Graham Leslie McCallum

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

A Durban Maharanee – Art Deco

Alpine is an exceedingly busy and ugly road, with traffic speeding up and down its double-barreled lanes. Hillside detritus spills onto the sidewalks and astonishingly, residents throw their waste down the banks. This traffic requires a driver to keep their eyes firmly glued to the road.

Much like a child – I have a wondering eye while driving around Durban, easily distracted by anything that catches my eye. These distractions range from a beautifully flowering tree, a pile of offensive litter, or a fine-looking building. Durban has much of all three and so I am a very distracted driver. “Keep your eyes on the road!” is a reprimand I often hear from my partner. And so it was this week while driving down Alpine Road towards Springfield Flats that my eyes were momentarily arrested by an Art Deco building, set back from the road. In a flash I was past the building, but now with my curiosity piqued, I made a treacherous turn lower down the tributary and then drove back up, side-glancing all the way, hoping to locate the site. Pressed by the heavy traffic, I missed the turning and now, more determined than ever, circled round once again, until I managed to turn-in to a horrid car wash and tuck shop business called ‘Magic Magic’.

I only had my mobile phone with me to capture her likeness, and alas! the skies were a leaden gray. Perhaps some time in the future I will make another stop, but with a better camera. These images will have to suffice.


The only thing magic on this tatty site and ratty neighbourhood is this charming buidling that had captured my eye. Like a haughty Maharanee on her raised dais, she floats regally above, in stark and marked contrast to the common and ugly structures around and about. There is of course an aspect of beauty, that is enhanced by being contrasted with ugliness.

The building is dated 1940 and must surely be among the very last Art Deco buildings to be erected in this city. Durban – like a far distant shoreline, where tide and wave on occasion deposits an exotic plant seed: then – having taken root, flourishes in greater beauty, abundance and duration than its original homeland.

Art Deco Building, Alpine Road, Durban

This residence is an art Deco structure as far as its front facade is concerned. The rest of the structure is a mere block of little interest, but oh! what an attractive face. Four fluted pilasters rise vertically up the facade and breach the top line. Between the two inner pilasters set at fifths are a well set-back balcony and similar verandah with stepped ‘oriental’ arches, and with large windows between the outer and inner pilasters. Set back from the facade is a stepped-down gable in three drops to allow for a sloping roof that sheds to the rear.

Ornament consists of 5 slightly projecting horizontal bars; two centrally placed slightly reset relief sunbursts set in rectangular cartouches; two chevron patterned motifs with lateral radiation; and gracing the top of the building – two decorative radiations that arise from the inner pilasters, thus cleverly pulling the top facade together. The reset gable also is ornamented with a circular radiated porthole, now crudely bricked-up, but no doubt a cooling air vent in years past.

She was built to be admired – but oh! what a sadness that the thoughtless present owners have built a grotesque commercial enterprise to her fore. Perhaps one far-off day, when aesthetics outweigh commercialism – someone will set her into a garden of tall royal palms and flowering frangipanis.


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This entry was posted on November 25, 2014 by in Art Deco, Design, Durban Architecture, Durban Environment and Issues, Durban History, Natal History and tagged , .
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