Concern over fate of house with rich history

Time of article published Jul 25, 2011

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ANNA COX

A HISTORIC house in Brackendowns has fallen into a state of disrepair and is facing demolition to make way for a new townhouse development.

Neighbouring residents and the Alberton Heritage Association have accused the developer of placing misleading adverts on the gate of the house. They have claimed that the contact details given for objections are incorrect and people with complaints are unable to voice their concerns.

Yvette Hand said the wrong e-mail address was advertised on the poster, and the fax number just rings without being answered.

“Our concern is that objections closed on July 24 and people couldn’t get them in on time. The house is in the heart of Brackendowns and is a well-kept secret, known only to a few,” she said.

It is the very first house built in Brackendowns and is linked to one of the founding families of Joburg.

In 1942, a descendant of the original owner sold a portion of the farm Palmietfontein to Samuel Potter, a publisher and company director of Irish descent. In 1947, work began on the farmhouse of what would later become known as “Southdowns”, a dairy farm run by his wife Jessie.

Potter died in Durban in 1963 at the age of 82, and Jessie continued to run the farm until 1969. She then sold the property to the General Mining and Finance Company Ltd, who intended to develop the land into a suburb of Alberton. Brackendowns was declared a township in 1972 and the house was sold in 1979.

The house is a double-storey with the upper floor topped by a steeply pitched slate roof. It was originally painted pale pink. Inside the house there are two fireplaces, large teak beams in the dining area and magnificent doors leading into the house. The veranda roof is supported by cast-iron posts, which were bought from the original Carlton Centre when it was demolished in 1964.

“Unfortunately the house has seen many changes over the years, and many of its original features and fittings have been lost. The house was converted into flatlets in approximately 2005 without council building approval and, to date, there have been no repercussions, despite the alteration being illegal.

“All the outbuildings were demolished when the land was sold as individual stands, and it is incredible that the house itself still stands today,” said Hand.

Since the time of Jessie Potter, the house has changed hands several times. In the late 1990s it was used as an old-age home. In 2007 it was bought at an auction by a property development company that intended to demolish the house and build townhouses. The house stood empty for about two years, and during this time, was severely vandalised.

In 2009, the Alberton Heritage Society applied to the Provincial Heritage Authority to step in and force the owners to take care of this important heritage site.

The property has since been rented out and the gardens taken care of, although the house has not been restored.

Alan Mason, the administrator for the architects of the proposed townhouse development on the site, said the date for objections had been extended to August 21.

The mistake in the e-mail address and fax number was the result of his copying and pasting them from a heritage authority document.

“The correct addresses and numbers have now been posted onto the gate,” he said.

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