Johannesburg is a strange, weird place – really, as someone who is a born and bred Jo’burger I’m still grappling with it. The city is an anomaly – a sprawling, heaving, fragmented metropolis with edges defined by mustard-colored mine dumps, and the less tangible but never the less present divisions of former apartheid South Africa. Johannesburg is the only major city in the world not built on or near a significantly large body of water, it is literally high (5,751 ft) and dry (my skin can tell you all about that). Johannesburg was built on a reef, not the water and coral type, but a reef of Gold! Yes, we’re all about the bright and shiny. The city is also known as Egoli, which is Zulu for Place of Gold!
Throughout downtown Johannesburg, one can find remnants of this past in the built fabric of the city, from abandoned mining headgear, to contemporary art installations referencing Joburg’s history. Perhaps one of the most beautiful, and well guarded, of these historical structures is the Old Johannesburg Railway Station, originally called Park Halt. The station was designed by Dutch architect Jacob Klinkhamer (1854-1928) in 1895. The parts were manufactured in Rotterdam and then transported to Johannesburg, where it was erected in between 1896-1897. The station was the heart of the city, the point of entrance and exit of goods and supplies, with industry, warehouses and accommodation springing up all around it.
In 1952 the cast iron and steel structure was dismantled as part of the renewal of Park Station, and re-erected in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, as a training facility for railway workers. Thankfully, in 1995, the station was dismantled again and returned to its rightful place in Newtown with aspirations to include it in a transport museum. However, this never materialized. Today the structure of the station stands majestically on a plinth in the railway yards, quietly and assuredly testifying to Johannesburg’s industrial mining past. It has occasionally been used as a place for photo shoots, events and even yoga classes, but these occurrences are few and far between. It is beautiful, and strange in that it stands abandoned and unused, a magnificent structure whose only apparent purpose is remembrance; remembrance of what built this city, and of how far it’s come since then.
Architect: Jacob Klinkhamer
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa