Two his­toric build­ings on Gandhi Square will be get­ting a makeover

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ANNA COX @an­na­cox

THE re­main­ing two ugly-duck­ling build­ings in the vi­brant Gandhi Square are in the process of be­ing re­stored to their former glory.

The his­toric High Court and Som­er­set House build­ings were re­cently pur­chased by Ger­ald Ol­itzki through his com­pany, Ol­itzki Prop­erty Hold­ings (OPH), which played a large role in restor­ing build­ings on the square.

Speak­ing pas­sion­ately about the build­ings – their his­tory and ar­chi­tec­ture, and what the restorations will do for the square and the city cen­tre – Ol­itzki said th­ese two gems had be­come his “baby” and his per­sonal project be­cause of the her­itage at­tached to them.

The High Court, built in 1904, ini­tially housed mag­is­trate’s courts in what was then called Gov­ern­ment Square.

The orig­i­nal build­ing was de­mol­ished in 1948. It had be­come run­down and derelict be­cause it stood empty for years af­ter the courts re­lo­cated. Af­ter the de­mo­li­tion of the build­ing the area was turned into a bus ter­mi­nus and was named Van der Bijl Square for next 50 years.

In 2003 it was re­named Gandhi Square in recog­ni­tion of Ma­hatma Gandhi’s pres­ence as a lawyer in the orig­i­nal court be­fore his re­turn to In­dia in 1914.

A new, five-storey build­ing was con­structed and named High Court Build­ing be­cause it had small, par­ti­tioned of­fices on the ground floor where lawyers would con­sult their clients on street level. The ad­vo­cates oc­cu­pied the up­stairs floors.

Well-known writer Her­man Charles Bos­man, ac­cused of mur­der­ing his step­brother, David Rus­sell, rented a sec­ond­storey of­fice in the build­ing in the 1940s.

This was af­ter he had been taken there af­ter ac­ci­den­tally shoot­ing his brother in Belle­vue. Bos­man spent four months at the Old Fort prison in Hill­brow, where he was con­victed and sen­tenced to death.

He spent nine days on death row at Pre­to­ria Cen­tral Prison be­fore his sen­tence was com­muted to 10 years’ im­pris­on­ment, of which he served three years and nine months.

The next-door Som­er­set House used to house the United Build­ing So­ci­ety. It also had al­most 1 000 safety deposit boxes in a base­ment vault.

The bank closed its doors in 1930, but re­tained the safety boxes un­til 2000. The up­per floors of the build­ing had ten­ants un­til fairly re­cently be­fore it was sold to OPH.

When ren­o­va­tions started last year, some of the deposit boxes were found, some in­tact, but con­tain­ing mostly old pa­pers, which Ol­itzki is go­ing to pre­serve.

The vault’s 25cm-thick, dou­ble-based steel door still ex­ists and will be re­tained, as will all the her­itage fea­tures.

“I have worked very closely with the her­itage au­thor­i­ties and spe­cialised ar­chi­tects to re­tain as much as we can,” said Ol­itzki.

The newly re­vamped build­ings will house re­tail on ground-floor level and of­fices.

Ol­itzki has been in­stru­men­tal in the square’s re­vamp. In the 1990s he started buy­ing build­ings in the derelict square.

At first he faced re­sis­tance from the former Joburg coun­cil, but even­tu­ally talked them around and the square was trans­formed into a vi­brant, busy, clean and safe area.

NEW LEASE: Gandhi Square in the Joburg CBD. The two his­toric build­ings cur­rently be­ing ren­o­vated can be seen to the right of the traf­fic cir­cle.

PET PROJECT: The Millews Fash­ions build­ing is be­ing con­verted by Ol­itzki Prop­erty Hold­ings.

HIS­TORIC: Som­er­set House, built in 1906, used to house the United Build­ing So­ci­ety.

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