I have always thought of Maboneng as a place: a trendy place, along Fox Street on the east side of the Joburg CBD, where I go for breakfast at Market on Main on Sunday mornings or to eat Ethiopian food on Saturday afternoons. I go to Maboneng for art exhibitions, for urban photowalks, and to entertain my aunt from New York when she passes through Joburg on her way to the Kruger.
But I recently went to the opening of Hallmark House, a 15-storey building on Siemert Road that Maboneng is redeveloping. And now I realise that Maboneng is not just a place. It's a thing.
Propertuity, the company that created Maboneng, is buying buildings all over the city - branching out slowly from its little enclave along Fox Street - and earmarking those buildings for development. Hallmark House, formerly called Hallmark Towers, is the grandest Maboneng undertaking to date. Propertuity is transforming the tower into a luxurious residential building/retail centre/arts and entertainment space/boutique hotel.
Did I mention that Hallmark House, which is being designed by a world-famous African architect and is set to become one of the most luxurious buildings in town, is smack bang in the middle of town? Right beside the Joe Slovo Drive off-ramp, around the corner from some uber-dodgey abandoned buildings. If you've ever gotten lost in this area and feared for your survival (which I have, several times), then you'll understand why the location is significant.
I arrived for the launch of Hallmark House on a Friday afternoon and travelled up to the 13th floor using a confusing set of lifts. A thunderstorm had just passed through; traffic was terrible but the clouds were bunched perfectly along the horizon, waiting to inflame the sky at sunset.
The walls of Hallmark House, built originally as a diamond-polishing centre in the early 1970s, are nearly floor-to-ceiling with windows. The 13th floor is currently empty save for one show apartment in the northwest corner. I trotted the length and breadth of the floor like a puppy at the dog park, nearly 360 degrees around, forcing open every window I could and feverishly shooting pictures of the mind-boggling views.
The show apartment was open and David Adjaye, the building's award-winning Ghanaian architect with offices all over the world, was on hand to answer questions. The apartment was beautiful and David seemed like a great guy, but I couldn't spare time to speak to him. I rushed from one end of the 13th floor to the other, trying to capture as many of the infinite beautiful skyline shots as possible before the sun went down. The view. I couldn't stop snapping the view.
I went back to Hallmark House three days later to take a proper look at the show apartment and to visit the roof, which is will house a Grand Café (the first in Joburg), a Bioscope Cinema, and an open-air gym.
I looked down on Metro trains cruising past the six-storey graffiti mural depicting African animals to the northeast, and the nine-story mural of Nelson Mandela shadowboxing to the southeast. I zoomed in on the sea of satellite dishes and laundry lines atop a building to the west. I gazed at the wall of high-rises in Hillbrow to the north.
I schemed about how I could scrape together a few hundred thousand rand to buy one of these apartments.
Joburg's inner-city enthusiasts tend to have strong feelings about this place/thing called Maboneng. Some hail it as a vibrant urban mecca for local entrepreneurs and creatives. Others bemoan it as an exclusionary, overly gentrified inner-city haven for the rich. I have my own opinions but I'll leave those for another article.
I will say, though, that Maboneng is accelerating the pace of change in an already fast-changing metropolis. Hallmark House is on the way to becoming one of Maboneng's biggest change-catalysts and I can't wait to see what happens next.
Where? 54 Siemert Road, Johannesburg
Tel: 083 471 8082
by Heather Mason