By Ester Lewis
The scary reputation of the "Spook House" in Milner Road, Rondebosch, looms large among the many ghost stories and urban legends in the history of Cape Town.
Most people who have driven or walked hurriedly past the three-storey, red-brick house - possibly with averted eyes - would have heard the place was haunted.
But the man who has been living in the house since he was a teenager says it is actually "very friendly".
A university student has described her experience of this famous, or notorious, house on an Internet blog. In 2007 she and three friends illegally visited the property and tried to open the front door.
"I turned the handle and the door opened. And then it slammed shut," she wrote.
There are tales about a diaphanous old man who has been seen wandering around the house, lights that flicker on and off mysteriously and doors that slam shut of their own accord.
One of the few Internet-based stories about the Spook House claims it was used "by a strange cult" in the 1970s.
A Cape Argus team visited the property this week.
After being greeted by imposing black-and-gold iron gates imported from Paris, the team toured the house and found one inhabitant alive, well and welcoming.
Marcus Karlien moved into the Edwardian house in 1984, when he was about 17.
His mother, Irmela, had bought the 24-roomed house on auction for R160 000.
The old house was dilapidated with nothing but birds living in the roof.
"During the first few years, I would lie in bed and hear noises - wood creaking. It sounded as if someone was walking around upstairs, but I knew nobody was up there," said Karlien, who has never seen any ghosts there. Nor has he heard slamming doors or seen flickering lights.
There was, he said, a story that during the 1930s a group of boys dressed in sheets had jumped off the balcony to scare women walking by.
The interior is constructed mainly of Burmese teak and Oregon pine, from the staircases to the floorboards. Karlien said that, as with other wooden structures, the house was always expanding and contracting, which could ex-plain the creaking noises.
Hans Fransen's Old Buildings of the Cape says Huize Eendracht, as it was called then, was designed by Dutch- born architect Anthony de Witt and built in 1904 for the Dutch ambassador, Jac Loopuyt.
The house was apparently commissioned to lure the ambassador's wife to the city. At the time, Rondebosch was mostly farmland accessed by gravel roads.
The house was sold several times and for a while was home to South African opera singer Cecilia Wessels, born in 1895.
Asked about the "strange cult" using the house in the 1970s, Karlien dismissed it with a laugh.
The Cape Argus was shown the first two floors, now used for business purposes, but not the private quarters upstairs.