Friday, February 16, 2007

red herring # 2800 and ?

Hi, well I had about 20 things I wanted to blog about today, and then I had to go see about a design job for a Trade Show that is coming up.... and the rest, as they say, is history.... you are about to get another tour of old Central in Port Elizabeth.

But this time, not just me being enthusiastic because I am passionate about it. There is another side to the story, and I only think it is fair that I give you a more balanced picture of it.
Large parts of Central have been bought up by slum lords, and left to deteriorate terribly. They have been literally over-run by squatters, drug dealers (mostly Nigerian illegal immigrants) and prostitutes.

Naturally, because I am a "glass half full" sort of girl, I have to start off with one of the beautiful sights I saw ......
The sun was glinting over the harbour, as i looked downhill. The old church in this pic was featured close up towards the end of This post.

This old Art Deco stunner has luckily been maintained, the building next to it down the hill has been another that has fallen victim to fire and neglect.

A very disturbing expose appeared on TV the other night, following up on promises made by our city council, Police, Members of Parliament, and the main offender amongst the negligent property owners, and it seems very little progress has been made, and this lovely historic part of the second oldest city in South Africa is under serious threat.
The man most Port Elizabethans love to hate is an Irish businessman named Ken Denton. He owns many of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the city, and has let them go to the point where some will not be able to be saved, even though they are under the protection of the Historic Buildings Commission.
I realise for those of you in Europe who count your history in Milllenia rather than Centuries, this might all seem a bit feeble, after all, these buildings are only about 180 years old, but they are the oldest we have, and if we don't fight to preserve them, we will have even less sense of history and heritage than we already do. Another thing that makes them interesting is that they contain influences from many parts of the world and different eras, so that you can have a Victorian beauty next to an art deco classic with an American Gothic nearby!
This brings us back to Ken Denton, and his buildings.
One of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in port Elizabeth is the old Post Office Building.
It is an example of American Gothic architecture, and the care and attention to detail is stunning. Sadly it has fallen into his sticky hands, and therefore into a sad state of neglect.

Trees are even taking root in the walls, opening terrible cracks,
and the ceilings are collapsing.

I am sparing you pictures of the really horrible bits, shown in the documentary. Squatters are all over these buildings, and the fittings have been stripped out, walls and floors burnt from fires made of materials stripped from the buildings, prostitutes lie around in drug induced trances, and the film crew literally had to pick their way through the heaps of human excrement all over the floors.

This is another of his buildings, up on the hill with spectacular views of the harbour, and right next to 7 Castle Hill Museum, (seen on the right of it down the hill) which is a Georgian house, built in 1827, and is one of our prime tourist attractions. (It is the oldest residence in town preserved in its original state, complete with furniture, old kitchen appliances etc.)

As you can see, Denton's building had been burned out, and I cannot describe the stench as you drive past it. After the expose, he issued a statement to assure us that his buildings were being cleaned up and sealed against further squatting, well I drove past yesterday and today, and both times the front door was just hanging open, with no sign of cleaners anywhere.
Another of our prime tourist attractions used to be the Donkin Terrace, a very pretty terrace running down a steep hill overlooking the city centre and harbour (it is in the same street as the church I showed you first, but lower down the hill. At one time about 15 years ago, these had all been restored with great pride by their owners, the original old yellowood rafters fixed up, and they were all in pristine condition, with an emphasis on preserving original fittings as much as possible. They are now way worse than in this photo (which was taken about 2 years ago). Balconies and gutters are sagging, trellis details missing, paint peeling, wallls crumbling, and you do not dare walk past if you don't want to be mugged or worse!

The man (and others like him) have a lot to answer for, and so far it seems our authorities are so bound up in legal red tape that they have been rendered toothless in the extreme, and the slum lords keep raping our beautiful town with impunity!

Ok , but there are still some awesome ones which are being looked after, not least of all the one I visited to measure up today. But first....
DETOUR! This is our lovely old city hall., opposite the building we are heading for (and by the way it literally was like this today, I had to drive around the block to find parking, and I kept getting sidetracked and stopping to photograph things along the way, I nearly missed my meeting!)
Outside the Old Post Office I spotted this statue, and its rather intruiging inscription. I checked out who Prester john was, apparently he was a legendary figure believed to live in India or Ethiopia, and sought by many sailors from the 12th Century to the 1700s, before it was realised he may not exist!
And FINALLY that brings us to the actual destination, seen behind the monument. It is the old Feathermarket Hall, which was built in the glory days of the ostrich feather industry, and was used for the feather auctions. It is straight, not curved, btw, but it distorted when I stitched 3 pix together to show you most of the facade.

As you continue down the hill from the burnt out house and 7 Castle Hill, this is the view of it on the left, large and barnlike (it extends far to the left) but pretty unprepossesing from outside.... but wait!
It is quite hard to convey a sense of how big the hall is in photos, but these stitched together ones may help, those arched windows look tall when you see the building coming down the hill, but when you see them against the whole height of the end wall from inside, they are dwarfed. But if you look at the man on the ground floor (the little white blob next to the right hand pillar), you can see how huge and magnificent the hall is,
that vaulted roof is breathtaking .
here is the spectacular main hall from the back, looking towards the stage, with its beuatifully restored pipe organ (I wish I could tell you what the organ and the ostrich auctions have in common, but one day I will find the time to look up a bit of history...)
And this is the sweeping stairway in the downstairs entrance area.
So at least we can end our drive around town on a positive note!

Latest Paintings
Since we are on a roll with old buildings, here are really terrible photos of 2 of my new paintings, snapped in a great hurry, that are currently at a "Celebrating the Karoo" exhibition at a local Gallery.
The old water Mill at Nieu Bethesda (another delightful place I just HAVE to take you to sometime!!)
Reinett House in Graaff Reinett, oh dear, that reminds me, it is another fascinating place I promised AGES ago to share with you, hope you are patient...........
Week 7, looking out my front door, at 5.30 this morning, the sun was just trying to emerge enough to tinge the clouds pink, but it was cold and very windy.
Anyway I will be scarce for the next few days because we are off to Knysna to visit family.
Have a great weekend, catch ya later!


Libbys Blog said...

That is how I got my name! My dad was a master mariner on the Ship 'City of Port Elizabeth' in 'Port Elizabeth'. We've been to Knysna a couple of times on our visits, I particuarly liked staying at 'Storms River' I think it was, right on the shore in a cabin on stilts!!

RUTH said...

Such a shame to see such fabulous architecture go into disrepair. Have a great weekend.

Janet said...

You do the best tours! I love seeing all the architectural photos and learning about your part of the world....but it's disturbing to learn how some of the buildings are so uncared for and falling apart.

PS - did you ever receive my email?