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Homes of the Golden City


Author:Munro, Kathy
Date:2015 November

A Johannesburg challenge ... The 1948 Homes of the Golden City the prolific Allister Macmillan, the role model and predecessor of Eric Rosenthal.

In 1948 a book called "Homes of the Golden City" was published. The book is about Johannesburg. The initiator of the project was Allister Macmillan, who sadly died before the book was completed. The project was project was brought to completion by a young writer Eric Rosenthal (1905 - 1983) who went on to be be a prolific author on historical themes. Homes of the Golden City, was researched and developed during the Second World War but because of Macmillan's untimely passing and the war itself publication was delayed for several years. We do not know who the photographer was. The book is fairly difficult to come by and now an expensive collectible item. (possible costing over R2000). It followed the prewar sequences of books published by Macmillan, on Johannesburg, the Witwatersrand and Pretoria, Durban, East Africa and Rhodesia. The Durban volume was called Durban Past and Present and was published in 1936.

At this stage the biographical information I have on Macmillan is sketchy. Allister Macmillan was of Scottish ancestry. He worked as a journalist in England and then emigrated to Durban in the early 20th century, where he moved in book publishing. He travelled widely throughout the world (visiting China , India, Indonesia, Mauritius). He moved on to the West Indies where he produced three volumes on that region (The Red Book of the West Indies 1st edition 1922). He later produced books along the formula of a combination of historical commercial and descriptive on the West Coast of Africa, The Red Book the West Coast of Africa (1920), Seaports of the Far East (1925), Malta and Gibraltar, Mauritius, Rhodesia and Eastern Africa (1931). The Mauritius volume was republished in 2000. The South African titles date from the 1930s.

The Homes of the Golden city was a sequel to an earlier very successful volume on Johannesburg, called The Golden City, which has no date but was published in the 1930s. My own copy is a 2nd edition and must have been published some time after 1933. The publisher was W H and L Collingridge Ltd of London. This volume is very handsome, thick satin paper, gilt edging, with a brown cloth imitation crocodile skin cover and city coat of arms embossed in gold on the cover with numerous illustrations and it is it has detailed 26 chapters. If you are in search of Johannesburg history, this is the number one choice, the information is more substantial (with over 20 chapters from as many contributors) and there are more illustrations and this volume contains Macmillan's own somewhat dated rather bad poems on Johannesburg. The most useful chapters for the purposes of historical background and research are those on pre history (contributed by Raymond Dart). History by the important early Joburg historian, Hedley Chilvers, a chapter on the contribution of the Strubens brothers (by Arthur Struben, the son of Harry Struben) and rail transport. There is a substantial chapter on the five regiments of Johannesburg and finally the chapter on the gold mining industry by FA Osborn is a thumbnail sketch of the issues and problems of the gold mining industry of the thirties. There is a helpful coverage too of the seven gold mining groups which had emerged triumphant and dominant by the early 1930s.

In contrast, Homes of the Golden City is a hard cover book rust brown cloth boards with gothic script golden lettering for the title. Price range R1500 to over R2000. Because this volume simply reproduces 6 chapters , which had already been published in the earlier Golden City, it was a "potboiler", but the novelty lay in the new chapter by G E Pearse and in that rich archive of photographs of Johannesburg homes. All of this means that both volumes become collectable despite the repetition. So the bad news is that the serious Johannesburg collector needs both volumes.

The books were a combination of historical, descriptive and commercial. They were meant to be sold to and perhaps read by the affluent in their homes and businesses and were the coffee table volumes of their day. The books also had the flavour of a period anthology, more so because of the advisement the books carried. Chapters were contributed by well known figures of the era, one presumes these were paid contributions. For example in the case of the Homes of the Golden City, there is a chapter by Professor John Phillips on the Flora of the Golden City. Phillips (1899- 1987) was the professor of Botany at the University of the Witwatersrand and Head of the Department between 1931 and 1948. However, I should add that all these chapters with the exception of the Pearse chapter had already appeared in the earlier, The Golden City.

My favourite essay in this book (Homes of the Golden City) is a long serious chapter, on the Evolution of the Johannesburg Home by Professor G E Pearse (1885 - 1968). Pearse was the distinguished professor of architectures at the University of the Witwatersrand, whose forte was 18th century furniture and Cape Architecture. Pearse's biography is on Artefacts. He was also the man who grappled with the modern wave in his memorable design of the now iconic Tower of Light for the Empire Exhibition of 1936, so making his contribution to the International Style of Johannesburg. The Pearse chapter in Homes of the Golden City is a long rambling but interesting overview of the evolution of the grand house, rather in the style of the classic, Nathaniel Lloyd's a History of the English House. But Pearse fails to include a single footnote, documentary source or cross reference to any other scholar, though in a single sentence he mentions the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier on what he calls a younger generation of South African architects, but frustratingly never drops a contemporary architect's name. The juxtaposing of themes such as Children of the Golden City, Native Folklore, Flora, Street Scenes add to the charm and period character of the book, though it reflects more of a pre WW2 stance than post WW2 anticipation of rapid change.

Clearly the commercial angle of the book and to turn the volume into a solid seller, was the inclusion of over 200 illustrations of the modern suburban, important homes of Johannesburg. The suburbs covered include Saxonwold, Westcliff, Houghton, Melrose, Parktown and others. However, the weakness of the book is that there is barely any information about the photographs and as such it is a limited documentary source for heritage purposes. These illustrations on a double page spread are interleaved throughout the book and inserted between the text pages. So two pages of text are followed by two pages of illustrations. These photographs were all professionally taken, in black and white. The layout is mainly with four pictures on a double spread page. The caption below each of the illustrations gives a suburb and the current owner, but there is no address, no date, no architect. Some houses I recognize and can pin point precisely and they are today the heritage gems of the suburbs I know well. I think this book is a rich documentary source, although limited at the moment as explained: its value lies in giving views of fine houses in the upper class suburbs in Johannesburg dating from a time of city prosperity, permanent settlement and affluence. I think the record of the house could become a part of the heritage case for preservation. Although, many of the houses, illustrated in the book no longer exist.

My challenge to Johannesburg heritage enthusiasts of the Heritage Portal is to follow me on a treasure hunt in the weeks and months to come as we start a series, where I re-photograph a double page of 4 houses and invite you to help me locate the spot and better still attach a date and name the architect! Any other additional information eg is there a blue plaque, should there be a blue plaque Etc.

We shall do this systematically starting on pages 2 and 3 and we shall number the houses as 2A (top) And 2B (bottom pic) and 3A and 3B. Anyone up to developing a spread sheet as we progress. One way to start could be to find the house, the suburb, stand number and registered owner in a mid 1930s valuation roll and I have yet to try this approach. Any advice re this method?

The first picture is an easy one as it is Dolobran, the architect J A Cope Christie, 1905 designed and completed 1906, the house is located at the corner of Oxford Road and Victoria Avenue and the property is still owned by the Andersson family. Here is the blue plaque inscription and there is a solid entry with pictures on the Artefacts website.

This house was designed by J.A. Cope Christie
in 1905 for Charles Llewellyn Andersson (later Sir),
an accountant, who helped raise, served with and
later commanded the South African Light Horse
Regiment. After the occupation of Johannesburg
he returned to civilian life and assisted the
military administration as a
Justice of the Peace.
Parktown & Westcliff Heritage Trust"

Before you consider your collecting itch satisfied with the acquisition of the two Johannesburg volumes I should mention that Macmillan also published another title, Environs of the Golden City and Pretoria, no date but probably 1935, covering the history and development of the Witwatersrand towns (Germiston, Boksburg, Benoni, Brakpan, Springs, Nigel, Heidelburg, Krugersdorp, Witbank, Middleburg, Vereeniging - the industrial and mining heartland of the country) and Pretoria. Also a handsome volume, it is the companion volume to the Golden City and is rare and now valuable. (price in excess of R1000).

Here for curiously sake is the cover illustration of the Rhodesia and Eastern Africa volume (1931).

All leads will be hugely appreciated.
Kathy Munro

You can contact Kathy Munro, The Heritage Portal or Artefacts with any information or queries.

To see which houses are already on our website go to the book