The characters, eccentricities and cosmopolitan atmosphere of Central are set against a backdrop of a rich heritage and wonderful examples of period architecture that have stood the test of time and to some extent escaped urban decay.
Port Elizabeth Central has stunning examples of early Regency, Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian villas, Art Deco blocks of flats and Art Nouveau buildings, lovingly preserved.
Pierre Voges, of the Mandela Bay Development Agency in on record as saying he envisaged redesigning the future, while keeping valuable heritage intact. This sounds like a “pie in the sky” notion, but with good forward planning and a team of experts on board this is possible, Voges believes.
“The uniqueness of a historic core has both emotional and economic potential,” he said.
He believes that we need to talk about heritage, not in the past but as part of the way forward – the uniqueness of the historic core of a town has a special role to play in, for instance, tourism potential, he says.
Professor Gavin McLachlan from the NMMU Architecture Department sees Central Port Elizabeth as a national cultural treasure, maybe even qualifying as a World Heritage Site. This includes Richmond Hill, old South End, and old North End, where there is a rich catalogue of architectural styles.
From an economic and social point of view these architectural spaces should be seen as a network of urban spaces in which different cultures can live, work and play. This fits in with the changes in city life, from the medieval walled city, to the early, industrialised cities with their networks of railways and roads, and business centre and suburbs on the perimeter.
“Central today consists of layers, old and new, workplace and recreational space, focusing on a new creative economy full of vibrant talented young people,” he said. He, too, has referred to the emotional value of the city centre, which forms an essential part of the image of a city.
If you are an architectural junkie, you will be gob smacked by the area, rich in history.
Begin with a walk around the Market Square, the centrepiece of which is the City Hall, which dates from 1858. In the square also stands a replica of the Diaz Cross, commemorating Bartholomew Diaz, who in 1488 was the first European to sail into Algoa Bay.
Follow the art Route 67, pause at the Port Elizabeth library, a gorgeous example of Victorian Gothic architecture, on the corner of Market Square; then climb up to the Donkin Reserve to admire the open-air artwork and the Donkin Street houses which are being refurbished. Number 7 Castle Hill, which claims to be one of the oldest surviving Settler cottages in the city, and Pembridge house in Bird Street all form part of the historical amble.
Plot your journey to include the Campanile, Albert Jackson School, the King Edward Hotel and the restored Athenaeum.
Don’t attempt the Campanile unless you’re feeling particularly sprightly, as the spiral staircase entails 204 steps – well worth conquering if only for the views over Algoa Bay.
There are numerous buildings and monuments of interest which include the King George VI art gallery, St George’s Park, the Conservatory, churches and the Opera House.
And don’t forget the numerous and elegant Victorian townhouses to be found in streets flanking Fort Frederick and in Richmond Hill.
There are numbers of places to stop for refreshments throughout The Hill and Richmond Hill areas.
Reprinted by kind permission of The Herald.