Main Street tram subway

Jeppestown & Belgravia Pt.4 (Grand Station Hotel, Jeppe Post Office, dropped train tracks and Lithuanian Synagogue)

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Grand Station Hotel 1896

Front of the Grand Station Hotel
Main Street facade of the Grand Station Hotel in 2012 (Source: Marc Latilla)
Grand Station Hotel plans
Grand Station Hotel plans Main Street facade (Source: Museum Africa)
Grand Station Hotel plans
Grand Station Hotel plans Maddison Street facade (Source: Museum Africa)

Built to serve miners from the nearby Wolhunter mine, the Grand Station Hotel is one of the oldest and grandest. It had a close association with boxing and served as a soup kitchen and refuge during the 1922 miner’s strike. The building was designed by Reid & Williams (who were also responsible for six other buildings between 1894 and 1897 – one being the Masonic Temple in Plein Street) and was built by Reginald James Nicholas, a popular builder in Johannesburg. The first owner was Joseph Rabinson who also owned the Fountain Hotel in Fordsburg. Rabinson held boxing matches in both his hotels.

The first big party at the Grand Station Hotel was a Christmas party evidently thrown by gold and diamond pioneer David Pullinger, to celebrate the opening of his Percy Goldmine. David was the younger brother of Edward Pullinger who had a mansion on Pullinger Kop (also named after him) at the top of Nugget Hill. Edward was the one time Deputy Director of Johannesburg’s abattoir and livestock market. 

Front of Grand Station Hotel early 1900s
Main Street entrance of Grand Station Hotel before 1906 (Source: A Johannesburg Album)
Corner shot of the Grand Central Hotel 2011
Corner shot of the Grand Central Hotel in 2011 (Source: Marc Latilla)

When looking closely at the pictures, be aware that the Grand Central Hotel’s position can be deceptive depending on which direction it’s looked at. There is a short (Maddison Street Facade) and long side (Main Street facade)

Most of the hotel’s interior décor (woodwork, fireplaces, delft tiles) was replaced in 1966 in order to comply with Hotel Board requirements. It was fondly known as ‘Norman’s Grill’ for many years and had a reputation for serving the best prawns in Johannesburg. Norman Gaffen took over the hotel from his father, Jacob Gaffen, after his death in 1938. Norman was 16 years old at the time. Jacob originally acquired the hotel in either 1918 or 1921 from Mr Rabinson. The grill was still going in the early to mid-1980s. Norman Gaffen died in December 1986.

Jeppe Post Office 1897

Jeppestown Post Office in 2012
Jeppestown Post Office in 2012 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Although plans can’t be traced, it’s believed the Jeppe Post Office on the corner of Main & Gus Street was designed by Sytze Wierda of the Public Works Department. He was also responsible for Rissik Street, Fordsburg (demolished) and the old Braamfontein Post Office (demolished) as well as the three-story telephone tower in Plein Street (demolished). The foundation stone for the Jeppestown Post Office was laid on 15 December 1897 and it was completed about a year after the Rissik Street Post Office.

Jeppestown Post Office early 1900s
Jeppestown Post Office early 1900s (Source: A Johannesburg Album)

The post office is one of seven public buildings that the Public Works Department of ZAR erected in Johannesburg. They favoured the Second Empire style combined with Dutch influence.

The Post office is on the right and Grand Station behind the vehicle on the tracks
The Post office is on the right and Grand Station behind the vehicle on the tracks (Source: Museum Africa)

Dropping the train tracks 1936-1940

There are few alive today who will remember the subway in Jeppestown. Originally, the train tracks were on street level. Rather than build a bridge over the tracks for trams, the street was lowered in 1906 under the tracks creating the subway.

Main Street tram subway
Main Street tram subway running under the original train tracks with Grand Station Hotel on the right c1910 (Source: Museum Africa)
Jeppe tram subway
Tramlines running under the train lines in Jeppe with Grand Central in the distance on the left. Its the other side of the subway compared to the above picture and taken about 20 years later c1930 (Source: Museum Africa)
Main Street after subway removed
Main Street after the subway removal c1940 (Source: Museum Africa)
Main Street after subway removal
Other side of Main Street after subway removal c1940 (Source: Museum Africa)

This subway was demolished in 1937 when the train tracks were lowered (adjacent to the original tracks) and the traffic and trams were brought back up to the street level to improve access to Jeppe and beyond. The old tracks were tarred over to become John Page Drive.

Old tracks next to the new Jeppe station with temporary tram lines. Note both old and new Jeppe stations (Source: Transnet Library)
John Page Drive
The old tracks are John Page Drive today (Source: Google Earth)

Work started on this project in 1936. Bridges over lowered tracks were also built at Nugget Street, Cleveland, Denver, Tooronga,  Geldenhuis and 6th Ave, Mayfair. The aim of the project was twofold: first was to improve traffic flow as the number of cars on the roads was increasing, and the second, was the modernisation and expansion of the Johannesburg station. According to the Transnet librarian Yolanda Meyer, there was virtually no interruption to the train schedule.

An oddity around the dropping of the tracks in the Jeppe area was that the dropped tracks were constructed next to the existing tracks. In some cases, land and buildings were expropriated for this expansion.

Lithuanian Synagogue 1903

An old Lithuanian Synagogue in Jeppe, right in the path of the new dropped tracks line, managed to survive even though part of the building was chopped off.

An industry colleague, Nic Burger, sent me a google screenshot a few years ago about a shul in Jeppe that was cut in half, likely to do with the railways. Research has revealed that it was built in 1903 and designed by George (Snowball) Laidler and was built by Mr Muldoon for the Jeppestown Hebrew Congregation made up of Eastern European Jews or ‘litvaks’ who lived in the suburb.

It was the first purpose-built suburban synagogue in Johannesburg. Another Eastern European congregation established a synagogue in Ferreirasdrop in 1891 in Fox Str, but it was housed in a residential home and later moved to a modified home also in Fox Str. The proper synagogue was only built in 1912. This was a breakaway group from the original President Str synagogue and the ‘Yekkes’ British and German jews. Eastern European congregants felt the services weren’t orthodox enough. Before this, there was the Fordsburg synagogue which was was built in 1906.

The foundation stone of the Jeppe synagogue was laid by Max Langermann on 27 July 1903. He was president of the Witwatersrand Old Hebrew Congregation. The building opened on the 6th of September 1903 and was consecrated by Rabbi Hertz of the WOHC.

It was the centre of Jewish life in the suburb along with the Grand Station hotel where all the bar mitzvahs and weddings were held, but over time had become too small. After a 1924 resolution. The stands and buildings were sold in 1926 with the condition the site could not be used for worship or entertainment. A new, bigger synagogue was to built in Browning street on land that had been purchased in 1920.

This was the Jeppestown Synagogue a few hundred metres away from 1926 covered in the next part.

Frank Waterman purchased the building. Around the time of the expansion, the old synagogue was used as factory storage space. In the mid-1930s the railways expropriated 32 full stands and 8 portions of existing stands of which the old shul was one. The railways demolished the southwestern portion which included the original entrance which was on Janie street.
They closed off the southwestern side and incorporated the windows into the remaining structure. The B&W photos show the interior of the building which are different to the ones I took in 2014.

old cut off soul jeppe
Google Earth view showing the position of the old Shul (Source: Google Earth)
Lithuanian Synagogue drawings and site plan showing cut-off line (Source: JHF)
Cut-off sections (Source: JHF and Marc Latilla)
Various B&W photos (Source: JHF)
Interior of the Synagogue 2014 (Source: Marc Latilla)
Old Lithuanian Shul Jeppestown
Shell of the old Lithuanian Shul c2016 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Bibliography:

Johannesburg Historical Foundation, undated. Some Historic Drives & Walks of Johannesburg. Written and produced by the JHF

The Star. 1971. ‘Saga of a famous hotel’ by Denis Godfrey.

Norwich, O. I, 1986. A Johannesburg album-Historical postcards. Johannesburg: AD. Donker

Yolanda Meyer & the Transnet Heritage library

Updates:

Added additional Lithuanian Synagogue photos and updated text from JHF presentation Nov 2021

Added information and new photos on dropped tracks and Grand Station Hotel plans May 2019

This entry was published on July 21, 2013 at 11:15 am. It’s filed under Johannesburg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

19 thoughts on “Jeppestown & Belgravia Pt.4 (Grand Station Hotel, Jeppe Post Office, dropped train tracks and Lithuanian Synagogue)

  1. Desiree on said:

    Fantastic photographs! Where do you find them? I’ve been to the Johannesburg public library to research the history of Braamfontein and they have absolutely nothing. Even the librarian was embarrassed by their limited supply of information.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks! I trawled Museum Africa for many and got them scanned to disc from the originals (about R50 per image). The postcards I found on the net but had to edit them because someone had put their name along the side. There is an out of print book featuring those postcards that I’m trying to get my hands on. The rest are from the various books I find or are pictures of pictures taken at museums and other places of interest. The recent ones are all my own. I photograph different parts of the city on an almost weekly basis using my iPhone.
      You’ll love the Braamfontein pictures I have! Some aerial views from the 40s as well as tons of old houses and buildings. I can’t wait to get writing those posts. Like early Parktown, early Braamfontein is oddly fascinating to me.

      • Desiree on said:

        Wow, info on Braamfontein sounds fantastic! Would love to see old photographs to give the research I’m doing for a book some focus. Anything you have will be greatly appreciated. Keep up the awesome job!

  2. Charles on said:

    Hi

    We are currently researching history of the Jeppe Prep School (primary school) In preparation for a 50 year reunion. There would appear to be no pictures of the old sand stone built school which was demolished in the 60’s. Have you perhaps in your research come across any pictures of the old school.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    Charles Alfonso

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Charles,
      I’ve not come across any old pictures of Jeppe Prep but will keep an eye out.

      Marc

      • Charles on said:

        Hi Marc

        Thank you very much.

        Do you perhaps know if we are able to find plans for the Jeppe family home built in Belgravia.

  3. Lovely Stuff

  4. Pingback: Short history on trams in Johannesburg | Johannesburg 1912

  5. Speaking of Braamfontein, do you have historic photos of the Wits University and the SAB building at 2 Jan Smuts?

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi,
      I do! They will be included when I do the Braamfontein posts. First one should be in about a week from now.

  6. Thanks for uploading the pictures. Do you have any more of around that area by the Grand Station hotel? I was looking for exactly this as it looks such an amazingly beautiful building. It is nice to try to find out how that area looked back then. It is such a mish mash of different things there now and just a ton of traders alongside. There are some really beautiful buildings in that area, and in Johannesburg as a whole, and that Post Office building on the corner is another of my favourites.

    I’m definitley going to be having a proper good look through this blog. Is there is a history society in the area at all? We are in Kensington.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks Dave! I found a few plans of a long demolished hotel/bar that was around the corner. I’ll post them once I get the images from the museum

  7. Thank you for the interesting site, so many memories, I have to go back & read the article again, thank you, good to know there are people out there who are trying to keep the hiatory, culture of Johannesburg alive, Bravo !

  8. Mike Roebuck. on said:

    Can anyone remember who the barman was at Normans in the 1980s. He either was an ex boxer or played foot ball for an top U.K. team? . It was a favourite place for many pre rugby at Ellis Park . Lot of guys who had lived in Malawi, Zimbabwe, had some decent lunches their with Tom Van Vollenhoven when he worked for LHM .

    • Derrick Pentz on said:

      The guy you thinking of was Doug Rudham, who ran the upstairs Mess Club. Doug Played for Liverpool as goalie in the 50″s and is the reason I am a Liverpool Supporter ! There were always plenty of sportsmen there, amongst others Roy McLean , Graeme Pollock. Tiger Lance, Jackie Pretorius and many boxers

      • Derrick Pentz on said:

        In retrospect the other person you may be thinking of was Tommy Bensch, South African Heavyweight Champ from the 30’s . Tommy was barman at the downstairs bar at the Grand Station .

  9. Wonderful site; a real trip down memory lane.

  10. Neuren Pietersen on said:

    Tragically the Grand Hotel went up in flames last night. I have pictures available.

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