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Thursday May 22, 2014

Heritage property under threat in Yeoville

A heritage building in Yeoville, Johannesburg, designed by architect Harold Le Roith, is under threat as its owner is illegally adding a storey without consent from the City of Joburg.

Radoma Court in Yeoville, a 1930s heritage building.

The 1930s building in Cavendish Street is described in Clive Chipkin's book Johannesburg Style as 'a stunning building' and 'when it was opened in 1938, was the most remarkable modern building' that they had ever seen.

Now the owner, Mark Steele, is ignoring stop-orders issued by the city and the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority Gauteng.

The Yeoville/Bellevue community and heritage experts are infuriated at the city's inability to take action against illegal building in Yeoville and other parts of the city.

Maurice Smithers of the Yeoville Bellevue Residents' Association said the council had no plans in place to stop illegal building operations.

'They are blatantly ignoring these - it is happening all over this area. It should be simple - they should station a JMPD car outside the building to ensure building operations do not continue.'

Tsepo Matubatuba, a resident who also serves on the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, said the building activity on top of Radoma Court was a 'flagrant act of disregard for the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority, Gauteng, the City of Joburg and the Yeoville community'.

'But this is not new. It happens all the time, so something drastic has to be done to put a stop to such behaviour. We need to send a strong signal that it will not be tolerated. It is the city that has to take the lead,' he said.

Herbert Prins, acting chairman of the Egoli Heritage Foundation, reiterated that Radoma Court was an iconic building designed by a celebrated architect, and it would be tragic if the building were to be altered in a manner that detracted from its significance as one of the most important buildings of the 1930s. Flo Bird of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust also questioned why building inspectors were not present.

'Does the JMPD exist only to fine motorists? One of Joburg's great Modern Movement buildings is being destroyed by a landlord who takes the money and never bothers to maintain his property. Radoma Court is widely known to be one of the city's architectural treasures. Where is the building inspector?

'Why isn't he backed up by a posse of metro cops? The owner should be jailed for such desecration and the building confiscated. Yeoville-Bellevue seems to be free for all to break every planning regulation and building law in the book, yet the area is rich in wonderful buildings designed by fine architects. We have to stop these vandals from destroying our architectural heritage and creating slums in the sky,' she said.

Steele said he was not altering any heritage aspects of the building.

'The work was urgent as the roof was collapsing because of its age and water was pouring into the flats below. All I am doing is converting the old servants' quarters into flats.

'I had the option of spending R150 000 just on waterproofing or R450 000 to fix the roof and build more units, which are needed in the area. I took a commercial decision. I have submitted plans and am waiting for their approval. I respect heritage and have many buildings which I own where I maintain all the heritage aspect,' he said.

Steele said the concern from the Yeoville community amused him.

'There is a building right across the road from Radoma Court which has been hijacked and is used as a shebeen and recycling centre. I have called the police and the council out on many occasions and nothing gets done. Now they attack me when I am improving a building in the area. I have renovated many old, dilapidated buildings in Yeoville and offer decent, affordable accommodation to get people away from slumlords,' he said.

City of Joburg spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane said an inspection had been done on site and notices issued to cease all work and submit plans to the council.

'The inspector will revisit and if work is still in progress, another stop order will be issued so that an urgent application for legal action can be undertaken,' he said.

The Star


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