Smith Street View

posted in: Pictures 6
Smith Street view on postcard circa 1929
Smith Street view. Postcard circa 1929. Courtesy Kevin Watson.
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  1. Gerald
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    The picture of this portion of Smith Street must be familiar to most people who grew up or got to know Durban. What I find interesting is looking a bit more into the background and seeing what I can remember from when I was a young boy in the early 1950s. For me it brings back certain memories although in my time I only remember the Royal Hotel as it was depicted in the picture and I have a vague memory of the building next to it. I seem to recall that as you entered this building it had an open courtyard. As for the buildings shown further down, those were before my time for they eventually became “Cinema Land” with the Metro, Playhouse, 20th Century and Princes located there.

    The frontage for the Royal Hotel remained as that shown for many years until I think the 1970’s when the frontage was demolished and the Royal Hotel remodelled and became a multi-storey building as it is today. My memory is vague when this actually happened. I do recall though the long wide verandah with glassed in sections looking on to Smith Street. On Saturday mornings my father and I when going into town would go to the Royal about 11 am where he would meet fellow Maltese on the verandah, have their brandies and discuss what was going on in the world. I recall the Indian waiters in their all white uniforms, white shoes and white turbans. It was a popular meeting place. In a way the Royal lost its grace and glamour when it was remodelled but that is what is called progress.

    I have, to refresh my memory, resorted to my 1938 Durban Directory and reviewed this area as it was then which is a few years later than the picture. The Royal Hotel was separated from the building next door by a narrow street called Beach Walk. Now one would remember Beach Walk if you parked in the Royal Hotel Garage which was at the back of the building and you gained access via Beach Walk. Further down Beach Walk you arrived at the YMCA and the Esplanade. There was also a large Electrical Substation in Beach Walk.

    In the picture, the building next to the Royal Hotel is listed as Mutual Buildings. The name does not ring a bell with me but I do recall an old building standing there. Mutual Buildings were then demolished and the Durban Corporation erected Martin West Building on the site. This was the Durban Corporation’s new financial headquarters, housed the new computer installation and on the ground floor was the public accounts section where you paid your Corporation dues. The “Martin West” has since been changed. Martin West Building is bounded by Acutt Street .

    Acutt Street ran from Smith Street through to the Esplanade. It brings back memories for me as down Acutt Street, the Dept. of Posts and Telecommunication had what was called their Training Office there as well as their Records Section. All new recruits passed through this centre for processing. The building occupied once belonged to the Cable and Wireless Company and I am led to believe that it was in this building that the overseas underwater cables were terminated. They would have been brought up from the Bay, probably piped across the Esplanade through to this building and then connected to the local telecommunication network. One may also recall the Ray Hulett Old Age Home that was in Acutt Street and at the end was a block of flats called Chelsea which had an entrance in Acutt Street.

    Across Acutt Street started Cinema Land with the Prince’s listed as Prince’s Picture Theatre in the 1938 directory, then the Prince’s Tea Room, the Playhouse Booking Office, the Playhouse Theatre, Restaurant and Bar. Albany Grove lined the Playhouse Theatre.

    In 1938, on the other side of Albany Grove was the Mayfair Hotel, then the Metro Cinema and on the corner was Kahn’s Chemist. Kahn’s Chemist flanked Smith and Aliwal Streets and if you recall the queue for tickets at the Metro would run down Aliwal Street and as you edged forward you would have spent a few minutes looking into Kahn’s corner window with the goods he advertised.
    The Mayfair Hotel was later revamped and renamed the Albany taking its name from Albany Grove.

    This brings us to Aliwal Street and interestingly enough on the opposite side to the Metro the directory indicates the Cameo Cinema. Unknown to me, this was before my time as the 20th Century Cinema stood on the corner of Smith and Aliwal Streets.

    The big building in the far background is not listed in the 1938 directory so it must have been demolished before then. In more modern times the Embassy Cinema, the Charles Bird Photographic Studio and Hollywood Court stood on this site and remain today but under changed circumstances.

    I hope this insight recalls some memories for you of bygone days.

  2. Peter Francis
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    I can remember going to the Playhouse theatre as a young boy with my parents. We would be dressed in suit and tie and go to the diningroom , where we would have a great dinner , then into the theatre. Somehow my father seemed to know all the right people in his business years, and so we always got the same seats in upper gallery in the front row. Then the spotlight would shine on stand and the mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ would rise up from below the stage. We would be entertained for about 30 minutes, then the organ and the organist would slowly descend into the abyss. On came Pathe News, the cartoons before the interval of 15 minutes. Those were the days when the Carry On films were the funniest movies to hit the screens. I remember Syd James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, James Robertson Justice , Charles Hawtry. I dont think I have ever enjoyed seeing so many Carry On movies. Those were good days in my young life.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Good Memories Peter
      The Metro also had a theatre organ that come up from the abyss. I am not sure where he played but the name Buster Wheatley was one of the organists.

  3. Marlese Keck
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    Hello- I have a brochure with a map inside (along with advertising) of Durban from 1943 that was in with old photos. My question is, what state is Durban in? One of the advertisements also has an address of: Ocean Beach, Durban. The only place with that address is in Africa.
    Thank you- Marlese

  4. Vernon MacDonald
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    What was the name of the Hotel that was on the Corner of Smith and Aliwal Streets Durban , it was quite a large place with a nice Balcony as i recall

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Vernon
      That was the Broadway Hotel. It had an open verandah upstairs facing the cinemas. Eventually demolished and replaced by the Central Methodist Church a large building which I wonder is much in use these days as the area has changed.
      Broadway Hotel early 60s

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