Historical Buildings Walking Tour, Johannesburg

Historical Buildings Walking Tour (Self Guided), Johannesburg

Johannesburg was established in 1886 following the discovery of gold on what used to be a farmland. Since then the city has developed into an economic powerhouse in Africa.

While most of its early buildings adopted the architectural styles from its colonial parent, the British Empire, some of them were emulating the prowess of New York City. Joburg's Central Business District is predominated by four styles of architecture, namely: Victorian Colonial, Edwardian Baroque, Art Deco and Modernism.

Take this self-guided walking tour to visit the best known historical buildings of today's Johannesburg and learn more about the gold rush era that once occurred here.
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Historical Buildings Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Buildings Walking Tour
Guide Location: South Africa » Johannesburg (See other walking tours in Johannesburg)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.7 Km or 0.4 Miles
Author: jenny
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Johannesburg City Hall
  • Johannesburg Trades Hall
  • Rand Club
  • Victory House
  • Consolidated Building
  • Standard Bank Building
  • National Bank Building
  • Johannesburg City Library
Johannesburg City Hall

1) Johannesburg City Hall

Johannesburg City Hall was constructed between 1910 and 1914. This building has enjoyed National Monument status since 1979. The style is known as Edwardian Baroque, with distinctive features like a neo-Renaissance half-dome entrance and a portico featuring Ionic columns. A two-half design places the Town Hall and municipal offices on opposite sides.

There is a paved square in front of the main entrance, with obelisks and a fountain. Visitors will appreciate the collection of mosaics and the marble used to decorate the vestibule. Two staircases lead up to the gallery area.

The Town Hall area features decorative gilding, plaster, and woodwork that are still impressive to see. One of the highlights of this area is a Norman & Beard of Norwich-built pipe organ that was used for recitals during the 1920s. This organ once enjoyed status as the largest organ in Africa and the second-largest organ in the Southern Hemisphere.
Johannesburg Trades Hall

2) Johannesburg Trades Hall

The Trades Hall is one of the oldest Edwardian buildings in the city of Johannesburg. Beyond its architectural importance, the building has historical significance as the previous headquarters of the Trade Unions. It is associated with many historical events such as the 1922 Rand Revolt. In 1986 it was listed as one of Johannesburg's 100 most important heritage buildings.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Rand Club

3) Rand Club

The Rand Club is the oldest private members' club in Johannesburg, founded in October 1887. The plan for the current, third, clubhouse was put on paper in 1902 and its construction was finished in 1904. Cecil John Rhodes was instrumental in deciding the Rand Club's location.

The current clubhouse was completed on the design of prominent architects William Leck and Frank Emley in the Edwardian neo-baroque style. It is said that Emley drew inspiration from Michelangelo’s Church of the Sacred Heart in Florence and from the Reform Club in London. The front façade of the building has a rusticated ground floor and is adorned with porticoes and Doric pillars. A notable feature is the specific incorporation of two half-moon wooden benches flanking the front doors, as by 1904 it was already an established tradition for some members to sit at the front and observe passing street life.

The six-storey building houses the longest bar in Africa, at 31 metres (103 feet), a billiards room, a private theatre, a double-volume staircase illuminated by a mosaic dome, two libraries, a ballroom, an armoury, six conference rooms of various volumes, office space, and three bedrooms. The top two floors are still under restoration following a fire in June 2005 that destroyed the top two floors of the building.

The club’s most prominent artwork, a Pietro Annigoni of Queen Elizabeth II, was destroyed by the fire in June 2005. The club interiors are adorned by sculptures and paintings from some of the most prominent South African artists, past and current.

The main Buckland Library houses in excess of 10,000 volumes, some of which are of historic and scholarly interest. The club is acknowledged as one of the notable private collections of Africa, with some volumes dating back to the 19th century. Apart from books on Africa, the club is a veritable depository in the fields of Johannesburg history and biographies. With a number of its members being published authors in their own right, the library has a separate section of works by Sir Lionel Phillips and Anthony Akerman, amongst others.

The club is unique in that it was used not once, but twice, as official residence by members of the British royal family on their official visits to South Africa in the 1920s and 1930s.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Victory House

4) Victory House

Victory House, originally known as Permanent Buildings, is located in Marshalltown. The building is of great historical and architectural significance and is famous for having Johannesburg's first ever lift.

The building was originally built and named Permanent Building by the South African Permanent Mutual and Investment Society which were founded in Kimberley in November 1883, the objective being to assist people of small means to acquire their own property, and to provide facilities for the deposit of savings where they could earn interest. The first branch opened in Johannesburg in 1889 and moved into the new five storey building, now called Victory House, in 1897.

Victory House is the earliest example of Stucke's work. It is described as a bold, proud and handsome classical building. In Victory House Stucke combined and adapted various elements of different styles so skilfully that they can hardly be recognised, and thus formed a new composition in the so-called Creative Eclectic Style – an expression of the Victorian desire for a new style to meet the challenges of a new era. The building has many typical features of a Colonial Victorian building including corrugated iron roofing, decorative wrought iron ornamentation and red brickwork. Whilst the brickwork has been painted over, the outline is still visible.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Consolidated Building

5) Consolidated Building

The Consolidated Building, or ‘Johnnies’ as it became affectionately known, is an office building situated in the Marshalltown district of Johannesburg, on stands 149, 150 and 152 at Fox Street and Harrison Street. In 1895, before the Consolidated Building was built, these stands were home to the Jewish Social Club and in 1897, Johannesburg Waterworks had its offices there.

The Consolidated Building was designed by architect Theo H. Smith of London, with supervision by Aburrow and Treeby architects of Johannesburg. It was built in 1904 and opened in 1906. This eight storey steel-framed building addresses the street corner of Fox Street and Harrison street with an attractive rounded corner entrance. It was originally built as six storeys, the original extent indicated by the cornice with dentil detailing, and two additional storeys were built on top in 1935 (architect unknown). It was this alteration that meant the original small dome to the corner tower was lost. The additional stories are clearly distinguished from the original building due to the set back from the facade and also the paler material used to render the elevations.

The facades of the Consolidated Building are of brick with plaster embellishment and a polished grey granite plinth. The linear vertical elements express the internal steel structure. The purest example of the American office block style and probably the earliest example in South Africa. The building references the ‘Chicago Style of America’. The Consolidated Building’s facade articulation was distinctly similar to that of Adler & Sullivan’s Auditorium Building (1887-9) in Chicago.

The Consolidated Building is now owned by Dreamworld Investments 374 and was listed by the Institute of South African Architects Grade A-. It is recognised as a heritage asset.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Standard Bank Building

6) Standard Bank Building

The Standard Bank Building has a handsome stone-faced design in the neo-Baroque late Victorian style or Beaux Arts Style which was beginning to dominate the New Regent Street and Piccadilly in London at the end of the 19th century. It is a formal and stately five story building with an excess of neo-Baroque ornamentation on the facade in a rather dry, rationalized manner. It creates an impersonal, monumental impression, ideally suited to a time which liked to express the might of the British Empire.

The corners are crowned by domes supported on ionic style classical columns. The corner entrance on Commissioner and Harrison Streets is dominated by two larger than life figures. Justice and Commerce sculptured by a Greek sculpture called Marigo. The building has a skeleton of steel, the walls being filled in with brick, which was clad on the outside with sawn sandstone.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
National Bank Building

7) National Bank Building

The National Bank Building also known as the Corner House was designed by renowned architects Leck and Emley in 1903, and construction was completed in 1904. Leck and Emley also designed the neighbouring Corner House building in 1902, which was finished in 1904 on the corner of Simmonds and Commissioner Streets. The facade of the new National Bank Building blended well with that of the Corner House, and it is believed that J.B.Taylor, chairman of Corner House as well as a director of the National Bank, proposed the plan of combining the two.

Fifty years later, in 1953, the bank (now Barclays) duplicated Taylor's thinking, and Gordon Leith was commissioned to design the third part of the building – the Market Street extension – in keeping with the two existing structures to form a cohesive unit.

It was refurbished by the current owners, Barclays Bank.

The building is in late Victorian Neo-Classical style with an attractive copper dome on the corner. A glass dome spans over the banking hall, creating a bright and airy interior below. The rest of the roof scape is formed from a flat concrete slab. In the same vein as the building design, the interiors are also carefully proportioned and include fittings executed with a high level of craftsmanship, such as panelling and parquet flooring. A mahogany counter with bronze metal screens was fitted by J H Ross and Company (Pty) Limited.

The National Bank Building was declared a national monument by the PHRAG for its historical and cultural significance.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Johannesburg City Library

8) Johannesburg City Library

The Johannesburg City Library is situated in the central business district of the City of Johannesburg. The Library is located in an Italianate building designed by John Perry which first opened in 1935. It has over 1.5-million books and items in its collection and more than 250 000 members.

The building is a beautiful, Italianate structure sitting across the road from the ANC's Luthuli House. The construction of the Johannesburg Public Library took place between 1931 and 1935 and was the result of an architectural competition won by a Cape Town architect, John Perry. The building features a massive and imposing triple-arch, East facing entrance with metal doors featuring monograms reading "LJ" and "BJ" for the English "Library of Johannesburg" and the Afrikaans "Biblioteek Johannesburg".

The Northern and Southern facades are decorate with stone medallions each carved by Peter Kirchhoff with the face of a great literary, scientific or philosophical figure. Larger figures designed by Moses Kottler, representing Literature, Music, Architecture, Medicine, Philosophy and History surround the building. The building is Stone with a terracotta tiled roof. It originally surrounded an atrium, however, during the 2009 - 2012 renovations, a new building was built to fill the atrium with three floors.

The library collection consists of about 1,5 million items of some 700 000 books and includes DVDs, CDs, sheet music and periodicals. With the new construction work, the library's size has increased by 1 967m² from 11 198m² and now can accommodate 566 people as opposed to the original 255 people. A new coffee shop has been built and the toilets, lifts, electrics and air-conditioning upgraded. The theatre section is used as a conference area and the music section is used for listening to music or viewing film.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Johannesburg, South Africa

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Johannesburg, or Joburg, or "City of Gold", as it is often informally called, is South Africa's largest city. The area's original inhabitants included hunter-gatherers from the San tribes and the Ndebele, a tribe associated with the Zulu. A gold rush in 1884 lead to Johannesburg's founding in 1886. Within a decade, the population had grown to 100,000 inhabitants.

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles

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