Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man


art deco 012

“Only in Durban!” is an expression that is often on my lips. This is not always an expression of exasperation, but sometimes an expression of bewilderment. The first time I saw this building in Umbilo, Durban, I am almost certain this is what I exclaimed. For only in Durban can one expect a funeral parlour to look like an ice-cream parlour. If I was carted off into the next world – I would like to be hearsed-away from this cheery-looking building. The business is called ‘A4 Funeral Parlour’. Evidently A1, A2 and A3 is already taken. On the side of the buidling the following sign is emblazoned… “We Care and Comfort, We Bury with Dignity and Respect”. This is my kind of parlour.

Was it the pink paint-job, or the monumental architecture that caught my eye as I flashed down Umbilo Road in my van? Probably the combination – for I slammed down on the breaks and whipped-out my camera. Is it just my imagination – but does the facade look a little like a headstone, or the pediment like an ornate coffin?

I am having you on – I think this building is a gem. It is certain that the store owner who erected this small commercial building, commissioned an architect familiar with the Art Deco of the 1920’s and 1930’s and given them a free-hand. Durban’s Art Deco Society fanfares the large and well-known buildings, and I am certain this building is off their itinerary. We shall remedy this omission with this post.

Who said a small building shall be timid? The boldly projecting architraves wrap smartly around the chamfered corners of the facade, casting deep shadows into the resets, giving the entire facade a sculptural effect. The two supporting pillars are pleasantly fashioned to mirror the working of the top facade.  The original owners of the building, the well-known Makan family of Durban, are memorialised in having the name ‘MAKAN BROS’ set in a typical Art Deco decorative cartouche. The Makan’s obviously cared for the well-being of their customers, for this expensive projection over the pavement protects from the hot Durban summer sunshine and the drenching drizzle of a grey spring. So pleased that they extended themselves – for it adds joy to an otherwise horrid street. 

Graham Leslie McCallum

art deco 013  



  1. Penny
    July 31, 2015

    What a colour! I suppose death isn’t picky about it though.

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This entry was posted on August 14, 2014 by in Art Deco, Design, Durban Architecture, Durban Environment and Issues, Durban History and tagged , .
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