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Carlton Hotel - First
Johannesburg, Gauteng

William LECK: Project Architect
TH SMITH: Architect
Harold Wolseley SPICER: Architect
Monty SACK: Architect

Date:1906 : 1935 : 1960s
Status:Demolished 1963


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26°12'18.04" S 28°02'37.38" E Alt: 1800m

Originally designed in 1906 by TH SMITH. Three storeys and a ballroom were added in 1935 by HW SPICER.

At the time that it was built the new Carlton was arguably Johannesburg's best hotel, it was certainly the biggest. It dominated the city's social scene from when it was built in 1906 until 1963 when it was finally demolished.

Like some fortress of gracious living it occupied nearly the entire Eloff-Commissioner-Market-Joubert Street block. Here it played host to kings and international conmen, film stars and financiers. Celebrities greeted their public from its balconies. Politicians plotted momentous events from its private suites. It was an oasis of sheer luxury on the raw Highveld. It was the biggest building in South Africa and - built for an unheard of £750000 - its most costly.

Construction got under way in 1903. The public marvelled at the building's inner mechanics, all of the very latest -air-conditioning and central heating, waterborne sewerage, its own supply of water and emergency power; even a central plug-in vacuum-cleaning process that had been invented in America only a couple of years before. Down in the basement there was a full-scale Turkish bath and massage establishment, with a marble swimming-pool.

The Carlton made hardly any money and was put up for auction in 1922 fetching only £235,000. Operations were tightened up by the new owner, I.W. Schlesinger and he had additions consisting three more storeys and a ballroom designed by HW SPICER in 1935, year of the Empire Exhibition at Milner Park.

The Carlton's doors closed at the end of 1963. Demolition of the massive old building took nearly a year.

(Extracted from Benjamin 1979:10-14)


The famous first Carlton Hotel, occupying almost a whole city block, was situated at 24, 26 Joubert, 111 - 117 Commissioner, 118, 120 Market and 55 - 61 El off Street.

According to Leyds, excavations for the first Carlton Hotel were started in 1898. The project was interrupted, however, by the Second Anglo-Boer War and not resumed until 1903. "Meanwhile, for nearly five years, there stood a crane on a platform high above the second-storey framework. Hanging from the crane was a huge imitation brandy bottal, advertising the old established firm of Jooste & Bryant.The bottle was at least 20 feet (6m) long, with a diameter of 5 feet. It was made of a bamboo frame covered with oiled paper and painted to look like a bottle of brandy,...It became a well-known landmark and there was general regret when after many years it at last had to make way for the rising Carlton Hotel." (Leyds. G.A.: A History of Johannesburg).

"In fact, the Carlton Hotel was the first building to demonstrate that man claimed not only the space above the city but also the space below ground level. The hotel had a basement of three storeys." (Lionel Phillips, 1905).

"In 1903 the Rand Daily Mail had reported the comments of the Inspector of Buildings, Mr E.H. Waugh, that the new houses being built in Johannesburg were of brick - 'good solid houses' - instead of the timber-framed, corrugated iron houses of the past. He noted that two new 'skyscrapers' were under construction in the centre of the town, and 'anothe huge builing is the Carlton Hotel which will be by far the largest and most sumptuous in South Africa'. (Chipkin, C.M.: Johannesburg Style; Architecture &. Society...).

"Carlton Hotel, 1904. Built on an entire city block, and fronting on Eloff, Commissioner, Market and Joubeit Streets, this was Johannesburg's first 'skyscraper,' a term that had only become widely used in the Edwardian era. (The first 'skyscraper' actually erected and planned on modern principals of construction was William Le Baron Jenney's building of the Hone Insurance Company in Chicago in 1885. In many respects the Carlton Hotel is not unlike that buding.) Whereas the American architects of the late 19th century attempted to express the skeleton from [sic.] of steel in the facades of their buildings, the architect of the Carlton has disguised the steel structure with masonry and crowned the wbole building with a massive cornice. The vast wall surfaces are punctured with neatly spaced windows and doors and further patterned with cast iron balconies. The general effect is impressive and restrained after the general melee of the Fancy Dress Ball of Architecture that was the Victorian era. The Carlton represents the transitional period from Victorian to Edwardian, and forms the basis of the contemporary 'skyscraper' in Johannesburg which emerged in the post-war period of the twenties and early thirties." (Stoloff, C.A.: The Historic Buildings...).

"The Carlton Hotel was built as a fashionable hotel on the corner of Eloff and Market streets. Carlton Company was formed in 1902. The English architect, Th. Smith, was invited to draw plans togetner with the Johannesburg architect W. Leck. Ivan Kreuger, the Swedish millionaire and match king, was responsible for the construction of the steel frame of the Carlton building. It was eventually opened as a hotel on 16 February 1906 under the management of Mr Morelli. In 1923 the entrepreneur I.W. Schlesinger took over the management of this hotel and increased it by three storeys, and by 1936 there were nine storeys." (Norwich, O.I.: A Johannesburg Album; Historical Postcards, postcard 108).

The ground floor of the Carlton Hotel was occupied by shops, particularly those likely to satisfy the requirements of the visitors, many of which came from overseas, who stayed in the hotel. The most colourful of these shops was Sieradzki's which sold the ostrich plumes and material fashionable at the time. The Market Street aspect of the Carlton Hotel was occupied by a jewellery shop, and adjacent to it a number of small shops were demolished to make way for the Carlton Bioscope built in 1910 between Eloff and Joubert streets." (Norwich, O.I.: A Johannesburg Album; Historical Postcards, postcard 109a).

Carlton Theatre:

According to Van Der Waal the Carlton Theatre was situated at 116 Market Street. (Van Der Waal, G-M.: From Mining Camp to Metropolis...).

There is a song 'Video killed the radio star' - I think the Boomtown Rats recorded it [sic see below*] - which is an apt description of the demise of a large number of cinemas in South Africa. The video machine is connected to the television set and the arrival of television in South Africa during 1976 started a downhill period for the cinema and theatre industry. I remember going to the theatre as least once a month and to the cinemas once a week. The television changed that for a while and a large number of South Africans remained glued to their television sets during the evenings. It is interesting to note that theatres like the Carlton, Gaiety, and Palladium were in one way or another connected to the I.W. Schlesinger organisation. The destruction of these buldings left a void in Johannesburg night life. Another factor is the demolition of a large number of residential buildings in the inner city. This started a vicious circle - the number of inner city residences was systematically reduced - this meant an automatic reduction of patrons to the cinemas and theatres - leading to less people during the evenings in the city and as we all know; safety in numbers - an important factor - as this could have saved the heart of the city from a slow death and all the crime that followed. This is a leading factor making Johannesburg the capital city of crime in the world at one stage and sadly this city rot has filtered through to the areas adjacent to the inner city, making a place like Hillhrow, as an example, an almost no-go area for tourists. A huge a abandonment of buildings followed this crime wave leading to the building boom in Sandton. This notorious title is still taking a toll on the inner city - and it is taking a lot of hard work from various people and organizations to make Johannesbueg once again the glorious City of Gold. (Catharina J M Bruwer).

"While the theatres and cinemas north of the shopping district were all low-rise buildings, those east of the office area were much larger and also more sensational. These 'entertainment palaces' obviously felt at home in the vicinity of the tall office blocks which arose in this area, especially in Commissioner Street, which became known as the 'Great White Way' because of these buildings. In fact, the theatre buildings were so well identified with the environemnt that parts of them were fitted out as office accommodation. Nevertheless, they could be readily identified in the street aspect by their modelled and richly ornamented facades and large illuminated signboards" (Van Der Waal . G-M.: From Mining Camp to Metropolis...).

(Extracted from Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality : Heritage Assessment Surveying Form
Compiled by: Dr JJ Bruwer, 2002 07 29
Reproduced here by kind permission of Dr JJ Bruwer, 2016 09 22)


"During the half-decade preceding the Carlton Hotel's demise in 1963 I was involved in three alteration contracts there as joiner and charge-hand. In quick succession they were: in 1958 the 'Mediterranean' night club in the basement, in 1960 modernising rooms on the third and fourth floors and in 1961 a makeover of the famous, somewhat quaint 'Palm Court' turning it into some kind of funky modern lounge. The architect was Monty SACK, head of the architectural department of the Schlesinger Organisation.

It's the room conversion job that gave us insight into the construction method employed when the building had been erected.

The work involved breaking through some of the division walls between rooms in order to create suites. However this proved to be problematic. To our surprise we found that these walls were cavity walls of considerable inner width - not shown as such in the drawings. Inside these cavities we found steel braces barring our way. We had uncovered and discovered the fact that the building had been constructed according to the skeleton steel frame manner of the American skyscrapers. Needless to say that the architects had to go back to the drawing board".

(Konrad Voges, 2016 10 25)

* 'Video Killed the Radio Star' is not written by The Boomtown Rats as indicated, it's a song written by Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley in 1978. It was first recorded by Bruce Woolley and The Camera Club (with Thomas Dolby on keyboards) for their album English Garden, and later by British group the Buggles, consisting of Horn and Downes. (Laurie Botha, July 2018)

Writings about this entry

Benjamin, Arnold. 1979. Lost Johannesburg. Johannesburg: Macmillan South Africa (Publishers) (Pty) Ltd. pg 10-14
Chipkin, Clive M. 1993. Johannesburg Style - Architecture & Society 1880s - 1960s. Cape Town: David Phillip. pg 43, 44, 45 ill, 46, 104, 151 314
Rosenthal, Eric (Compiler). 1972. Meet me at the Carlton : the story of Johannesburg's old Carlton Hotel. Cape Town: Howard B Timmins. pg All
van der Waal, Gerhard-Mark. 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis - The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pg 138 ill