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The historic and architectural development of Garden Mansions is difficult to determine with any certainty as the municipal submission file of the property is no longer extant.
It is however likely that a free-standing house was constructed on Erf 280 Troyeville in the early 1900’s. The property was subsequently registered in favour of L. Thomassen in 1923 (SG Diagram No. A1987/25).
The demand for rented residential accommodation close to the city centre was probably the commercial incentive to rezone and develop Erf 280 with an apartment block while simultaneously capitalising on the pleasant north aspect overlooking the park. The development matched in broad outline the accommodation provided by other similar apartment blocks in the suburb, i.e. ground plus two storeys with a range of standard apartments.
Garden Mansions is likely to have been completed in approximately 1934. The evidence for this was the documented construction of a garage and staff quarters in 1937 on the east boundary of Erf 255, in close proximity of the southwest corner of Erf 280. The plan submission to the Local Authority stated that the garages would be for use by tenants of Garden Mansions.
Garden Mansions apartment block was planned as a rectangular, concrete framed building of three storeys, clad in a plum coloured facebrick. The length of the building was divided into eight, roughly equal bays, which in turn, accommodated the apartments in various configurations. Access to all the apartments was via a covered walkway on the south side of the building.
The original pedestrian entrance into the apartment block – off Beelaerts Street – was placed on the central axis of the building rising up a short flight of stairs into a narrow entrance hall. The staircase was placed directly opposite the entrance hall and functioned as a geometrical half-turn staircase around an open well with plastered balustrades. An interesting feature of this concrete staircase is the ‘warped’ plastered soffit of each flight which creates a dynamic architectural feature.
A utilitarian steel framed fire-escape stair was provided at the west end of the walkway – which stair serves each floor and rises to the flat concrete roof level.
The north façade was articulated with various projecting balconies with recessed back walls – but these balconies have unfortunately been enclosed at different times. The concrete structural beams were expressed as plastered beams on the external facades.
Internally, the living rooms of the apartments were provided with parquet floors, well detailed Art Deco styled electric fireplace surrounds, polished terrazzo window sills, simple plastered rosettes to the ceiling light fittings, and a moulded frame to the perimeter of the plastered ceilings of the Living rooms.
Garden Mansions apartment block forms part of a low-scale urban edge to a public park and is clearly a layer of some significance in the social history of the suburb of Troyeville.
Bruwer, J and Martinson, W. Heritage Impact Assessment (Rev. 1) of the Proposed Development of the Properties comprising Douglas Village, (Wilhelmina, Beelaerts and Op De Bergen Streets), Troyeville, Johannesburg. Compiled for the Johannesburg Housing Company (Pty) Ltd, March 2018.
(Submitted by William MARTINSON)