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Anstey's Building - Third
Johannesburg, Gauteng




Client:Norman Anstey & Company
Style:Art Deco

PEARSE's obituary for WILLIAMSON lists this work as being among the most important buildings in Johannesburg.

The Anstey's ziggurat, designed by EMLEY & WILLIAMSON, at the corner of Jeppe and Joubert Streets comprised two stepped, right-angle apartment blocks with cylindrical glazed windows at the re-entrant angle rising off a four-storey podium, with rounded corner. The podium was built to house Norman Anstey & Company, the prestigious department store of the pre-war and post-war periods, run at the time by Hugh Manley Anstey, the son of the founder. The store was famous for its gorgeous and elegant window-dressing seen from the pavement through large plate-glass shop-fronts and in the freestanding cylindrical glass showcase at the main entrance.

The Johannesburg practice of EMLEY & WILLIAMSON was heir to the original Edwardian partnership of LECK & EMLEY. LECK, the senior partner, died in 1907. EMLEY presided over the evolution of the Victorian matrix into an Edwardian classicism, and then from post-Edwardian to Beaux-Arts.

In the 1920s the impact of the young WILLIAMSON, who joined the practice straight from the Wits campus, became quickly evident, where the classical orders were modernised into pre-Art Deco forms. The evolution of the firm took a dramatic leap forward into 1930s modernity when they designed the Anstey's skyscraper with basically cubic setbacks, purported to be the second-highest modern building in Africa at the time.

Anstey’s building showed WILLIAMSON groping for a modernism that would be more than just Art Deco with the Deco scraped off. The design is a remarkably reticent statement of a high-rise building, modern in its own way.

At 20 storeys, then briefly, before Eskom Building, the tallest in Africa

(paraphrased from Chipkin, 1992)

Anstey's today

The Anstey's Building was threatened with demolition in 1989 when Sanlam Properties proposed to redevelop the whole city block. Following protracted negotiations, Sanlam offered to donate the Anstey's Building to the (then) National Monuments Council provided firstly, that the development rights on the Anstey's site were transferred to the balance of the block and secondly, that demolition permits be issued for the rest of the buildings.

The Anstey's building was eventually transferred directly to the New Housing Company (NEWHCO) who proceeded to redevelop the building. This involved re-instating the original Commercial functions to the four lower floors and refurbishing the existing residential floors (4th up to 17th) creating a total of 81 affordable residential units. The total development cost was approximately R4 million. The whole building was ultimately 'sectionalised' in terms of the Sectional Titles Act.

The Commercial sections (comprising two Basement levels, Ground, First, Second and Third Floors) were transferred to the Preservation of Anstey's Building Trust (the Trust) and the residential units sold to private owners. The commercial floors were partitioned into smaller units and were successfully let to emerging business entrepreneurs.

The Trust had been set up by the (then) National Monuments Council to take transfer of the Commercial Sections with the intention that any surplus rental income accruing to the Trust would be used towards the restoration and refurbishment of the building. The Trust’s portion of the overall development cost was R968 671.00, which was financed through a Participation Mortgage Bond from Standard Bank.

The refurbishment of Anstey's commenced in January 1994 under the direction of the architect Denzil HERSCH. The Anstey's building was declared as a National Monument in June of that year.

The wording of the blue and white Art Deco - Johannesburg City Heritage plaque (see photograph) outside the entrance to Ansteys Building is transcribed below:


Designed in 1935 by Emley & Williamson for Norman
Anstey, founder of the elegant department store of
that name, which occupied the first four floors. Two
apartment wings soar another twelve storeys with
magnificent views of the city. Cecil Williams, actor,
playwright and member of Umkhonto we Sizwe
lived here. Nelson Mandela was disguised
as his driver when captured on
5 August 1962.

[William MARTINSON, October 2010]

Writings about this building

Chipkin, Clive M. 1993. Johannesburg Style - Architecture & Society 1880s - 1960s. Cape Town: David Phillip. pg 79, 88, 146, 147, 148-9
van der Waal, Gerhard-Mark. 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis - The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pg 203

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