the Groenkloof Brick, Tile and Pottery Factory. He was interested in the development of the Union Hotel as he had purchased a property forming part of the Faure estate located south-west of the Union Buildings. Together with William Millar they established Union Mansions Limited.
The new hotel was located in Church Street between Hamilton and Leyds streets and construction already started in 1923. As Kirkness was the principal contractor, the project was completed in 1925. Gordon Leith was the architect. In 1930 extensions were done with the addition of more accommodation and a bar. The name was also changed from Union Mansions to the Union Hotel.
On 13 March 1942 the board of directors of Union Hotels Limited sold the hotel to Samuel Gavronsky and Percival Harris. In 1956 Harris left the partnership. When Gavronsky died in 1965, his two daughters Mrs G. Posel and Helen Suzman (then MP for Houghton) became the directors of Union Hotels (Pty) Ltd. On 2 January 1979, the building was purchased by the Government for the South African Navy. The former Union Hotel is now managed as a naval mess for officers.
De Jong, R.C. 1999. Union Hotel. Pretoria Historical Dictionary (February). Pretoria: City Council of Pretoria
Postcards are part of the historical postcard collection of Dr Udo Kusel.
Peter Blersch, a keen cook with a bit more time on his hands due to working from home, decided to try his hand at baking sour dough bread. He made his own starter from scratch. After a few failed attempts, the smell of delicious sour dough bread soon wafted through his house. One difficulty was ensuring a steady supply of flour. It seems as though people are baking much more than usual during this time and supermarkets are battling to keep up with the demand for flour, particularly bread flour. His neighbours also got to sample some of his bread and gave it the thumbs up.
At the very beginning of the lockdown, when we entered Level 5, the soup kitchen in Hatfield closed, leaving the 60+ people who came Monday to Friday to eat soup and pap very hungry. Most of them were taken to various sports stadiums in the city to be lodged and fed.
The soup kitchen donated all its food supplies to the Salvation Army, knowing of its work in feeding those in need and the Salvation Army is now providing 2000 meals a day at designated spots in Marabastad, Sunnyside and Princes Park. The meals consist of breakfast (four slices of bread with jam or peanut butter or polony) and sometimes an egg, a cooked lunch and a light dinner. The people who come for the food are very hungry so social distancing is difficult and there can be some aggressive behaviour. There is no security on the spot, but the Salvation Army volunteers rely on their prayers to keep them safe.
If you wish to assist this effort, you are welcome to contact Majors Glen and Moya Hay on 083 290 1968 or go the Salvation Army website and click on ‘Donations’.
Nearer to home, our very own Arcadia Primary School has now reopened, but only for Grade 7 pupils, who are installed in the school hall where social distancing is possible. Some of the pupils are from families that are being severely impacted by the pandemic and have little or no food. Only staff and Grade 7 pupils may enter the school premises, so any donations would have to be left with the security guard outside.
One company making a difference is Sizani Foods, a specialist nutritional food manufacturer and supplier to hunger relief organizations in Southern Africa. They now make ‘Covid 19 Relief Boxes’ which can be ordered through their website and delivered.
While most of us never thought to face a pandemic like Covid 19 in our lifetimes, the response of so many individuals, NGOs and companies encourages us to have hope in humanity and in the continuation of the mutual aid we are seeing around us.
A member of our community works in a paediatric clinic at Steve Biko Hospital and noticed that the little ones do not have face masks. She mentioned this to Ina Roos who, together with Penny Blersch made just over 100 tiny masks from scraps of fabric for the little patients. The little ones are very thrilled with their masks. Let's hope this helps to keep them safe.
Professor Hadebe and his family who live in Thomas Avenue started feeding the homeless and street children who live in Venning Park at the start of lockdown. They feed a nutritious meal to between 40 and 60 people on a daily basis without any government assistance. This is truly a mammoth task and a labour of love.
In January of this year, who could have imagined the world we are now living in 6 months later? Who had heard of “social distancing” or “flattening the curve” and “contact tracing? Now we are all familiar with these terms as well as wearing masks, endless sanitizing and staying at home most of the day.
Whilst we acknowledge the privileged position of most Arcadians, the lockdown which started at the end of March was a time of great uncertainty, adjustment and challenges for all. However, we
managed to adapt to this strange way of life and many Arcadians came up with novel ways to stimulate bored pets and children, exercise in their homes and fill their days learning new skills. I think many people took advantage of this time to slow down, appreciate their homes and gardens, count their blessings and reach out to those in need.
This page highlights some of things Arcadians have been doing in the time of Covid 19.
One of the challenges during the first 5 weeks of lockdown was the prohibition of exercise for both humans and dogs. I have a very energetic 2 year old Labrador and an older Ridgeback and the prospect of not taking them for a walk or run for weeks was unimaginable.
However, I very quickly realized that mental stimulation is just as effective as physical exercise to keep a dog happy. I devised a series of mentally challenging exercises for our dogs and every day we spent 20 minutes or so at “school” with them. The internet is filled with clever ideas to challenge your dogs. One particular favourite was the box challenge. I filled various containers with treats (plastic bottle, toilet roll inner, egg box) and put them in a cardboard box. They had to figure out how to open the box, then get the treats out of the various containers. It kept them amused for ages and it was interesting to see the difference in technique between the two breeds. The Labrador was very much the “bash and crash” technique whilst the Ridgeback was more methodical and used her teeth to open the containers. Another favourite was hiding treats under tennis balls placed in a muffin tin. Freddy, the Labrador also enjoyed watching the animal programmes on TV, especially if there was a lot of action. We gradually made the challenges more difficult and by the time we moved to level 4 of the lockdown, both dogs had graduated from High School!
We also ran around the house with the dogs in tow. It took a little effort to keep them interested but we managed to do 3km, three or four times a week. This kept the humans fit too. I also set up an obstacle course in the garden which challenged them both physically and mentally.
And then 1 May arrived and at 6h00 I calmly got out their leads and said “Let’s go for walkies!” Both looked at me totally puzzled, especially as I had a mask on. However, once we got out the gate, they realized what was happening and those tails did not stop wagging for the next hour or so.
Claus Schutte/Linda Tyrrell
Rita Ribbens Burger
When the British emerged as the victors of the South African War in 1902, they vigorously set about building an infrastructure from which to administer their new enlarged and amalgamated colony. There is no doubt that both their enthusiasm and their determination were driven by a lust and greed for the prospects of wealth that the South African deposits of gold and diamonds promised them.
In an effort to appease the Boers and on account of its proximity to the gold reef, the British selected Pretoria to become the administrative capital of the new Union of South Africa. The date set for the declaration of the Union was 1910 and this gave a mere eight years during which to construct the Union Buildings and to transform Pretoria into a prestigious Colonial capital city. Unlike other colonies to which remittance men and ex-convicts were dispatched to laud it over the locals and to administer the affairs of the empire, South Africa was seen as the jewel in the Imperial crown and people sent here were recruited from the top drawer of British high society. It was necessary to make these bureaucrats feel comfortable and at home once they had settled here in the rugged wilds of Africa.
Meintjieskop had been chosen for the site of the Union buildings and the burgeoning garden city suburb of Arcadia that nestled on the adjacent slopes was clearly somewhere that high ranking civil servants and other well-to-do pillars of Colonial society would wish to reside. Their children would need posh schools and they would need gracious churches to attend and thus it was that the Pretoria High School for Girls, The Pretoria Boys High School, St Mary’s DSG and some very fine Anglican parish churches were built in close proximity.
No expenses were spared.
The ever so competent architect, Herbert Baker, an intimately close friend of Cecil John Rhodes, was appointed either as the architect of these buildings, or, in the case of the schools, to oversee the projects that were otherwise executed by the Department of Public Works. The result of all this is a legacy of buildings that are quite literally among the finest of their kind anywhere in the world.
Recent and current debate in South Africa has rightfully concluded that in no rational way can anything good be seen to have resulted from Colonialism. This I do personally hold to be true and beyond question, exception or further debate. But, a dilemma is posed. How, then, can it be true that our consequent legacy of buildings be regarded as glorious and unique treasures of which every South African can be justifiably proud?
There are, indeed, a number of reasons why and here I will discuss only some of those that pertain to Christ Church in Pretorius Street, Arcadia.
The Architecture of the building follows the tradition of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Arts and Crafts is a philosophy of design that was coined as such in the latter part of the 19th century and that advocates that a building should be constructed by hand and of organic materials that are sourced from as close a proximity to the site as possible. These materials should be assembled with artistry, craftsmanship and care to create a tapestry that is in every way a product of the environment and its people and that assumes a sense of timelessness so that it may appear to be an integral part of the original creation of the earth. Ethnic architecture all over the world adheres precisely to these principles. A hand-crafted adobe Tswana hut with its decorated stucco walls and thatched roof is an excellent example of the Arts and Crafts ideology. This is all the more so by virtue of the manner in which such a hut becomes an integral part of the landscape into which it blends with synchronicity and even more profoundly by the way in which such a hut would eventually crumble and recycle itself back into the environment without leaving a trace let alone a scar.
The sandstone detailing, granite walls and slate roof of Christ Church are all locally sourced. The building is of the environment and would be alien in any other country. It was superbly built with extraordinarily high levels of competency by local people who gave of their blood, sweat and tears and were paid slave wages to do so. The fact that they were subsequently forbidden by virtue of the colour of their skin, from worshiping in the building that they had so meticulously created is an absolute travesty.
The financial cost of building Christ Church was enormous. It included the import of (regrettably foreign) Burmese Teak and other timber that is now not only irreplaceable but contributed to the denuding of the rain forests – our earthly lungs. There were many other costs and these were funded by the ill-gotten gains of the minerals extracted from the South African soil. Although the British wrote out the cheques, it was South Africa that paid for the building and it did so very dearly indeed.
During the years of Apartheid Black people were forbidden from entering the church excepting for the cleaners and the elderly verger who I remember from the bleak years of the 1970’s and 80s’s dating back to the rectorship of Fr Shapter. The verger was a most pious Anglican if ever there was one and he was part of a tradition of Black building and ground staff that polished the brass and shone the Kirkness terra cotta floor tiles. This they did without complaint and to the glory of God in a manner that would have made John Ruskin proud! Their efforts were not in vain. They have resulted in a resplendent building cloaked in more than a century of patina, love and care.
The Anglican Church did hold a consistent stance against Apartheid and the Pretoria Diocese included among its ranks rectors like Mark Nye who was imprisoned for his part in the struggle. During all these years, Christ Church was a place where some people did express their grievances both verbally and spiritually at the atrocities against Black people. Buildings do, in a way, acquire a richness of memory. There are many buildings where, upon entering, a person can perceive a sense of the great or dastardly or profound things that have occurred there and Christ Church is one of these.
And so, I do believe that Christ Church is a most awesome building in spite of its Colonial roots and not because of them. It is a building of which all Pretorians can be justifiably proud.
Two noteworthy contemporary philosophers, Alain de Botton and Roger Scruton (though he died last year) have both expressed the wish that more people would routinely attend religious services and that they do so in fine buildings that are exemplary in the beauty of their sacred architectural design. The reason that they want this is not to convert people to any religion whatsoever. On the contrary, they are particularly keen that atheists, agnostics and non-believers attend such services because they are of the opinion that it would do not only them but society at large huge benefit for people to routinely withdraw from the hectic bustle of daily life and to relax in a ritual of peace and calm during which the five senses can be stimulated and invigorated. Christ Church is the ideal venue for such a pursuit as I will now explain.
To start with, one enters the property through the lych gate which is illustrated in my accompanying painting. These days lych gates are quite rare. They always have a little roof and are sometimes known as Resurrection Gates and in the days of yore coffins were placed there before funeral services. The word derives from the old Saxon word for a corpse as, interestingly, does the Afrikaans word “lyk”. These days, the gate is simply just a gate but notably a good lych gate, such as the one at Christ Church, has all the qualities of a Japanese Torii or a Hindu Torana which are illustrated below. These gates mark a threshold between the sacred (or arcane) and the profane. The passage through the gate heralds the entry into a realm of altered reality.
Then, to enter the church, steps need to be mounted. One is entering a sanctuary of high importance. Next, the doorway needs to be entered. The heavy timber doors dwarf the entrant and bring into focus the humbleness of our existence when seen in the greater scope of things.
In designing the interior of Christ Church, Baker adhered to the wisdom of ecclesiastical architecture that was built up over centuries and that was enriched by learning from Islamic architecture including that of Africa.
The church is rather sombre inside and is notable for the dark side isles. This darkness represents the wretchedness of our earthly existence. The clearstory windows above flood the upper realms of the interior with light which represents the glory of that which is higher than ourselves. Baker designed the roof and ceiling in the tradition of his native Surrey in the United Kingdom with handsome, exposed trusses that supports a curved ceiling which extends into the roof space and brings a loftiness to the interior.
All the five senses are catered for during a church service. The burning of incense plays to the olfactory sense but it also fills the space with its perfumed fog through which the coloured sunrays can dance once they have penetrated the stained glass windows. It can be almost like attending a free laser show! And it does not stop there. The flickering lights of the altar candles and the glow of the red oil lamp above twinkle in the darkness of their setting and cast all sorts of shadows on the roughly chiselled stone interior. It is all about mystery and wonder.
Then there are the tactile senses that are aroused through the touch of the polished timber pews, the softness of kneeling upon the pew cushions, the awe-striking coldness of clutching onto the altar rail and the slippery feel of the polished floor underfoot as contrasted by that of the nurturing cosiness of the red carpet along the central nave.
Quite as phenomenal as the church building itself, are the church choir and its formidable conductor, George King. When the choir sings, the whole space is filled with sound that reverberates around and echoes from the walls and ceiling to resemble the sound of heavenly angels singing. Good Anglicans are supposed to fast before taking communion and in doing so the taste of the dryness of the unleavened bread and the sweetness of the wine are exaggerated. It can all be quite extraordinary.
De Botton and Scruton hold that the repeated indulgence in weekly ritual under such environmental circumstances is extremely good for one’s constitution regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof and I do tend to agree.
Our fundraising and social calendar is in limbo at the moment as a result of the restrictions placed on public and social gatherings due to Covid-19.
We are hopeful that things will return to some sort of normality towards the end of the year and a revised social calendar will be circulated to all residents.
In the meantime, please continue to support ARRA by paying your membership fees. Any donations would also be welcomed.
There is a new recycling initiative in Arcadia which residents can sign up for. Collection day is a Thursday and it seems to be working well.
Banking Details for J A C Recycling Services (Pty) Ltd
For all EFT Payments please use Company Name or Street Address as Reference.
First National Bank
J.A.C Recycling Services (Pty) Ltd
626 5700 2681
Stock Images by Freepik
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The ARRA AGM was scheduled to be held on 18 March 2020 but due to the Covid 19 outbreak, it was cancelled. All the reports of the various sub-committees and the financial statements were emailed to ARRA members and residents. They are also available for perusal on the ARRA website.
No new nominations to serve on the committee were received. The following members were therefore elected unopposed.
Planning & Zoning:
Environment & Recycling:
Crime & Security:
Ward & Electoral:
PR, Social & Fundraising: