The Colonial Mutual Life Building West Street.

Natalie Nel posted three pictures on FaceBook of the Colonial Mutual Life Building when it was being constructed. They looked like purposely taken photographs. I contacted Natalie and she agreed to send me copies so that I could post them here on FAD.

The pictures Natalie says are undated and were about to be binned when she claimed them to preserve them. The photos are the building under construction, the building complete and then what appears to be a previous building with Adams and Co as tenants. The CML building itself in 1938 is listed as being at 328 West Street but in 1965 listed as 330 West St. It flanked Mark Lane on the right hand side.

Referring to my 1938 Durban Directory the building of eleven floors was already fully occupied. I searched amongst all the buildings listed and no building had more floors than the CML. I would venture to say it was Durban’s tallest building of the time and probably the first to be constructed of steel beams. The photographs probably date to the early 1930s and if one looks at the pavement there still appears to be some building material there. From my memory, the lift shaft was on the left of the building as you entered the foyer and this would tie in with the picture showing the lift shaft being constructed.

By 1938 doctors had already moved in to the building for their practices and it was no different in the 60s with many doctors and dentists based in the building. I recall my own doctor at the time Dr Colin Black having his rooms in the building on the 8th floor. Which brings me to the lift. In the 60s it was I think, still the original lift installation. The lift had two expanding trellis gates one on the exterior and the other on the interior. An African lift operator was at hand to do the necessary. I do recall though that it was a “terrible” lift as when it took off it gave a downward lurch before going up. Everyone in the lift who had no experience of it would take a gasp but relaxed once it trundled upwards. Likewise I recall the lift did a “bounce” once it reached the appropriate floor.

Looking through the list of tenants in 1938, there was a wide mix of doctors, dentists, dressmakers, and some interesting ones such as The Rapid Results College which endured in the 1960s. Other tenants were the Thervac and Paplint Syndicates which conjure up strange ideas as to what they were about. Doctor , later Professor Hugh Grant-Whyte had rooms on the 9th floor. On the 11th floor the “Engineer Caretaker” , Mr W. E. Dutton had a room.

When the subject of the building came up on FaceBook, Mr Dave Upfold, posted that he was manager of the building in the 1980s and has the original plan drawings. I have asked him to try and find out from them who the architect was and which construction company was tasked with the building.

As can be seen in the photo of the completed building, it is lovely in its white exterior. It appears that it was not quite complete though as a workman is at work on a scaffold at the front and there appears to be rubble or material on the pavement.

What is of interest in the photo as well are the buildings which flank the CML Building 328 West St. On the right hand, Mark Lane side is Embassy House (326) and Arthur’s Chambers (322) with next to it Lennon’s Chambers (320 ) not in the picture. On the left are two smaller buildings which are unnamed in the directory. The building closest seems to have a name, undecipherable, on the gable whilst the one next to it is indicated as G Dalton and Son. It is difficult to interpret the stand numbers because the 1938 directory indicates G Dalton as being 334 West Street which is 3 stands away from the CML Building. The Moore Shoe Company must have moved away from the premises shown in the photo as they are not listed. Regardless of this the Moore Shoe Company remained in existence and I have it situated in Salisbury Arcade in 1968. The building next door has interesting tenants. On the parapet there is a sign: Tiny Thomas Dancing. By 1938 Tiny Thomas had moved out and relocated to the Alexandra Hall 518 West St near the Cemetery. There were about 20 Dancing Academies in Durban at that time, no doubt people took dancing seriously.

Below is a picture of the Alexandra Building upper West Street which was an “art” centre in the early 1930s. Dance, Ballet, Speech Teachers were based in this building which was on the corner of Cathedral Rd and West Street. It remains today but in a very dilapidated state.

G Dalton and Sons were Sports Outfitters. If I am not mistaken the name Dalton crops up in sport circles. There was a Sports Shop in the 1960s that went under the name Dalsports and one wonders if there was a connection to Daltons. The banner advertising a dance has the name Natal Hatters, another firm that lasted well in to the 60s with an outlet at 77 Field Street. By 1957, it would seem that the two buildings were demolished and replaced by Protea House 332 West Street. On the ground floor of Protea House was the South Seas Coffee House and Milk Bar. Note the TO LET signs in the upstairs bay windows.

Moving to the buildings across Mark Lane on the right of CML Bldg, the first one is Embassy House, 326 West Street. An ornate old building unfortunately the picture is not well focused but on the roof gable it looks like 190X as the year it dates to. Again not a very wide building. The white poster I cannot make out but below it seems to be a name with School of Dancing. Then below that another signboard which looks like Billiards Room. Billiards also seem to be a popular pastime at that time with quite a few tables around town. Embassy house had three floors. Interesting tenants again.
First Floor Rooms 1/2 M Vane-Wallace listed as drugless healer! 3/4 Marter’s Hairdressing Saloon
Second Floor Room 1/2 Le Portrait a photo studio with a long connection to Durban.
Room 5 J.S. McClansburgh Dental Mechanic Rooms 7/9 African Consolidated Theatres.
Third Floor Rooms 1/2 Dr H Archibald 3/8 Martens and Ross Manufacturers Representatives.
Arthur’s Building next door, 322 West Street, accommodated Arthurs Ltd. Drapers Outfitters and Boot Store. I do not recall the name Arthurs and by 1957 this building was renamed Shelton House. This name rings no bells with me, the only reference is that Foschini were on the ground floor in 1968. To put this into modern perspective, in 1968 it was Mark Lane, 326 Embassy House, 322-324 Shelton House (the Waldorf Café on the ground floor) , 320 Shelley House (with The Shelley Shop on the ground floor), 318 Castle Arcade. All these were demolished with the erection of 320 West Street.

The third photo shows a building with Colonial Mutual Buildings well indicated. In 1938, Adams and Co were already based at 341 West Street, the location they remained at until the closure of the West Street store we all knew. So this picture, the way I see it predates the 341 West Street Adams location and in my reckoning is the original CML buildings in West Street prior to its demolition to make way for Durban’s new skyscraper. Note the particular pattern of plaster work round the windows of the building to the left of Adams as well as the elaborate gable. So my guess is that Adams were at 328 West Street and then crossed over to the other side of West Street when notice was given that this building was to make way for a new Colonial Mutual Life building.

The three photographs in my estimation tell a story … namely before, changing, after.

If you grew up in Durban, old photographs of Durban are always interesting. It is surprising that one tends to forget which buildings were where although you must have passed them quite regularly. I am talking a long time ago now but once one reflects on the Durban we knew, memories come back and are revived.

If anyone can add to this narrative please do so. You may have to save the photos to your computer to enable you to enlarge the pictures.

EDIT: I just came across a quandary concerning the third picture. I was looking amongst my picture library and came across this picture.

It is the identical building to the picture above but the building is now called UNION BUILDING.I cannot make out the name above. Adams are still the tenants. So which is the older name? I looked Union Buildings up in the 1938 Directory and there was one at 215 Pine Street. Looking in the background one sees a building named Lennon’s and Lennon’s was at 320 West Street. Bearing in mind if this picture is taken from Pine Street and looking towards West Street then Lennon’s Building would be in the background. If the building was in Pine Street then my theory above goes west!

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Sad News about Durban Iconic Building.

I know many Durbanites who now live overseas do visit this site and I suppose it is appropriate to let them know of developments in the once fine city centre. This article appeared in the Sunday Tribune this past Sunday and it is sad to note that the doors of this fine and iconic Durban building are closing in August. Sad news because the CBD is getting tattier as time goes by. Many CBD building are standing empty with TO LET signs all over them. One worries that they become economically unviable and with rates to pay they fall into disrepair. For old buildings like Greenacres it sometimes is the death knell.
In the same paper there was an article on how Albany Grove has deteriorated and to remind you, Albany Grove runs down the side of the Playhouse. I am sure most Durbanites my age either queued up in Albany Grove to buy tickets or parked their car in Albany Garage for a Saturday night movie. Click on pictures to enlarge. You can also Save the Image to your computer and this will enable you to read the print.

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Commemorating the Arrival of the Byrne Settlers 1849.

Commemorating the Arrival of the Byrne Settlers 1849.

12th May 2019 marked the 170th anniversary of the arrival in Durban of the vessel, Wanderer with the first boat load of Byrne Settlers. In 1849, 15 Byrne Settlers amongst 108 passengers arrived off the Bluff. Entrance to Durban Harbour was very risky because of the sandbar and instead the preferred method of disembarkation was for passengers to transfer to a long boat and then be rowed ashore to the landing point which was the beach roughly where the ferry and pilot boats dock today. Ladies and children were then carried ashore piggy back style by Africans. Read More

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The House on the Hill. Entabeni.

The Place on The Hill …. Entabeni Hospital 1930-1980.

with acknowledgement to Marilyn Poole. Click on pictures to enlarge.

One of the fascinations I have is looking at old postcards and photographs of buildings that once adorned what must have been, a very beautiful Durban. I am thinking about the early 1900s. The stately town centre buildings, the sweeping Victoria Embankment and the graceful homes on the Berea. Sadly most of them are gone now. More’s the pity. Which brings me to the Place on the Hill.

I recently came across a book with the title above which I snapped up being so cheap. It is the story of Entabeni Hospital 1930 to 1980. Entabeni is one of those Zulu names just about everyone in Durban knows mainly I suppose, because it is the name of a hospital and one may have some sort of link to. Maybe born there, was hospitalised there or sadder still, someone died there. Read More

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Info request

posted in: InfoRequests 2

Friend of Fad William Paterson is collecting information for a book set in Zululand and Durban during WWII. He wrote:

I am gathering material for the third novel in the Kirkwood trilogy and would welcome receiving very short notes  from people on their experiences at the time (that is, if they don’t mind my [possibly] cannibalising them with due acknowledgements). Focus strictly on Durban and environs and Zululand. Personal stuff, not heroic tales.

There is already quite a lot of material on the site but William would be grateful if you could help with more info he can use to add colour to his book. Please leave a comment below or drop me a line at the address on the contact page.

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Remembering a forgotten World War hero.

I wonder how many picked up this Memoriam notice that appeared in The Mercury Friday 5th April 2019. Newspapers these days do not having the large sales that they used to enjoy, and on my part are only occasional purchases. The one I bought on Saturday albeit being a day old, had a very interesting notice which is the subject of this post.

The Second Edition of Allan Jackson’s Facts about Durban has this entry on Durban’s timeline.
“ 1944 On the night of 24th March 1944, 76 allied Prisoners of War including a Durbanite and ex-Glenwood High School pupil, Neville McGarr escaped from Stalag Luft III prison camp in Sagan, Poland. This became to be known as The Great Escape. Fifty of the escapers, including McGarr were executed by the Gestapo on being recaptured. Only three of the 76 eventually reached safety.”

Glenwood High School 1st XV 1935.

In his book “The Great Escape” written by Paul Brickhill in 1951, the authors writes in his preface:
“ Several years have softened the memories but they have not faded. Nor, I think, they ever will. This is the first full account of the greatest prison-camp escape of them all.” The film made of this event in World War Two remains one of the best ever made.

I did a bit of research on the escape and have the book but found the book lacking in some detail and is not definitive. In retribution to the escape and the enormity of it, the Gestapo were ordered to kill 50 of the escapees that had been captured although the majority were officers. After their execution by firing squad details, the bodies of the men were cremated.

It would appear that McGarr was amongst those captured, re imprisoned then executed. His was amongst the 10 bodies cremated at Breslau Concentration Camp.
The names of those cremated at Breslau are: WJ Grisman, AD Gunn, SZ Krol, JL Long, CAN McGarr, H Milford, DO Street, P Tobolski, E Valenta, JF William.

The memorial to the 50 escapees executed.

The newspaper memorial is a reminder. Lest we forget.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

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Alan Brooker R.I.P.

Alan Brooker 25/11/1942 – 26/3/2019.

There is mention in the Cookie Look post on this site of Alan Brooker being the leader of a well known 1960’s Durban rock group called The Knights. Sadly on Saturday, I attended his funeral. Alan passed away after a long sickness. He was well known amongst the musos in Durban and post this for general information. Below is the link to the Cookie Look posting.

I managed to down load images of a Parlophone LP that the band produced. I noted that an old friend of mine Billy Gaugain was the drummer for the group. I knew Billy through the Durban Regiment and if my memory serves me correct he played for a band called A Group called Blue. The Knights consisted of Alan as Lead and Vocalist, Paul Janssen and Dennis Scott-Williams guitarists and Billy, drummer.

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St Joseph’s School

St Joseph’s School was situated on the corner of Broad and Smith Streets. It was adjacent to the Convent of the Holy Family Nuns which stood behind the school. When the school closed, the Durdoc Centre was built on the site.

I received the following letter from Michael McCann who started his schooling there in 1957. He sent the 1957 Class 1 photo as well. Unfortunately he cannot remember his fellow class mates and so I post this here with the hope that someone can respond.

” This is the Class 1 St. Joseph’s School photo taken in 1957. I’m the little tyke at top, second from right. I remember my first day – so exciting until I got teased for having the wrong socks. I must have created a little for the next day I attended class with the proper attire. Nothing much has changed it seems! I still have my class 2 schoolwork book wherein I practiced my alphabet amongst other class exercises. I remember there being a pedestrian crossing in Smith Street adjacent to the school entrance over which we were sometimes marshalled to attend ‘music appreciation’ in the hall opposite. Peter and the Wolf sticks in my mind. It is fascinating reading the shards of memories posted by those remembering those far off times. I will send more class photos in the future, perhaps someone in your blog group will recognise faces. Unfortunately I made no notations on the reverse and I can’t recall names of my class mates.”

Click on photo to enlarge.

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Durban Photos 1968

I was clearing out some old CDs and found one I had saved these pictures of Durban taken in early 1969. In 1968 I had just bought myself a new Minolta SRT 101 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera from a firm called Modisons, 239 Grey Street. At that time Modisons were General Dealers but on the side they had a photographic counter and were agents for Minolta. It was a small shop with general goods, some pharmaceuticals, and groceries. An unpretentious camea shop.

I had been told of them through a friend, Derek Brown. I still recall I was in three minds what camera to buy as my budget was limited. There were three choices an Asahi Pentax K1000, a Nikon Nikkormat and the Minolta SRT. The Pentax fell away because the lenses had a screw in mount and the trend was towards bayonet coupling. Between the other two I ended up going for the Minolta because I fancied its features, had a mirror lock, nice feel, CLC light metering and I was offered a good discount. The Saturday I went to buy the camera, the Minoltas in their dull gold and black boxes were piled up on the top shelf of a shop cabinet.

Too high to reach by hand, the assistant had a dowel stick which he used to tip the box towards him, let it fall and catch it on the way down. Well he tipped one but somehow managed to let it slip his grasp and it fell to the floor. “Thank you ” I said “I will have the next one”. Read More

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