History of Hillbrow Pt.1

Map of Hillbrow and Hospital Hill 1897

Map of Hillbrow and Hospital Hill 1897

Some housekeeping: Please follow me on Instagram at @johannesburg1912 where I post interesting Johannesburg related stuff on weekends (mainly).

Follow this blog via e-mail HERE. Scroll down on the right after archives.

My first book ‘Johannesburg Then & Now’ is available at local bookstores or internationally via Amazon or kindle. Click HERE for the relevant links

On the 13 July 1893  a court ruled that the claim for the ground that would become Hillbrow belonged to J. Nicholls. He swiftly sold it to Transvaal Mortgage, Loan & Finance with which Sam Goldreich was associated. The ground was surveyed in 1894 and on the 20th May 1895 permission was received to change the claims to stands. The area north of Pretoria Street and east of Banket Street was laid out. Today, the area known as Hillbrow extends down to Wolmarans Street but it wasn’t always so (roughly covering the missing area on the above map).

Hilbrow sale

Hillbrow Estate sale (Source: Hillbrow)

An advertisement appeared in The standard Diggers and News on 22 June 1895 for the sale of the estate on 24 July 1895 describing it as ‘property…on the brow of Hospital hill extending to Parktown and Berea Estate” There were 466 stands that went up for auction and sales went well. One of the conditions was that no canteens or shops were to be erected making it a fully residential suburb. The only shops that appear to have been built in the original Hillbrow area north of Pretoria street were the ones on Bruce and Quartz street and they look like they date from around 1910.

Old shops on the corner of Bruce and Quartz Streets

Old shops on the corner of Bruce and Quartz Streets 2015 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Additionally, the title-deed conditions read: All rights to minerals, precious stones etc. on or under the land were reserved to the crown. Owners were not allowed to sell or let their properties to coloured persons, not permit any coloured person other than a bona fide servant to reside on the property.

On the 5th March 1897 Hillbrow fell under the jurisdiction of the Johannesburg Sanitary Board and part of the township Johannesburg.

Hillbrow became a thriving residential area of mostly detached residential houses.

Hillbrow Banket street looking south 1890s

Banket street looking south 1890s (Source: Museum Africa)

Basket Street looking south 1970s

Banket Street looking south 1970s (Source: Johannesburg Style)

Bmket Street

Banket Street looking south 2014 (Source: Marc Latilla)

In the 1920s, due to advancements in construction techniques, multi-story buildings replaced some of the houses. After WW2, Hillbrow was still predominantly made up of houses. In 1946 the city council removed height restrictions which laid the foundation for the Hillbrow as we know it.

Pretoria street looking east early 1900s

Pretoria street looking east early 1900s (Source: Museum Africa)

Pretoria street looking east 2011

Pretoria street looking east 2011 (Source: Marc Latilla)

It started with the first building boom in the 1950s. Post-War, architects in Johannesburg were influenced by French architects Le Corbusier and Le Hevre and Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer. Much of this influence came together in Hillbrow with particular aspects of 1940 Martienssen House (53 Criden Bay Road Greenside) and Brazilian style coming together in apartment block Von Brandis Heights from 1952. A visiting architectural historian commented that Hillbrow was a ‘Little Brazil’.

Martiensson House design influenced many Hillbrow blocks of flats from the 1950s

Martiensson House design influenced many Hillbrow blocks of flats from the 1950s

Clarendon Heights showing the Marteinsson influence

Clarendon Heights showing the Martiensson influence (source: Johannesburg Style)

Von Brandis Heights showing the Brazilian influence

Von Brandis Heights showing the Brazilian influence (Source: Johannesburg Style)

The late 1960s saw a second building boom in Hillbrow brought on by a good economy. This development dropped off by 1971 and by 1973, the number of flats exceeded demand. By the 1980’s, Hillbrow’s private houses were mostly gone and by the 1990s, the area was a very different place to its heyday. Do read Alan Morris’s ‘Bleakness & Light’ for an insight into Hillbrow from 1980s to today.

The Royal Johannesburg Golf Club’s first course was established in twelve weeks and opened in February 1891 behind the hospital in Hillbrow. It is said the first tee was in the vicinity where Clarendon Circle is and would have stretched down the valley along what would become Empire Road. It lasted only two months before moving to Jeppe. Members complained about the difficulty of getting to the course and that it was overly rough.

Circle shows the site of the first tee. At the time the area was just veld

The circle shows the site of the first tee. At the time the area was just veld (Source: Watershed Town)

One of the first houses built in the original Hillbrow was one in Van der Merwe Street between Quartz and Claim Street. It was built and owned by Mr R. J. Nicholas. In a  newspaper article from 1971, his daughter recalled the house being in the middle of the veld and remembered the horse trams running up and down Claim Street. The property also had its own borehole and during the drought, people would come to the house with buckets for water. They moved away when the area started filling up in the early 1900s. It is possible that there is some connection between R. J. Nicholas and the original owner of the land, J. Nicholls.

One of the first houses in Hillbrow

One of the first houses in Hillbrow in Van Der Merwe Street (Source: Star/Chipkin archives)

A horse tram in Twist street late 1890s

A horse tram in Twist street late 1890s

There are plans for various houses, cottages, and shops at the Africana Museum. Although the plans are dated, it is not known when (or if) the houses were actually built.

Kotze Street cottage for N. M. Nefdt from 1893

Esselen Street house for H.D. Solomon from 1897

Kotze street 3 cottages for R.L. Kramer from 1897

Claim Street house designed by Reid & green for owner C.H. Meyer from 1898.

Goldreich Street cottage for P. J. Melass in 1898

Goldreich & Catherine street house for Cridlan & Co. from 1902

Van der Merwe and Claim street Villa and stables for Jean P. F. Rocher from 1903

Kotze & Quartz Street shops designed by Reid & East for R. M. Williams from 1904

Paul Nel & Banket Street house designed by H. Lindhorst for Schoen from 1905

Pretoria Street Garage for J. E. P. Glensor from 1922

From the select list of plans above, it can be seen that the area south of Pretoria Street filled up earlier than the area north of Pretoria Street.

Existing house on Van Der Merwe street and Quartz not far from the where the first house would have been

Existing house on Van Der Merwe street and Quartz not far from the where the first house would have been (Source: Marc Latilla)

Plans for a house on Goldriech Street

Plans for a house on Goldreich Street

The house where Eric Rosenthal was born in Kotze Street early 1900s

The house where Eric Rosenthal was born in Kotze Street early 1900s (Source: Memories & sketches)

At 39 Pretoria Street, the current site of Elkam Building and once the home of Look & Listen and Cafe Three Sisters used to be a house which was built in 1917. It became known as ‘Little Y.W.C.A’ and was a hostel that accommodated 20 girls. The main Y.W.C.A, established in 1903, was at a building in 179 Jeppe street also built in 1917 which could accommodate 80 girls.

Captain Carl von Brandis built and lived in a little house named ‘Hanover Haus’ on the north-west corner of Twist and Pietersen Street in which he also died on 22 June 1903.

Looking north up Twist Street 1920s. Von Brandis' house would have been in the centre on the right

Looking north up Twist Street 1920s. Von Brandis’ house would have been in the centre on the left in front of the church. The German school is visible on the left next to the church (Source: Extraordinary 20th Century)

Von Brandis House Hillbrow

Von Brandis’ House on the corner of Twist & Pieterse Str

Site of Von Brandis house 2017

Von Brandis’ house today (Source: Google Earth)

The Deutsche Schule Johannesburg (German school) was built in between Twist and Hol Street (Now called Edith Cavell) in 1897 with its foundation stone laid in April that year by Mrs. Rolfes. The gymnasium was completed in 1898 with both buildings designed by William Leck.

Duetsche Schule main building

Deutsche Schule main building

School with completed gymnasium

School with completed gymnasium

Also built in 1897 was the first parsonage designed by J. F. Kroll. It was sold to the school in 1936 and was demolished around the early 1970s (possibly at the same time as the school and gym) to make way for the Andre Huguenot Theatre (now the Hillbrow Theatre), German Consulate and a kindergarten.


First parsonage

A second parsonage was added in 1936 designed by Gordon Leith. It appears that this house still stands and is used as an outreach centre (see below).

The school was founded earlier in 1890 by Pastor Kuschke who taught a small group of German children at the mission station in Marshall Street.

The German school existed until 1914 after which it was taken over by the government. In 1915 it was renamed Hospital Hill School (presumably due to the anti-German sentiment at the time) and became an English school. The Andre Huguenot Theatre now stands where the school stood.

Great early view of the area showing the original school and church building

Great early view looking south of the area showing the original school and Friedenskirche. Joubert Park is in the background.

In 1920, German classes started again at Friedenskirche, the German Lutheran church in Twist street. By 1922, the growing classes moved back to the original building. Also in the 1920s, Ockerse Street was closed and the road area divided amongst the school and church.

By the 1960s, the school was becoming too small and grounds were purchased in San Souci at the bottom of Parktown West. Construction started in 1967 and the school moved from Edith Cavell Street to its new buildings on 20 January 1969 where it still operates successfully today.

Friedenskirche or Church of Peace was built in 1912 opposite the German school. It was designed by Swiss architect Theophile Schaerer and served the German community until the early 1980s. It still stands and operates as a church as well as a community centre for disadvantaged Hillbrow residents. Its spire is still a striking landmark despite all the high-rise buildings. The church still stands as does what appears to be the minister’s house designed by Gordon Leith in 1936. According to Konrad Voges, it was Werner Wagner who designed the house. Wagner became a junior partner of Leith’s practice in 1935. The forerunner of this church appears to be the one that Pastor Kuschke started in the 1890s. It stood for 22 years, either in Main or Marshall Street, before being demolished. It was a simple A-frame building.

Hill brow Lutherian Church from 2015

Hillbrow Lutheran Church (Friedenskirche) from 2015 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Pastor's house from 2015

Pastor’s house from 2015 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Around 1898 General Jan Smuts rented a house on the corner of Twist & Kotze Streets which is now Ingram’s Corner. It was once a famous pharmacy known as Fred Ingram. There was apparently a plaque on the building’s wall to commemorate this.

Ingram's corner after construction 1950s

Ingram’s corner after construction 1950s (Source: Johannesburg Style)

Ingram’s first chemist was in Braamfontein at 73 Smit Street. He appears to have moved his business to the corner of Twist & Kotze Street around 1909. The Hillbrow house was either demolished or converted, but the original Ingram’s Corner made way for a building of the same name which was completed in 1951 and designed by Cowin & Ellis.

Advert for the chemist from 1973

Advert for the chemist from 1973

One of the Tannenbaum brothers of Adcock-Ingram fame was sent to run the Hillbrow chemist in the 1930s. It was there that Ingram’s Camphor cream was created by German chemist Hans Rose who on leaving SA, gave the recipe to Tannenbaum.

Ingram's Corner 1970s

Ingram’s Corner 1970s

Google street View of Ingram's corner 2013. Cafe De Paris moved in sometime in the late 70's or early 80s

Ingram’s corner 2015. Cafe De Paris moved in sometime in the late 70’s or early 80s leading to some modification. The Eiffel tower balcony balustrades still exist. (Source: Google Earth)

The next part of this piece will also cover some of Hillbrow’s heyday and show some pictures from December 2015.

Imerman’s was a men’s clothing outfitter on the corner of Claim and Kotze Street. Louis Imerman came from Russia and started the store in 1912 and later built a house next door. The original store was demolished in 1959 and replaced with a modern building that continued to house the business. It was still a going concern in the early 1980s.

Imermans original building

Imerman’s original building c1959 before being demolished (Source: Hillbrow)

Imermans building 2015

Imerman’s building 2015 (Source: Google Earth)


Reference for both parts will be covered in Pt.2





This entry was published on January 7, 2016 at 10:55 am. It’s filed under Johannesburg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

14 thoughts on “History of Hillbrow Pt.1

  1. Fred W. Craandyk on said:

    *Thank you very much for this most interesting article.

    Fred Craandyk*

    On 7-1-2016 at 09:55 Johannesburg 1912 – Suburb by suburb research: > WordPress.com > Marc Latilla posted: ” On the 13 July 1893 a court ruled that the > claim for the ground that would become Hillbrow belonged to J. > Nicholls. He swiftly sold it to Transvaal Mortgage, Loan & Finance > with which Sam Goldreich was associated. The ground was surveyed in > 1894 ” >

    • Marcia Rykov on said:

      Loved this article! Wonderful seeing Ingrams Corner which housed Romanos Restaurant where many delicious meals were enjoyed in the early 60’s. There was a bakery/tea room opposite Ingrams corner called The Florian where one could enjoy tea, pastries and a view of Hillbrow while seated on the upstairs patio. Thank you Marc for sharing these treasures!! So many wonderful memories of a beautiful city! Looking so forward to your next article.

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Thanks Marcia! Told you I’d get to it eventually. The next piece will have more memories from 60s-80s plus some pictures from a walk around I did a few weeks ago.

  2. Pingback: History of Hillbrow Pt.2 | Johannesburg 1912 - Suburb by suburb research

  3. 53 Criden Bay Road Greenside – CRUDEN BAY

  4. Pingback: 100K views for Johannesburg1912 | Johannesburg 1912 - Suburb by suburb research

  5. Peter Milner on said:

    As a child I lived for a while at No 411 Avonal Court, Van de Merwe Street, Hillbrow. This was during the period 1946-48 when I was between eight and ten years of age. With other children I used to wander around Hillbrow and up to the main road to go to the children’s Saturday morning film club/ Many of us went to Park View school and there were buses to take us there, but they were often full and we had to walk. I remember the royal visit when Clarendon Circle was shaped into a crown and lit by thousands of bulbs; it was beautiful. My father, who had served in the British Royal Artillery in WWII was a part-time officer in the 4th, Transvaal Horse Artillery and we often spent time at their headquarters on the weekend. If we didn’t go there we would go to a lovely swimming pool up on a kloof just a few miles from the centre. Otherwise we went to parties with a very artistic and political crowd. I have lots of other memories of life as a child in 1940s Jo’burg and I realise it is utterly different now as white children would not be able to walk about Hillbrow and other districts in perfect freedom

  6. Peter Milner on said:

    Hi Mark, I’m glad you liked my piece. Another memory I have is about the Scarlet Fever epidemic in 1947 or thereabouts. It swept through the schools in a few weeks and dozens of us boys ranging in age from about 7 to 12 were swept up and put in an old single ward fever hospital on the edge of Hillbrow. After a few days of feeling lousy most of us recovered our energy and, with only two or three senior nurses and half a dozen trainees to control us the place turned into a mad house. there were quite savage fights (I was involved in two that ended in bleeding noses) games of four-sided indoor rugby using the cherished teddy bears of the younger boys as balls and extreme noise levels virtually all the time; I think the whole place was a trailer for the book and film ‘The Lord of the Flies’. One of the student nurses decided to increase her income by inviting us to line up for a lesson about female anatomy, sixpence to look and a shilling to touch. When the weather improved we were able to wander about the grounds carving our names into the very soft red soapstone gate posts and boundary markers. We were let out after we had been in isolation for six weeks. Our parents came to collect us after we had had a bath and dressed in the clean clothes they brought because everything we took in was burnt. WE had hardly got over the Scarlet Fever panic when South Africa was struck by something much worse – Polio which was awful, taking the fittest and most active youngsters, I escaped because my mother strapped me to my bed for a week when I came home complaining of aching muscles. Several of my chums were not so fortunate. 1948 was a dreadful year for youngsters all over the world.

  7. Pingback: The Johannesburg Art Gallery suffers from neglect despite its impressive history and collection — Quartz

  8. Pingback: One of Africa’s largest art collections is under threat – Quartz – ItsInvisible

  9. Pingback: One of Africa’s largest art collections is under threat – Quartz | Alckemy

  10. I have only ever read information like this on buildings, about buildings and areas in other countries, first about our home land so thank you for making information like this available… any more info on the “Nederduitse” buildstyle??

  11. Reblogged this on The Art of Travel and commented:
    Joburg in the good old days. a must read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: