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Union Club
Central, Johannesburg, Gauteng

BAKER and FLEMING: Architect

Date:1913 : 1936
Type:Club
Status:Extant
Street:Cor Bree and Joubert Streets

 


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Coordinates:
26°12'03.35" S 28°02'32.41"E

Baker and Fleming's Italianate Union Club built in 1913-14 at a cost of £40,000 is a reinforced concrete building with a plastered brick exterior and a bold, rusticated ground floor built of a light grey, massive, fine-grained stone from the Elands River quarries, east of Pretoria. The same material runs up the angles in rounded rustic quoins to a strong modillioned cornice over which rested a pitched dormered roof covered with Vereeniging tiles, an important part of the design. To its detriment, this has been replaced with three additional floors and a flat roof. A beautiful feature was a central, columned, fountain cortile forty-six feet (14 meters) square and surrounded by three floors of arcades of Doric and Ionic columns, which provide access to the various rooms on each floor. The cortile is lined with Pavanazzo marble; the hall which is also marble paved has a dado of Vert des Alpes, and the floor of the cortile itself, round the pool, is paved with Vereeniging tiles and bricks. The main stairway, eight feet wide (2.44 meters), is groined in plastered concrete throughout and the panelled dining-room has a ceiling which consists of a wide barrel vault intersected by smaller vaults which run into arch-headed door and window openings. Next to it are the President's Rooms, panelled in white and opening on to a groined loggia. The design was one of utmost simplicity and had the minimum amount of applied decoration. Its grace derived from good proportions, elegant vaulting, such details as fanlights carved by Benjamin Smith, wrought iron balustrades by Ness and the use of forms suitable for the climate. As a conception, it was a tribute to BAKER's appreciation of the classical origins of a club in a situation where, to his way of thinking, the monumentality of conventional Victorian and Edwardian club designs was inapplicable. It is, in scale, a most happy compromise between such intimate clubs as the old Arts Club in Dover Street, Piccadilly, and those of Pall Mall.

The success of this building was, very largely, owing to its supervision by F. L. H. FLEMING, despite his difficulties in finding suitable workmen, all the good ones being employed at that time on the Union Buildings.

In 1936 three extra storeys of flats for members (partly rented out as office space) were added to the Union Club to try to generate an income for the club. But eventually, with membership declining as club life went out of fashion, the financial dilemma became acute. The downstairs bar, ladies' lounge and basement billiard room went to make way for shops: among them, a chemist's and a Wimpy Bar.

Commerce also claimed one of the building's finest features, the elegant main entry on Bree Street, leading to a colonnaded palm court with an ornamental pool at its centre and thence to the 2.5 m wide main staircase. The entrance to the club is now an inconspicuous side door on Joubert Street. The imposing original portico remains, but it leads only to two levels of further shops. One of the more recent occupants was - the crowning indignity - a pinball and amusement arcade.

The ground floor has been subdivided into small retail units to the detriment of the sand stone plinth.

(Extracted from Benjamin, 1979:94; comments by William MARTINSON)

2013 - The building has recently been converted into Apartments.

(Fleming 1985)

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.


Writings about this entry

Benjamin, Arnold. 1979. Lost Johannesburg. Johannesburg: Macmillan South Africa (Publishers) (Pty) Ltd. pg 94, 95 ill, 96 ill
Greig, Doreen. 1970. Herbert Baker in South Africa. Cape Town: PURNELL. pg 262-263
van der Waal, Gerhard-Mark. 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis - The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pg 127