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The house was built for Frans Vredenrijk Engelenburg, journalist, Pretoria cultural leader and political advisor.
The first portion of (erven 1-54) Arcadia was laid out by SJ Meintjies (after whom Meintjies Kop is named) in 1890. This section was located between the present day Du Toit Street and the Apies River (i.e. west of the Apies River). Du Toit had bought the property from AF du Toit, who had in turn acquired this portion of the farm Elandspoort from the then President of the then ZAR, MW Pretorius in a barter trade, the value of the property being deemed equivalent to a salted pony. Du Toit had named Arcadia after the Du Toit family farm in the Cape. (Andrews, T and Ploeger, J. 1989. Street and place names of old Pretoria. Van Schaik: Pretoria, p 10)
Carl Frederik Ziervogel (1825-1896) acquired the north eastern section of the Meintjies estate in 1886 after the sale of a farm in the east rand on which gold had been discovered. It is on this section of the Meintjies Estate the Union Buildings and grounds were later laid out.
Frans Vredenrijk Engelenburg (1863–1938), a Dutch born jurist, emigrated to the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek in 1889. He was the cousin of Anna Maria Koopmans-de Wet, a lady notable in Cape history and after a visit to her decided to settle in Johannesburg and practice Law. After his arrival in the then ZAR he shortly became owner and editor of the De Volkstem newspaper, a pro-government paper during the days of the ZAR whereupon he settled in Pretoria. Due to his wide interests and education and surely due to his unfailing loyalty, he was soon one of the closest and most trusted of President Paul Kruger's advisors.
Upon the outbreak of the South African War (Second Anglo Boer War) (1899-1902) Engelenburg joined the Republican forces and served as war correspondent to his own newspaper as well as to a number of Continental papers. The British arrested Engelenburg during the war but he was subsequently released on parole and thereafter spent the remainder of the war in Spain and Portugal, occupying his time with the writing of a book on Spanish and Portuguese art as well as a publication entitled Britain and the Boers; both sides of the South African question, published in New York in 1899.
Upon his return to then Transvaal Colony after the War he resumed his role as newspaper owner.
Among the distinctions Engelenburg achieved during his lifetime included acting as advisor to the South African Delegation to Europe for the negations and eventual signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1909 he played an important part in the founding of the Zuid Afrikaanse Akademie voor Taal, Letteren en Kunst (South African Academy for Language, Literature and Art) which resulted in the Akademie being formed in July 1910. He was offered numerous awards during his life, refusing many of them including a British knighthood in 1919.
Having returned from exile Engelenburg started on the construction of his stately home, a gift from his father, on the western flank of Meintjies Kop of which the first phase was completed in 1903. It was originally known as 'De Witte Huis' and generally referred to as 'Engelenburgs Folley'.
Dr JJC Geldenhuis attributes the design of the house to Sir Herbert BAKER in his essay on the house in the book Afrikanerbakens (Swart, MJ. et al. 1989. Afrikanerbakens. Auklandpark: Federasie vir Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge, p196). While this could be the case as Baker and Engelenburg were close friends, Engelenburg even attempting to advise Baker on the design of the Pretoria Railway Station at the time he received the commission through an essay he wrote (See Keath, M. sa. Herbert Baker, Architecture and Idealism, 1892-1913, The South African Years, Gibraltar: Ashanti. p157.) Oral tradition has it that it was Engelenburg who proposed Baker as architect for the design of the Union Buildings.
Engelenburghuis is styled in what can be referred to as either the Flemish Style (as postulated by Engelenburg as the original of Cape Dutch) or as Cape Dutch Revival. The Cape Dutch Revival at the hands of Baker can be located within the larger Queen Anne Style as well as the Arts and Crafts tradition.
Stylistically the house does not fit the oeuvre of Herbert Baker in South Africa, The asymmetry of the gables, while being in the Cape Dutch Revival style is not typical of Bakers’ work, nor is the use of materials. If Baker was indeed the architect of the building, the finalized constructions bears more the mark of its owner - who was well informed and had strong opinions on architecture as we have seen - than that of the architect.
It must be remembered that while Baker was the leading proponent of the Cape Dutch Revival he was not the only architect involved in its execution. Of note is Frans SOFF, a Dutch born and trained architect who too employed the devices of the style in his designs. A geographically close Cape Dutch Revival example of his work is the first Louis Botha Children's Home, now the Tshwane Regional Hospital Pharmacy building, for which Soff is recorded as architect. Engelenburg was instrumental in the founding of this institution which gives Soff a tenuous historical association with Engelenburg.
The Iberian influence reflects in his choice of Majolica tiles as part of the interior decorating scheme of the house.
Additions followed in 1922, [by architect unidentified].
When he died his house, still known as Engelenburghuis and the centre of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, was bequeathed to the state. His best paintings went to the Johannesburg art gallery; he had been a member of the executive committee. His extensive library was sold to the state library, Pretoria, for a nominal sum: he had, during his life, given priceless treasures to this library, among them a complete Blaeu atlas. His collection of art treasures and antiques was bought by the state and the greater part is still kept in his house.
Engelenburghuis was lent to the Akademie on a permanent basis from April 1946, but it was only in May 1953 that it was officially taken over, when Ernest George Jansen, his lifelong friend, attended the ceremony in 1953 as governor-general. On the same occasion the Engelenburg memorial gate, built in honour of this benefactor of the Akademie, was formally opened. It was a gift from Izaak Wallach and was designed by Gerard MOERDYK. This gate is located on the south west corner of the Commission House property.
The Akademie, having outgrown the available accommodation offered by the Engelenburghuis constructed the Akademie Building (now the Zambian Embassy) in 1983-4, facing onto Ziervogel Avenue, WATSON, PEISER & GROBBELAAR being the designers of the new building.
Under financial pressure in the 1990's the western portion of land on which Commission House now stands was subdivided from the original and sold.
Today the Akademie is housed solely in Engelenburghuis with its truncated garden alienated in title from it.
Little remains of the original gardens of the house; most of the gardens having been sold off over time.
Not much information regarding the garden layout at any period in time has been located. Only a portion of this garden remains today – this, the remaining western side of the garden is part of Erf 1159/1, currently partly built up and accommodating Commission House.
The terrace wall and stairs in front of the house however remain of the original and are an important clue in understanding the original intent.
With the building of Commission House in 1994 the main vehicle gate was moved further up to the hill to give direct access to the lawns in front of Engelenburghuis, by then already alienated in title from the main house.
Garden elements include the terrace wall which dates from the construction of the house.
Gus (Carl) GERNEKE relates how he as a student in MOERDYK's office was sent to measure the entrance gates at Welgelegen (Balfour) and replicate them for the Engelenburg memorial gate, an irony since they were designed by BAKER, and MOERDYK then as propagandist for Afrikaner Nationalism actively eschewing his influence.
A vehicular gate currently gives access to the garden from Edmund Street. This gate is a copy of an earlier gate which gave access to the drive up to the house. With the sale of the lower section of the garden this gate was moved closer to the house and still serves the garden. While not original, nor located in the original position this gate is an important part of the complex.
All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
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