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National Mutual Life Association of Australasia
Cape Town, Western Cape

BAKER and MASEY: Architect
PERRY and DELBRIDGE: Architect

Date:1905 : 1933


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33°55'30.65" S 18°25'17.77" E Alt: 26m

Basement and Ground. and 5 floors and gabled attic.
Ground floor : projecting granite street level entrance arcade, basement level "area" below, cast-iron railings and ornate entrance porticos, grand bronze entrance doors.
Upper floors : Cape granite faced 13 bay symmetrical front. Outer and central buys flush, intermediate bays set back behind arcades. Generally teak framed bronze small pane casements, teak louvred shutters, window heads arched and haunch-arched, Cape Revival and "Bakeresque" touches, outer and central bays have baluster balconettes on third floor and rise to Flemish gables and high pitched "Broseley" tiled roof. Bronze flag pole sockets. Left hand gable "1905", right hand gable "1933".
Note : left hand half of building designed by BAKER & MASEY, right hand matching half and additional two floor upward extension by Architects John PERRY & W.J. DELBRIDGE c1933 (cf PERRY & DELBRIDGE). Granite facade recently stonecleaned, now showing marked rust stains particularly on older granite work. Building links through to National Mutual Building behind. Fine period interior. plaster ceilings, brass, marble, bevelled glass etc. Refer illustrated description of BAKER & MASEY building Cape Times Weekly, I August 1906.

[Rennie, 1978: 217-218.]

A QUARTER of a century ago [article dated 1934] this Society moved from very modest quarters in another part of the Mother City to what was then regarded as most commodious premises in Church Square.

From the designs of Messrs. BAKER & MASEY a granite building was erected on a comparatively small site with street frontage to Church Square only, and adjacent to the premises of the Senior Civil Service Club on the south side of the Square. The Magistrates' Court and a building known as Brittain's intervened between this site and the Old Fir Tree building of Messrs. Hilliard standing on the corner of Spin Street and the Square.

The rapid growth of business necessitated the contemplation of radical rebuilding and extension about five years ago.

Opportunity was taken to acquire the Magistrates' Court building site running from Church Square to Plein Street, as also Brittain's building which interlocks with Messrs. Hilliard's premises.

Upon the resultant T-shaped site the remodelled premises have been erected.

The cost of the site, building, and equipment has been in the neighbourhood of a quarter of a million.

The architects for the new structure respected as far as was possible the character of Messrs. BAKER & MASEY's design, but found it necessary to alter both the elevation and scale so as to conform with the extended structure.

The original ground floor arcade of six bays was removed and replaced by more massive construction. The interior was entirely remodelled. The upper storeys were rebuilt.

In the resultant structure the main office and public entrance occupies the centre of the raised ground floor front to Church Square. This floor is occupied by the Company together with the sub-ground floor (devoted to agents' rooms, addressograph accommodation, security vaults, etc.). The Society's Board room occupies the centre of the first floor over the public entrance portal.

The remainder of the building, except the ground floor on the Plein Street front, is let as professional offices mostly to medical specialists.

The ground floor with basement adjoining Plein Street is let as a shop.

The Church Square front is in the Flemish Renaissance (Cape Dutch) fashion, but the Plein Street front is modern in conception.

The fronts are in granite, with the Society's main office and principal windows marble-faced.

Metal windows are used throughout, bronze on the Church Square front, and steel towards Plein Street.

Impressive and decorative bronze doorways mark the public and tenants' entrances from Church Square. The whole of the new structure is of reinforced concrete construction and all building equipment is of the most up-to-date variety.

Great difficulty was experienced with the foundations which are carried down to solid rock some twenty feet below ground level by means of concrete caissons within reinforced concrete pipes, six feet [1,8 m] in diameter, to the number of about fifty.

White Metal Door and Window, Furniture, Locks, etc.: R. Reddle & Co.
Terrazzo Dados, Terrazzo Risers to Stairs and Strings: Salt River Cement Works.
Electrical Equipment: British General Electric Co., Ltd.
Glazed Wall and Floor Tiles, Tiles to Fireplace, Sills and Skirting supplied and fixed: Central Agencies and Import Co. (Pty.) Ltd.
Reinforcing Steel: Reinforcing Steel Co., Ltd.
Photos: Cumming-George.

[Cumming-George L, 1934. Architecture in South Africa - Volume Two. Cape Town: The Speciality Press of S.A. Ltd. p, 77-8.]

An article from the Supplement to Weekend Argus, February 22 1992
Sir Herbert Baker building restored
THE 60 year-old National Mutual of Australasia building in Church Square, which houses the administrative offices of the South African Cultural History Museum has been restored to its former glory.- This imposing five-storeyed building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker is constructed of granite facade with ornate brass entrance doors and teak window surrounds and shutters.
"The intent was to maintain the basic structure of the old building while using modern techniques and materials to ensure endurance," said Barry Rutgers, senior partner in the architectural firm Stauch Vorster.
The exhibition hall on the ground floor was previously a banking hall. The hall is being used for a furniture exhibition which is open to the public. The building also houses a workshop and studio for the restoration of armour, clothing, coins, stamps and archaeological findings.

A letter to the Cape Argus, December 12 2008
Grilled over heritage
I AM A REGULAR visitor to an office in a building abutting on Church Square in the city.
My customary look down at the square today made me wipe my eyes just to make sure I wasn't seeing things. There I saw the most monstrous defacement of a beautiful old building with national heritage status.
The street front of the old New Zealand and Australian Insurance building has been barricaded (against street sleepers I am told) with massive, ugly, galvanised, square steel grids, totally out of kilter with the comely arches of this building, which dates back to 1905.
The entire square consists of a concentration of historically valuable buildings.
The historical character has been demeaned by this intemperate embellishment - thank God the statue of Onze Jan Hofmeyer has its back to the building! To make matters worse, the building houses the administrative offices of the South African Museum, the heritage people themselves!
I understand permission has to be sought from the controlling authorities before alterations of any kind to a heritage building.
So who obtained permission from whom to bring about these aesthetically atrocious encumbrances?
Solly Ariefdien
Mouille Point

• Dr Mike Cluver, director of Iziko Museums' properties division, replies: The installation of permanent grilles at the Iziko National Mutual Building was a necessary response to security risks presented by vagrants gaining entry to the basement and front porch area at night and lighting fires that placed the building and the national heritage collections it houses in danger.
The unhealthy residue of human excreta in the area was also a cause of concern. Taking this into account, the Department of Public Works, the owners of the building, appointed an architect to design appropriate security railings. Plans were submitted to Heritage Western Cape for approval.
After rejecting a more ornate design, plans for the tubular grilles now in place were approved by Heritage Western Cape. The grilles will not be painted but will develop a dull patina over time.

(Cape Times Weekly, I August 1906; Arch Rev Oct 1911:218)

These notes were last edited on 2020 08 25

Writings about this entry

Cole, DI. 2002. The building stones of Cape Town : a geological walking tour. Cape Town: Council for Geoscience. pg 38-39
Cumming-George, L. 1934. Architecture in South Africa - Volume Two. Cape Town: The Speciality Press of S.A. Ltd.. pg 77-78
Greig, Doreen. 1970. Herbert Baker in South Africa. Cape Town: PURNELL. pg 75, 76 ill
Rennie, John for CPIA. 1978. The Buildings of Central Cape Town 1978. Volume Two : Catalogue. Cape Town: Cape Provincial Institute of Architects. pg 217-218
Shorten, John R. 1963. Cape Town : A record of the Mother City from the earliest days to the present. Cape Town: JR Shorten in association with Shorten and Smith Publications. pg 506 ill., 507