Cape Quarter History
A local property re-development group acquired the pocket of erven now known as CAPE QUARTER in 2001. Their idea was to redevelop the site into a business centre with a desirable working environment. Features such as ease of access, location, security and parking governed the practical design.
The final - and to many the most important - ingredient required in the CAPE QUARTER's design was its architecture and its connection to the surrounding streetscapes, suburb and Cape Town's heritage as a whole. Fortunately, the search for what we like to call " Cape Malay architecture" lay right there on the site and in the immediate neighbourhood. Some of this authentic early architecture can still be seen, preserved and carefully incorporated into the development.
Information gathered during research for the Archival Report (AR) became valuable informants for the design. Historical extracts from the report about the surrounding buildings, the people who owned, built, worked and lived in them make for interesting reading:
The land on which CAPE QUARTER is now situated was open land until the first grants were made almost 200 years ago. The first intentions to develop the area were during the Cape's early British colonial period at a time when there was an influx of European immigrants to Cape Town.
This particular " CAPE QUARTER" lot was granted to Michiel Christiaan Vos in 1817. Along with their contemporaries, the Vos family were members of a new urban elite - landlords and property developers, merchants and board members of local government organs and commercial institutions. Under MC Vos's watchful eye their land was developed for domestic and commercial use.
The emancipation of slavery in 1838 further exacerbated the shortage of rental accommodation.
It was common practice to name streets after the merchant developer and owner. It is very pertinent then that Vos Lane has been preserved and now serves as the main entrance to CAPE QUARTER. Dixon and Hudson Streets derive their names from similar speculative developers of the era. Another interesting point is that the entire city street grid pivots on Vos Lane as it realigns itself along the Green Point coastline.
Small street facing single dwellings were built in the popular Georgian style of the time.
A typical example of this type of building consisted of an open front stoep usually made of local Malmesbury shale, level so as to allow access to the front door which was usually in the middle of the front facade. The front stoep, raised above street level to avoid the mud and refuse common of that time, would have low side walls and a "bankie" on which to sit, and often a cast iron balustrade. The front facade was well proportioned and symmetrical, usually with two sash windows either side of the front door and with a fan light - as is prevalent on the site. A decorative plaster cornice finished off the top of the front facade. Malay artisans specialising in this intricate plaster work were responsible for the Eastern influence differentiating this Cape vernacular from the strictly Western origins of the Georgian period architecture. Hence the preference for the name, " Cape Malay architecture" which typifies the popular building type of the period and is quite unique to Cape Town. Remnants of these buildings have been preserved on CAPE QUARTER's Waterkant Street facade and date back to the early 19 th century.
The block continued to house at least some elements of the poor and marginalised communities of the city well into the 20th century. The block occupancy also comprised a class mix with the lower classes generally crammed into the central alleyways and lanes, and tradesmen occupying the street facing perimeters of the property. This was a common phenomenon in parts of Cape Town - such as District Six - during the 19th century. The fact that the inhabitants of Vos Lane are not listed in the street directories of the time confirms their underclass status.
..indeed, anyone desiring to see life in about its lowest aspect could not do better than pay a visit, if he could summon up sufficient courage, to some of the horrible byways which branch off from Waterkant St, where a stream of moral pollution is constantly flowing. (Cape Times / 8 January 1876 / quoted in Worden et al: 219)
The death of MC Vos in 1861 saw the block becoming increasingly sub-divided and commercialised, except for small clusters of semi-detached dwellings. In 1847 and 1855 there was a wine store, a music school and other general dealers.
In 1887, Anders Ohlsson - trading as Ohlsson & Co and later as Ohlssons Cape Breweries Ltd - acquired 68-70 Waterkant Street and ran a drinking establishment there called The Bricklayers Arms, until it was sold in 1938. By 1900 EK Green & Co were major wine and spirit merchants, and there was also a grocer, cab proprietor, coal store and dairy.
Many of the remaining domestic properties were owned by people of Gujerati Indian descent from the 1920's until the impact of the early 1970's Group Areas Act which may have" persuaded" them to sell off their properties. The late Charles (Chas) Ginsberg, founder of South Africa's Rooibos tea industry and a wealthy property developer, systematically purchased these properties, completing the process by the end of 1971.
Chas Ginsberg demolished certain of the derelict properties and had the remaining buildings tenanted by day with typical city fringe light industrial business and by night fairly shady night-time business and activities.
In the 1980's and 1990's the previously middle to underclass suburb slowly started becoming trendy, which lead to the developers 's idea of creating CAPE QUARTER in 2001.