MICHAEL MOR­RIS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

WHEN two broth­ers moved their longestab­lished fam­ily busi­ness from Wood­stock to the cen­tral city in 2001, scores of other busi­nesses were pack­ing up and mov­ing out.

That pat­tern of bear­ish sen­ti­ment – and the con­sid­er­able dis­in­vest­ment from the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict that went with it – can be traced to­day in the con­sol­i­da­tion of the sig­nif­i­cant sub­ur­ban busi­ness nodes of Cen­tury City, N1 City, Clare­mont and West­lake, among oth­ers.

Then, again, the stub­born op­ti­mism – or, where there was lit­tle choice, re­silience – of those who hung in there has, if not on its own, helped build the foun­da­tions of a safer, vi­brant, liv­able city, the key aims of the Cape Town Part­ner­ship and Cen­tral City Im­prove­ment Dis­trict, launched at the turn of the cen­tury to en­gi­neer a turn-around in Cape Town’s for­tunes.

Op­ti­mism is one of the strong­est fac­tors in a city’s abil­ity to ad­just dy­nam­i­cally to shift­ing con­di­tions and pres­sures,more­over, op­ti­mism that is rooted au­then­ti­cally in the story of the place it­self, its history, per­son­al­i­ties and strug­gles, and the de­mands of its sur­vival.

This is true – some might say iron­i­cally, their hand­ful of de­trac­tors will doubt­less say ar­guably – of Mike and Casey Au­goustides. It is also true of a man, long dead, who, like the Au­goustides, put his roots down in Cape Town and was no less con­sid­ered and re­source­ful in ex­ploit­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties of his time.

Martin Melck, a mas­ter ma­son and sol­dier un­der the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany, came to the Cape in 1746. Hav­ing at­tained burgher rights four years later, he spent the next decade con­sol­i­dat­ing his stake, emerg­ing as one of the wealth­i­est landown­ers in the colony. Be­tween 1764 and 1767, he built a ca­pa­cious ware­house on Bree Street.

This is where Melck and the Au­goustides met in the 21st cen­tury; the build­ing – much traded (and hacked about) since the late 1700s – be­came the home of Mike’s Sports when it moved from Wood­stock. It was no longer a ware­house, but a block of sub­di­vided prop­er­ties which, in­cre­men­tally, be­came the sole property of the Au­goustides.

It was – is – a pretty tatty space, much al­tered and, here and there, ne­glected by its in­nu­mer­able own­ers over the years, and never be­fore in mod­ern times owned or con­ceived as a whole. The con­sol­i­da­tion prompted the Au­goustides, back in 2006, to look at op­tions for making some­thing more of the whole build­ing. That’s when they dis­cov­ered its history, and be­gan the long, test­ing process to match the val­ues of her­itage and ur­ban dy­namism the site calls for.

Casey and Mike Au­goustides re­called this week the risky de­ci­sion of 2001 to move from Wood­stock, where Mike’s Sports had been es­tab­lished by their grand­fa­ther, Alec, and his brother, Mike, in 1949. Soon af­ter its found­ing, their fa­ther, Nick, took over the busi­ness.

Sev­eral bloody in­ci­dents and a gen­eral at­mos­phere of law­less­ness in Wood­stock in the late 1990s made the broth­ers think se­ri­ously about mov­ing to town.

Casey Au­goustides re­called: “The city wasn’t much bet­ter at that time… there were a lot of va­cant build­ings, and guys were try­ing to sell… but we felt it was a good lo­ca­tion with good in­fra­struc­ture, and that things would come right.”

The build­ing was sig­nif­i­cantly de­graded, they re­mem­bered, but there was no fuss from any lobby about that.

The trou­ble be­gan when they ad­vanced their ini­tial pro­posal for a re­de­vel­op­ment, crafted by highly re­spected prac­ti­tioner Gabriel Fa­gan, a pre-em­i­nent fig­ure in her­itage and restora­tion ar­chi­tec­ture, and con­tin­ued when a re­vised pro­posal was sub­mit­ted.

Op­po­nents main­tain that the cur­rent much-al­tered version of the ware­house is “a pre­cious ir­re­place­able el­e­ment of our old­est city and the her­itage of all South Africans”, and “must not be com­pro­mised”.

Not ev­ery­one is con­vinced of that; the re­vised pro­posal has been ap­proved both by the provin­cial her­itage author­ity, Her­itage Western Cape (HWC), and the na­tional South African Her­itage Re­sources Agency (Sahra).

Many in the ar­chi­tec­tural and her­itage fra­ter­nity view the pro­posal as so­lu­tion not trav­esty.

Lead­ing ar­chi­tect and scholar Jo No­ero (he is a pro­fes­sor at UCT) com­mented: “I would say un­equiv­o­cally that the de­vel­op­ment is note­wor­thy and re­solves in a very sub­tle way all the chal­lenges this project poses. The pro­posal is mas­ter­ful – it ad­dresses the im­por­tant cor­ner of Bree Street and Strand Street by pulling back from this cor­ner. The new bulk is ac­com­mo­dated at the right place on the site. The build­ing steps back to ac­knowl­edge the mass of the build­ing across the road and the es­tab­lish­ment of an ar­cade to con­nect Bree Street back to the church court­yard is won­der­ful…” He con­fessed to be­ing “mys­ti­fied” by the ear­lier re­jec­tion of the pro­posal.

Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor Her­bert Prins, a well-known and ex­pe­ri­enced ar­chi­tect and con­ser­va­tion­ist, and for­mer mem­ber of the Gaut­eng her­itage re­sources author­ity, said the pro­posal “shows a very el­e­gant

PIC­TURE: LEON LESTRADE

OP­TI­MISTS: Casey and Mike Au­goustides moved their fam­ily busi­ness from Wood­stock to the cen­tral city in 2001.

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