The house that Jack built
Hollis House, a heritage landmark in Durban's trendy Florida Road, took a new direction in its history this week as it opened as +258, a Mozambican restaurant which is a little more than just a restaurant.
The colonial grandeur of the house forms the backdrop to a bold, new venture which will not only share our northerly neighbour's warmth and culture, but also serve as a reminder of the people displaced by war on the African continent. From its colonial history, the house has evolved into showcasing a powerful story out of Africa.
The man behind the concept, Joao Perera, told the Independent on Saturday this week that many of the wall hangings form part of a “Guns for Peace” project, with arms and ammunition used in the Mozambican civil war being recycled into art. Some art pieces contain collected waste which had washed up on the shores of Mozambique. The restaurant's name, +258, is Mozambique’s dialling code.
As you walk up the great staircase from the entrance, the walls are adorned with massive photographs of displaced people in Mozambique ‒ from the civil war to the current Al-Shabab conflict in the north. Perera, who lectured in political science at Eduardo University in Maputo, said that as a child, he and his parents were displaced during the civil war.
"That is why it is very important to me to help other displaced families. I want everyone who comes here to relax and experience our food and culture.
"Many of our meals are made to be shared by 2, 4 or 8 people. One of our goals is to invite Zulu or Xhosa chefs and from across Africa, such as Nigeria, to come and share their cooking. We may be different in colour, but we all come from the same tree," said Perera, adding that one of the best ways to experience unity is to share a meal.
The light shades on the landing are handmade from waste, representing the colours of the Mozambique flag, while many other interesting pieces are created from recycled waste, such as a wine stand made from a geyser. There are also large photos of some of Mozambique's most well known buildings, such as the historic Maputo station.
"We have pictures from every region of Mozambique, as we wanted to bring every part of Mozambique here to South Africa," said Perera.
Hollis House is regarded as a landmark Edwardian house, built in Baroque Revival style, and it has had heritage status since 1996. It was originally built by Jack George Hollis, who was born in Scotland and arrived in Durban in the late 19th century from Australia. He was the building contractor, who together with William Cornelius built Durban's City Hall, with work beginning in 1905 ‒ around the same time he built Hollis House.
Hollis was also very keen on horseracing and founded Clairwood Racecourse in 1921.
His son, George Joseph Hollis, was born in June 1904 and was educated at Durban High School and Natal University before going to study dentistry at Guys Medical Hospital in London. He also went on to study medicine at Guys, passing in 1929.
Allan Jackson, in Facts about Durban, asked his grandson Richard Hollis about the truth behind the story that Hollis had used his son George as the model for the cherubs on the City Hall.
“George later became mayor of Durban in 1976-1978. and, if the story is true, he would have been the first mayor anywhere to take office in a city hall adorned with nude representations of himself. Richard told me that he believes his father, George Hollis, and his uncle Jack Alexander Hollis, were the models for the cherubs,” Jackson wrotes.
Hollis House has previously been a restaurant and a nightclub, It burnt down and was rebuilt before it fell into neglect. The renovation for +258 took place during 2020 and opened this week.
The Independent on Saturday