Parkview, Johannesburg is a component of the larger Rosebank community and is located right next to Rosebank’s shopping centre and business district. Zoo Lake is a favourite strolling location for Jo-burgers and borders Parkview. It takes about an hour to wander around the lake, which you can combine with ‘Artists in the Sun’, an art fair, and tea at the well-liked restaurant at Zoo Lake, which takes place on the first Saturday of every month. One of the few places in Johannesburg where South Africans can still saunter, ride, and jog along its tree-lined roads is the timeless old suburb of Parkview.
Parkview is surrounded by the former forest plantations of Saxonwold and Forest Town. You can see why Parkview is such a breathtakingly beautiful neighbourhood when you consider that over a million blue and red gum, oak, pine, and wattle trees were planted around Zoo Lake and the Zoo. This initial plantation is where the lovely old plane trees that flank Dundalk Avenue originated.
Many of the historic homes in Parkview, Johannesburg have undergone extensive renovations, adding additional modern living space while successfully preserving their original charm. The picturesque Parkview village, which is located on the high street of the suburb and has delightful shops, delis, restaurants, and a village library, only adds to the attractiveness of the more than 100-years-old neighbourhood.
History Of Parkview, Johannesburg
Members of the Johannesburg Historical Foundation visited Parkview’s “village” in November 1987. I purposefully use the word “village” because this has always been a welcoming neighbourhood where I lived as a child and never visit without feeling a sense of nostalgia. After all, don’t street names like Kilkenny, Kerry, Roscommon, Westmeath, Kildare, and Wicklow conjure images of a place that is lush and fresh like Irish mist, green as shamrocks, and where the sun warmly shines on your face?
Not all the names are Irish, however – inevitably, as one approaches the golf course, the Scottish influence becomes evident – Kinross, Selkirk, Crieff. The name of the suburb itself came about simply because it had a view of Herman Eckstein park, better known as the Zoo, which had been given to the people of Johannesburg in 1903 by the Wernher, Beit Company in memory of Hermann Eckstein had died ten years previously.
All of the areas had originally been part of the Geldenhuys farm, Braamfontein. Zoo Lake had been the main farm dam, the water coming from the Parktown Spruit, which arose in the Sachsenwald. The hippo pool in the Zoo is at a particularly strong eye of the Spruit.
When it was realised that there was no payable gold in the area, the Braamfontein Company, to which it belonged, decided to develop it residentially. The suburb afterwards passed into the hands of the Transvaal Consolidated Land and Exploration Company Limited which developed it in 1907.
In 1906 the suburb was laid out by Charles Presswell Tompkins in the traditional gridiron pattern in accordance with the old Transvaal Republic Gold Law which laid down that claim holder were entitled to residential erfs not less than 50 Cape feet by 50 Cape feet in extent, and that access to the Reef was by roads running at right angles to the strike of the Reef, i.e. north-south and east-west. This rigid pattern applied to virtually the whole of Johannesburg and totally disregarded such necessities as reasonable access or realistic stormwater drainage. Areas were left for churches and schools. St Columba’s Presbyterian Church paid £25 for its ground, an amount which was refunded by Thomas Reekie not long ago!
The actual damming of Zoo Lake was sanctioned by the Johannesburg Town Council in the same year, 1906, at a cost of £106.1s.4d plus £30 for supervision. It was enlarged as a relief work project during the depression of the next few years and boating rights were granted in 1910. The Zoo itself was originally called ‘The Menagerie’ and most of the animals came from Sir Percy FitzPatrick’s private collection. A particular favourite was a lion called ‘Mac’, whose foot had been caught in a trap and who had a most extraordinary relationship with a dog. Fillis’ Circus would pay an occasional visit to the intense excitement of the neighbourhood.
In 1907 Major John W O’Hara, a most colourful character came to live in Parkview, Johannesburg and the connection with the Emerald Isle is due to him. He built a magnificent house which still stands, at the corner of Kilkenny and Wexford Avenue. The house was built of rock from the nearby quarry on Westcliff hill where marks of blasting can still be seen. At home, it is said, he was an autocratic and irascible old Irishman who ruled his household with a rod of iron. He had a great fluted electric light switch installed which controlled the lighting in the whole house so that if his children came home late they would have to stumble inside in total darkness. The governess, Miss Northcroft, who taught the children the violin, would catch the tram to the Zoo and walk along the dusty roads, while the Major, I am told, would ride right past her and never offer her a lift.
He became mayor of Johannesburg in 1916 and was one of the best and most civic-minded mayors in the City’s history. His memory has recently been honoured at the University of the Witwatersrand by the laying of an attractive brick walkway on the East Campus named “The Major O’Hara Mall”
A plaque was unveiled in the presence of his descendants indicating the pioneering work he had done towards the founding of the University. In 1916 the Union Parliament conferred university status on Cape Town and Stellenbosch. When it was realised that Johannesburg had been excluded, apparently deliberately, from the legislation to extend university education, two protest meetings were held, the second of which was the biggest meeting held up to that time in Johannesburg. In the chair was Major O’Hara, a staunch friend of the university movement. As a result, a concept of a university was formulated not just for Johannesburg but for the whole of Witwatersrand which became a reality when the University of the Witwatersrand was constituted in 1922.
Major O’Hara’s house accommodated nine people. There is a drawing room and a very large dining room which has a delightful bay window. The house has six fireplaces with elaborate wooden surrounds. In the dining and drawing rooms are four roof lights in the old wild rhubarb design plus central chandeliers. There are bell pulls in all the major rooms. A fascinating feature is a turret room which is used as a sewing room. A spiral staircase to it was planned but proved to be too expensive. The steep and difficult steps to the turret which were installed instead conjure up visions of Rumpelstiltskin spinning away locked in his battlemented turret room!
The old kitchen, which the present, most caring owner is preserving as far as possible, had a coal range and a slow-combustion stove. There are remains of three water tanks and a well. A battlemented facade tops the former carriage houses and stables. Throughout the house are wonderful high-pressed steel ceilings. I imagine the little O’Haras lying in bed counting the vertical squares, multiplying by the horizontal and dividing by the diagonal, thereby no doubt improving their mental arithmetic!
The house was later owned by Mrs Elzbietta Foxcroft, a White Russian refugee from the Bolshevik Revolution who had walked across Europe to Paris with her mother. She held the Chair of Russian language at Unisa and told wonderful stories to the neighbourhood children.
Also in Kilkenny Road is the house designed by Monsberg for Mrs W H Auret Pritchard whose husband had surveyed as stands the claims previously pegged off on Randjeslaagte for gold mining. J Sterner was the architect for several typical Edwardian villas completely surrounded by verandahs built in 1907 for directors of the Transvaal Consolidated Land and Exploration Company at a cost of £1 300 each.
Many interesting [famous and infamous] people have lived in Parkview, Johannesburg. Dr H F Verwoerd was there for a time before joining Dr D F Malan’s Cabinet as Minister of Native Affairs. Des Lindberg, the entertainer grew up in Galway Road, as did Rayne Kruger, the author of “Goodbye Dolly Gray”. Carole Charlewood, the TV personality lived in the suburb.