Durban - Although the well-known store Greenacres, 413-423 West Street, closed in 1982, it still evokes fond memories of a time when department stores dominated Durban’s CBD.

It was established in 1860 when Thomas Morgan Harvey and Benjamin Greenacre each opened a small shop, the former specialising in drapery, the latter as gentlemen’s outfitters. Both men had been employed as assistants to Mr Harwin, the draper, before striking out on their own.

In 1869, Harvey and Greenacre went into partnership, operating from a two-storey building in West Street. Their hard work and business acumen was such that their shop expanded to include a Smith Street frontage. By 1898, even this was inadequate.

WE Robarts was commissioned to redesign the building, which he accepted with enthusiasm. His choice of the Free Renaissance style was popular in Victorian times. The grand façade was built with red brick punctuated with rusticated windows in arched and rectangular forms. The symmetry of the clock tower was broken by a smaller, ornate octagonal oriel tower. The whole premises was protected from fire by Grinnell’s sprinklers, with a water reservoir in the tower holding 7500 gallons (28300 litres).

The first photo shows Greenacres in 1899 with the first stage of the aggrandisement in progress. The second, from 1905, shows the store five years after its completion. There were 101 windows which, in those days, actually let in air and light. The clock tower loomed over Greenacre’s Passage which ran from West to Smith Street. To preserve its status as private property, the gates at each end were closed to the public for one day a year.

After Greenacres closed, Edgars and Checkers moved into the property. The façade was preserved at a cost of more than R400000, but the interior was gutted in a process known as “skin deep” conservation. Also lost were the elaborate wood and glass showcases on the West Street frontage. Checkers still trades there, but Edgars closed in August 2019, a few weeks before the recent photo was taken. (See story below.)

The Independent on Saturday