For many Durbanites who are now ex pats this may be of interest as no doubt the older ones may remember when Point Road was not that bad. In the late 60/70s , the bottom end of Point Road at night was always a hive of activity with Smugglers leading the way as an off beat entertainment centre. If you were young and daring and nothing on, a trip down that way would surely have some entertainment value; strip shows, music, dancing, the occasional fight (known as a raut in the slang used then ) taken out into to the street and a racial mix defying the laws of the day.
Point Road as I remember it was like divided into 3 areas. The area nearest Smith Street was hotel accommodation and also commercial, dominated by the small shops in what was known as Point Road Corner. This corner was demolished in the 70s and replaced with a very tall block of flats. There was an OK Supermarket in the area roughly where the Currie’s Fountain monument stood for many years. This was the water trough with the cherubs which has now been moved to the Botanic Gardens. The hotels were not that grand in that they were old then. Amongst them was the Lucey’s Hotel, the Lucien (usually painted a bright light blue), SeaBreeze Hotel , St. James’s Hotel. In this area as well was the Fontbin Building owned by the Chinese Fontbin family who ran the Phoenix Chinese Restaurant in Point Rd. This was a very popular restaurant and normally you had to book to get in over weekends. The second area, beyond the St James Hotel, Point Road on the one side was residential and on the opposite side, (the Bay side) commercial. Blocks of flats and some single houses as I recall. One was Ark Royal which my father told me was the name of a British warship. At street level of the Ark Royal building was a tearoom cum restaurant where decent Sunday lunches were served. On the commercial side I remember Natal Motor Industries ( Mercedes Benz) had a vehicle service centre and salesroom, TW Beckett (Five Roses Tea) had their offices , St Peter’s Catholic Church was on the left ( always thought it had sombre architecture for a church), and then there was Elwyn Court virtually next door to St Peter’s which was a Durban Corporation block of flats. Elwyn Court is a massive block of flats built to cater for those who were in the sub economic class. I remember my late father in law who worked for the Durban Corporation Engineers’ Dept. relating that the building was the bane of that Dept. in that they had to attend to, on a daily basis, of something being broken, something not working , something needing attention. After someone fell out of a window, every window had to be fitted with burglar guards. A massive undertaking if you look at the size of the building.
Then the last area was that leading down to the Point Docks. Here was the Vasco da Gama Clock monument on an island in the road as well as public toilets which though not well kept had some fancy tiling which showed at one time they were quite graceful buildings. Most of the buildings down this end were all old buildings with interesting facades and which if they had been preserved would have made the area most attractive today. Down this end as well the railway lines crossed Point Road and headed to the SAR&H workshops as well as to the old North Pier which had a single track running down its entire length. The Harbour Master’s building was here as well though in the 60s I think it was not used at all. Down this way the ships’ chandlers , bonded warehouses and shipping agents had their offices and storage areas. At the end of Point Road was the Point Ferry which for a few pence you could take a trip across the channel and land up on the Bluff. I cannot remember the name of the ferry but it was run by SAR&H and not a private enterprise. One must not forget that the first train to run in South Africa was the Durban -Point railway which I have written up on FAD. I cannot remember any plaque that was mounted in this area to commemorate that event. And finally the Point trolley buses travelled the length of Point Road coming up West Street and turning at the Point Road corner. At the end of Point Road they did a U turn and head back to town.
Looking at the pictures I am posting, one would think that Smuggler’s Inn was beyond saving. Pictures courtesy of the Sunday Tribune. Click on pictures to enlarge them.
The next picture was the Lucey’s Hotel (562-564 Point Rd) on the corner of Point Road and Smith Street.
Not many realise that whereas West Street used to run as a wide street all the way down to the shore line and meet up with the Lower Marine Parade (all changed now), Smith Street was only a wide street as far as where it met up with Point Road. It did however continue across Point Road but as a narrow street down to the Marine Parade and it is shown here in the picture with what looks like the old street name sign and its new name of Pixley ka Seme St. The Lucey’s Hotel must have closed in the early 70s for as far as I know it was bought by the Chinese Ma family and turned into single accommodation. The Ma family converted what must have been the hotel foyer and dining room into the Tong Lok Chinese Restaurant. This became a very popular restaurant as well and we, as family, lunched there often on Sundays. I recall the entrance was a red circular portal and you entered to be met by members of the Ma family at the reception desk. All the decor was Chinese. The hotel rooms were all converted into flats and all the wooden windows were changed for aluminium frames. The whole building was well restored . I am not sure what happened but the restaurant closed down in the 1990s, I seem to recall there was a failed sale and then the building was taken over by vagrants. From the picture it is obvious it has been gutted of all fittings and is now derelict.
I checked in the 1938 Durban Directory and Lucey’s Hotel is listed.
The last picture shows an old Point Road building which is now used as a Backpackers. From the picture it looks like No 154 Point Rd and from the 1938 and 1968 Directories that is the National Union of Seaman and the Seamen’s Institute building. Obviously a listed building which is being retained. Looking at the new building in the background, one of the Point Development projects, this building would be at the lower end of Point Road on the left hand side looking at the Bluff. Looking at the adjacent ,also derelict looking building , that would be 150/152 Point Road. From the two directories, in 1938 that was Clock Hairdressing Saloon and in 1968 Clock Hairdressers. The CLOCK in the name would refer to the Vasco da Gama Clock. Another instance to show how many properties remain in situ over many years in Durban.Share this: