194#. Read the New York Times on Braamfontein. The paper of record has called it. Braamfontein is Joburg’s version of New York’s Soho. It has urban edge, lots of design and artistic talent, and a property developer with a real eye for the city’s future. Personally I have always been fond of that neighbourhood, from student days in the early 1990s when I would spend most of my cash (and there wasn’t much of it) at the bookshop on the corner where the Braamfontein Centre now stands (looking back it was literature of the revolution – lots of Fanon, Cabral, Biko. Okay admittedly those were books that real revolutionaries would steal so this is a revealing moment) to cheap and tasty lunches at the Health Scene and a great little Italian joint whose name I don’t recall but whose veal limone I do.
Carless then, I would walk to Yeoville after classes, by myself, meandering through Braamfontein and into Hillbrow’s Pretoria street, stopping along the way at anything that caught my eye and lots always did, then crossing over into Yeoville which was then home.
Bramfontein has had its ups and downs since – but now its mostly up. Even before the first bubble of luxurious inner city property burst with lots of hype but nobody taking up residence it was clear that if any city area was going to work as a residential and work and play space it would be Braamfontein with its easy access to the rest of the city – north and south, its coffee shops, clubs, supermarkets and other basics that you need to ensure you can live a real life (as opposed to needing a chauffeur-driven bulletproof car to get you from your front door to that litre of milk you so desperately need).
As David Kaufman puts it in the NYT:
“BACK in the 1950s, Braamfontein, a suburb perched just north of Johannesburg’s Central Business District, was celebrated for three key cultural institutions — the Civic Theater, the Alexander Theater and the University of the Witwatersrand — which helped keep the quarter artsy, intellectual and mildly integrated even during the era of apartheid. Today, that troika still forms the backbone of Braamfontein’s cultural allure, though its street scene is far more vibrant thanks to a new generation of design shops, restaurants, galleries and residential developments.” You can read the full piece here.
My Braamfontein favourites include property developer Adam Levy’s glass apartment block that looks over the Nelson Mandela Bridge (he is the man largely responsible for freshening up the area) Co-op, a cool gallery and urban design space on 68 Juta Street, clothing designer Lisa Jaffe’s Guillotine label – her studio is in De Beer Street, the much-awarded Willowlamp lighting studio (by appointment only) also on
De Beer next to the City Bakery, Juta Street’s metal trees, the restaurant Narina Trogon, the gorgeous SA Ballet Theatre building on Loveday Street, and of course artist Clive Van den Berg’s concrete eland, one of the city’s first contemporary art acquisitions, which sits opposite the steps to Wits Campus on Jan Smuts Avenue. Definitely more than enough reasons to get off that couch.