Nothing beats a picture to recall old stamping grounds and though my memories are peculiar to me that does not mean that perhaps some of us in this passing parade, called life, did not move around in or know the same areas. Recently I was down in Durban and had the opportunity to roam around the area I grew up in as a 12 year old. That was round about 1955 and my, how the area has changed. There is a topic about urban decay in Durban on FAD and I was astounded how down the area has become. When one does venture into the older central part of Durban, having known it when it was thriving and vibrant, what one comes across and sees is really sad. Unfortunately there are no “before” photos to compare but for the record and before they are all pulled down and demolished here are photos and my memories of them. I know I am privileged in being able to post pictures personally but if you would like to do something similar then all you have to do is get your camera and go walkabout. Then send the pictures off to Allan Jackson along with some description and I am sure they will be posted for all to see and comment.
Hopefully you find these enlightening and not too depressing. With reference to names I am using the 1968 Lawrie’s Directory for information. I am tackling this piecemeal as there are about a dozen photos to cover and will add them as I go on.
The site of the Umbilo Road Pharmacy, Mazuri Supply Store and the ABC Bakery.
Taken in Moore Road looking up to the Moore Road / Umbilo Road Intersection.
The tyre fitment business you see in the picture encompasses three business that existed there in the 50s. On the corner was the Umbilo Road Pharmacy with Mr. J. S. Tannahill, the pharmacist. The front door of the pharmacy was on the corner facing the intersection. Next to the pharmacy was an old double storey building/ house that had an overlooking verandah. Below was the Mazuri Supply Store, in those days were you bought your groceries, whilst upstairs was the house were the two ladies who ran the business lived. The name is given as Mrs E. Grey. Then next door to Mazuri was the ABC Bakery which stretched from the supply store to half way down towards Gale Street. The bakery was run by the two Mendonides Brothers, one of whom was black haired, tall and thin and the other short and thick set with brown curly hair. The bakery’s sales point was a small area, with a simple plain counter which opened out into the bakery itself.
A memory from those days. At school someone started a fad that if you got a cream called Blue Butter from the chemist and continually rubbed it on a penny, the coin would turn silver. Well I had to try it myself and recall going to the chemist and asking for the stuff which was sold in a small tin. I remember the chemist asking what I wanted it for and had to explain what the boys were doing with it. He sold me the small tin and asked no further questions. I have googled “Blue Butter” and see now why I was given the 3rd degree.
The Alvin Suburban Cinema, lower Berea Road .
Not many may have heard of this small suburban cinema but the actual building still exists but much changed and looking very dilapidated. The Alvin was a cinema with no gallery and a very raked floor. In fact it was so steep that as soon as the lights went out it was the custom to lift one’s feet as Coke bottles would be rolled from the back and picking up momentum they would shatter if they hit the steel seat frame. Those were the “breker” days! It was situated at the bottom end of Berea Road close to the intersection of Berea and Umbilo Roads. In the 50s, Berea Road was the main artery into the CBD and Kinmont’s Canyon as it is today did not exist. I cannot recall when the Alvin closed but do remember that it became a furniture store outlet possibly called Sacksons. It is not listed as a cinema in 1968. My memories of it are that in the facade there was a large red neon sign with the name “Alvin” . On the right you can see the exit and it would seem what was the cinema has been turned into accommodation. I did not venture to go and have a close up look. It looked dodgy as did the whole area.
Looking towards the Umbilo Road / Moore Road intersection.
Looking in the distance is a 3 storey block of flats called Moorecombe Flats. On the ground floor corner was a small haberdashery / material / wool shop called Modern Gowns. It used to do very well if I remember and was one of those outlets that everyone knew about. Next door to it heading for Berea Road was Makan Shoe Repairs, an Indian shoe maker. One can just make out that Modern Gowns is now Sad Sacks Army Surplus. On the opposite side of Modern Gowns, not in the picture was the Wynberg Tea Room, on the corner, part of Churchill Mansions. This was some type of boarding residence. I note it has been changed now. But back to the picture. Recessed one can see the Q Tyre premises, the corner where the Umbilo Road Pharmacy stood now a parking area. Next to it with the big façade is the building I seem to recall as being Sterleys. In the 68 Directory it is named as M G Handy Stores. I never quite knew what Sterleys actually sold but all the children in the area knew they sold second hand tennis balls at 5 cents each. These of course were essential for street cricket matches. Next to Sterleys was the Royal and Regent Dairy Depot. On the left was the access to the dairy bottling plant which extended to the back. The front was an open glass fronted sales area and the interior was tiled with mint green coloured tiles. I can well recall my mother and I buying farm fresh eggs, cheese and cream there. The dairy depot frontage is better shown in the second picture. Again this building looks rather derelict and has seen better days. I cannot recognise the building next to the dairy depot because the pillared front looks altered. The 68 Directory indicates it was the premises for Master Pest Control, The Motorist Club, and Express Dry Cleaners. In those days kids got to know their areas pretty well and most of us were sent on errands to “go and buy the milk and bread” or “go to the tearoom and buy the paper”. I must admit we seemed to have “freer”lives in those days.
Pepsi Cola Bottling Plant
I said in a previous passage that life seemed “freer” for us kids in the 50s/60s and we were able to roam around the streets in “our area” within reason of course. Playing “street cricket” in season in the side roads off Moore Road was a general occurrence, the game being halted whilst a car passed by. Take going to school. I can only remember two boys at St. Henry’s who arrived at school in the family car. One came from Westville and the other from the Berea. Everyone else, primary to senior mostly bussed / cycled to school on their own. Many came from the Bluff and even from the outlying suburbs. There were even some whose first part of the journey to school meant taking a train from Queensburgh to the town centre. The picture below was about the limit a few of us, older children would venture along Umbilo Road just for the fun of it when times got boring. This was the Pepsi Cola Bottling Plant at 280 Umbilo Road. The building is changed slightly from the original in that the cottage pane windows were full plate glass then. This gave you a full view of the bottling plant which was installed on the ground floor if I remember correctly. It was totally mechanised and we used to watch the empty bottles arrive in a line, go onto a circular gondola, go round, get filled. emerge capped and then move out of view into the packing plant. This area was totally white tiled and spotlessly clean with the plant operators in spruce white overalls. On the outside wall where the Valves Africa sign is, was a very large Pepsi Cola bottle top. I am not sure if Pepsi also left the SA market when sanctions were imposed in the 70s but Pepsi and their other product Canada Dry seemed to have disappeared. Of course in those days there was no need to barricade the front entrance.
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The Argyle Hotel in Umbilo Road.
Another area land mark in our area was the Argyle Hotel. It was the local watering spot on the corner of Clark and Umbilo Roads. In my time the hotel was painted grey and the now plastered name board had the name Argyle Hotel in raised letters in red Attached to it like many of these small hotels was a bar and a bottle store. The hotel entrance was on the Clark Road side. The square blocks on the verandah were later add ons. The old building does not look too good now and its future looks bleak. I hear it is used as a rave club (right word?) now.
What I can remember is that one evening in 1955/56, my mother, sister and I stood on the opposite corner along with many others waiting to see Johnny Ray, the then American singing idol drive by in an open convertible. The whole of Umbilo Road was lined with people. He was on a South African tour and his hit song at the time was something to with crying. Apparently he used to cry on stage when singing this song. Anyone remember this?
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Perks House (lower Berea Road)
The building at the bottom of Berea Road which was originally named Perk’s House and has now been renamed. This is the building shown in the Perks Pies story on FAD. At street level there was a sales outlet and the pie factory was situated at the back. A new building is erected there now. Just about the only “old” building I saw in good order.
Corner Moore Road and Gale Street.
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This picture is the corner of Gale Street and Moore Road. A two way street in those days, Gale Street was more or less fully commercialised by then. It was at this corner that the motor buses heading out to the Bluff , Rossburgh and the suburbs out that way, would turn off having come up from town. My memories of this corner was the Fish and Chip Shop on the corner. I seem to recall as well that on the corner was a stone mason who made grave stones. On the left where the Toyota sign is was Mr Barnard’s Shoe Repairs. The building he owned there being sold to the Toyota outlet when he closed down. The double storeyed building on the right bounded Cuckoo Lane. I seem to recall there was a Jazz Club down Cuckoo Lane. I also have very vague recollections that down Cuckoo Lane was a place where the rickshaws were parked overnight. These would have been the undecorated rickshaws which did quite a lot of business around the Indian Market area in Warwick Ave
Another memory I have of this area relates to when I came to live in Durban in 1954 and passed by this corner on the way to school. Roughly opposite this corner there used to be a large empty brick building which was quite distinctive. In later years this building was demolished and the vacant area became a Park and Ride in the early 70s. I have since found out that the old building was the Girls’ Model School. Possibly its successor was Durban’s Girls’ High at the top of Penzance Road but this is only a guess.
Sadly I missed the opportunity of photographing this corner tea room with the Theo’s Sign still in place. Theo’s Café at 518 Umbilo Road was a Durban landmark. My mother knew Theo and I have memories of visiting him with her in his shop. He opened the brand new tearoom in the mid 50’s. There is something different about the tea room as I remember it. For one the entrance was not on the corner but more on the side. Theo being Greek had a small table set up on the corner facing the intersection and he would sit there when things were quiet, with his small cup of black coffee along with the glass of water. The shop windows as well were not barred and had no advertising so the whole aspect was more open. Theo was not one of those big, burly dark Greeks but rather short in stature and with light brown wavy hair. He died quite a few years ago now and unfortunately I cannot remember his name but it was one of those typically Greek surnames. As was the trend in those days, the bikers formed small cliques and I seem to remember some group using Theo’s as their get together rendezvous in the evenings. It just does not look like Theo’s without the Theo’s sign.
McCormick International ..International Harvester Sydney Road
I have added this picture as again it recalls the past in a personal way. The building which stands at 296 Sydney Road was the original McCormick International Assembly plant, offices and show rooms. It was here that the imported completely knocked down International Harvester (IH) trucks and pickups were reassembled. IH also made tractors and farm implements. I looked up the 1938 Lawrie’s and note that the plant already existed then in the same location. My uncle when he emigrated to South Africa with his family in 1947 joined IH as a mechanic and remained with the firm until he died in 1975. I recall my uncle having a photograph of all the staff gathered outside for a 1947/48 group photo. Very vaguely you can still see the outline of a portico roof that originally straddled the entrance. That was removed and the two sign written signs were added which have lasted exceptionally well, and still visible on the brickwork. Another feature of the plant was the IH water tank which stood high above the surrounding premises and could be seen from a wide area. I visited the plant on quite a few occasions seeing new models being put together. IH had to pull out of South African market in the late 70s when sanctions imposed required many American firms to quit.
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Berea Road looking towards Toll Gate.
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In the 1950’s, I remember clearly the Indian owned shops that operated diagonally opposite the Alvin Cinema. I can only recall three of the shop names namely Moosa’s , Berea Drapers and Mahomedy’s but there could have been another one or two within the same block. These shops are shown here in the photo in their bright new colours. In the 50’s these buildings were rather drab and I knew nothing of their history. I checked the 1938 Lawrie’s and both Moosa’s and Berea Drapers were already established there. There must have been some relaxation of trading hours because on Fridays these Indian shops were allowed to remain open till 7 pm. My mother would go there quite often to see what new dress material was in stock; I was bought clothing there and I think it was Mahomedy’s that sold groceries apart from clothing. The shops were very popular and in the evenings there used to be quite a throng of people. In the picture where the “139” sign is, is Turner’s Avenue which linked Berea Road to Moore Road. A longstanding firm in Turner’s Avenue was the Natal Ruling Co. which was a book binder. This left hand side of Berea Road consisted of many small businesses, quite a few Indian owned, a ladies’ shoe shop, a chemist, The Medicine Chest which later became an emergency chemist, clothing shops and slightly further up McLeod’s Bazaar. McLeod’s was an interesting shop with all sorts of general goods for sale. All the children in the neighbourhood knew McLeod’s for the reason that it stocked our “needs”. Spinning tops, marbles, fireworks, tennis balls, and toys were always available there. I can recall when the hula hoop craze descended on Durban in the mid fifties, McLeod’s must have supplied the whole area. The grey multi-storey building is the Savoy Hotel which also dates to the mid 50s. The big block of flats is relatively new. Up that way in my time, was the Grand Tearoom. That was a Berea landmark until the property was sold and turned into the Berea Centre. Berea Road in the 50’s was two lanes up and two lanes down with a wide central island in between. The Toll Gate trolley bus travelled as far as the Toll Gate, then doubled back over the then Old Toll Gate Bridge heading back to town. The Botanic Gardens (motor) bus turned right at Botanic Gardens Road, and the Musgrave Trolley at Musgrave. I cannot recall exactly when the excavation of Berea Road started and when the Western Freeway was opened but I do recall that on the right hand side below the Toll Gate, a whole row of houses and I think a hotel had to be expropriated and demolished to make space of what is now known as Berea Road North.
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This picture is probably going to be vague to many and I even doubt my own memory on this locale but here goes. Driving along Sydney towards Dunlops, on the left hand side is this long, old brick wall now sadly grafittied. It must have been quite smart in its day as it is entirely brick and capped with bull nose bricks. My vague memories of what was behind the brick wall in the late 50s was the Durban Abattoir because when one passed by there was a stench that used to hit you. I cannot recall the buildings that stood there but have recollections of cattle skins being piled up in the yard. In the 60s, this area was cleared out and if I recall it became the temporary SPCA until their new headquarters at the back of Mayville was opened. Now it is a scrapyard. Anyone remember this site?
In my Bakeries of Durban story, I mentioned Barrett’s Bakery which used to operate out of premises in Umbilo Road. Barretts Model Bakery is listed in the 1968 Lawrie’s so when it stopped operating is unknown. The bakery site was eventually demolished and cleared and became a gas distribution depot which remains. On the right is Hoption’s a grocery shop owned by the Chinese, Hoption family who lived upstairs.
Next to it is a building now called Classic House and then the Argyle Hotel. Classic House is a bit of misnomer but I do remember it in the mid 50s as a few dark and run down shops. The whole frontage has been changed. In those days, one of the shops was a koeksuster shop run by an Afrikaans lady, and another was a radio repair / electrical goods shop.
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This old building is on the left hand side of lower Berea Road close to the Umbilo Road corner. In the mid 50s this was the Berea Road Butchery and Cold Storage. It is listed in the 1938 Lawrie’s. This was the closest butchery to where we lived and my mother called in often on Saturday mornings to buy the week’s meat. Looking at the building apart from the fire damage upstairs and the wear and tear, it has not changed much. The two large plate glass windows remain as I remember them and the door was central. However then, the front door was augmented by a fly screen door which used to snap closed behind you. Another memory is that the butchery floor was covered with saw dust. Prices in those days were also far more reasonable!
Henderson’s Supply Store, 140 Moore Road.
Unless you lived in the area this much changed shop will mean nothing to you. It is in Moore Road opposite Turner’s Avenue. The narrow road on the right is Ryde Avenue. The green block of flats is called Moorlands. Henderson’s was the local vegetable supply store in the area. Further down Moore Road was Mazuri’s Supply Store but they were more or less restricted to canned and packaged goods. Henderson’s was run by a very old couple, Mr and Mrs Henderson. They drove a huge old dark blue, Buick probably a 1948 model and it was always parked at the front door. A very kindly couple as I recall. The shop then only consisted of the front part, the back must have been added much later. The tarred area was vacant ground. I checked the 1938 Lawrie’s and the shop was then owned by “Mr W.H. Morant Grocer” so it ties in. Another memory from way back just for the record.
This ends my sojourn down memory lane. We moved away from the area round about 1958 some 55 years ago.
Looking back those were carefree times, very, very different from today. Pleasures were simple, the word technology did not exist and some how you learnt a lot of basic savvy as you grew up.Share this: