The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man
This Art Deco building on the corner of McDonald Road and Gale Street, Durban (just above Congella) was marked for demolition about two years ago. When I saw the sign go up stating the owner’s intentions, I cursed all the authorities that be for granting permission to do this. Sure, the building was in a run-down condition, having suffered years of neglect. The area (like much of lower Glenwood and Umbilo) had seen a progressive movement away from residential to light commercial, with the attendant degradation. However, she had been a lovely building once, and surely I wasn’t the only one who saw her grace and value. Surely, there was someone who could bestow some much-needed loving care and attention to the structure and restore her to her old appealing appearance, residential or commercial.
Sometime after this revelation of intent – I was amazed and thrilled to see the demolition sign come down and a renovation sign replace it. Silently, I blessed the owner and retracted my earlier denunciation. Like a basket holding fragile eggs, scaffolding was erected up and around the building, and on my occasional drives past Melrose, I cast progressively appreciative glances as the new windows were installed, as the new facade rose – and its cleverly plastered detail emerged. Finally the scaffolding and ladders were removed to reveal the cream and beige paintwork that contrasted beautifully with the lower course of fine red brick. Joy!
And who do we have to thank for saving Melrose and for restoring her – a gentleman called Louis Vryenhoek who deemed the old lady worthy of saving. And for this, we Durbanites should be grateful (for unlike so many other developers) Louis has not only added beauty to the skyline, but he has preserved something of Durban’s historical legacy. This is a clear message to other developers, that the modern world need not destroy the older.
Prior to the renovation, the roof of Marseilles tiles, sloped road-wards with clunky gutters and ugly downpipes to prevent rain deluging the sidewalk below. Mr. Vryenhoek got permission to reverse the slope of the roof. To do this required the raising of a facade of several metres (just short of a storey). As Louis told me in a telephone call I made him – ‘managing gutters and tiling on a sloping tile roof, on a four storey structure, was problem enough.’
The now plain expanse of the facade above the decorative lower levels created an aesthetic problem, which was pleasantly solved with the lower pillar-motifs sweeping upwards across the surface of the facade and then been crowned with step-down cornices. Thus, wedded – the structure is a united whole.
I think what the building lost in the demolition of its Mediterranean-style roof, it gained in an even stronger Art Deco presence.
Note the interesting letter ‘R’ in the name Melrose.