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I discovered two more out of print books today on Johannesburg. Both pointed to a few buildings/houses in Doornfontein that I was unaware of – Doornfontein being my next planned set of posts.
In the meantime, here are some pictures I took of the inside of Windybrow in 2011 after kindly being allowed access. It’s the last remaining example of a stately mansion in Doornfontein built in the late 1890s.
UPDATE (July 2018): In 2015, the building was taken over by the Market Theatre Foundation who beautifully restored and relaunched the centre in June 2017.
Although closely associated with Doornfontein and Johannesburg’s first ‘millionaires’ row’ due to its close proximity to Saratoga Avenue, it’s actually in Hillbrow on the south-western slope of Nugget Hill. When it was completed in 1896, it had an unobstructed view of the town.
Windybrow was designed by William Leck in the pseudo-tudor style and built in 1896 on several acres of steep rocky ground at the end of Pietersen Street and the north end of Nugget Street. It was the second home for industrialist Theodore ‘Teddy’ Reunert and named after the poet Robert Southey’s home in the English Lake District. Reunert was born in Leeds in 1856 and came to Kimberley in 1879. It was there that he met Otto Lenz. In 1887 they started the engineering firm Reunert and Lenz, which still exists today. He died in 1941, aged 85 and during his lifetime was involved with the establishment of many schools (Jeppe Boys and Girls and KES) and as well as being one of the people responsible for establishing the observatory. He was also chairman of the Public Library and a promoter of SA Association for the advancement of Science as well as being its president from 1902 – 1905.
Windybrow was then considered ‘far removed from the traffic of the town and remarkably quiet’. As an aside, Reunert’s first Johannesburg home was called ‘Swallow’s Nest’ and was near where Joubert Park is today. It was also considered out-of-town and had an uninterrupted view of Bez Valley.
Windybrow had one of the first private swimming pools in Johannesburg, a tennis court and a view of the Heidelburg Hills some 40kms away. The decor was Anglo-Moorish with ingle fireplaces, carved woodwork, and lustre tiles. It boasted a billiards room and a drawing-room with an Oregon pine dance floor laid on rubber washers.
After the Reunert family sold the house in the 1920s, it became a boarding house until 1945 when the Hospital Board acquired the property and made it part of the BG Alexander Nursing College. Many attempts were made to house various projects in the house, but the property stood empty for long periods of time and was damaged by vagrants. In the 1970s, it was taken over and restored by the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal (PACT) and used as its headquarters. In 1986, it became the Windybrow Theatre and in 1994, the Windybrow Art Centre.
It was declared a National Monument under old NMC legislation on 4 July 1975.
The words carved into the woodwork are from Shakespeare “Welcome ever smiles and farewell goes out sighing”
Barry, M & Law, N, 1985. Magnates and Mansions-Johannesburg 1886-1914. Johannesburg: Lowry Publishers
Heritage Portal. Windybrow. http://www.theheritageportal.co.za/article/brief-history-windybrow [Accessed 15 July 2018]
General text 13 July 2018
Additional photos and source additions 16 September 2018
Sterling job you are doing. Please keep me posted. I adore the architecture of early Johannesburg and the stories of the families that go with the homes of days gone by.
Am I the only person who can,t read your opening paragraphs, through the dark grainy sepia background used for all your fascinating suburbs? Would so like to be able to. I,m sure I am missing the most important parts. Gillian Nel
Could you please e-mail me (email@example.com) a screen shot so I can see what you are seeing? I haven’t had any complaints yet but will see what I can do…thanks
I remember Windybrow in the ’70’s when it was dilapidated and had all the windows and doors boarded up. We would go exploring in the ‘Nugget Hill Haunted House’
Any pictures from that era, before it was re-vamped?
Hi Keith! We’re part of a performance art project putting together a site-specific theatre piece on Windybrow. Would you be interested in sharing your story with us for research? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂