History of Parkhurst
Since 2003 Tim Truluck has been researching and writing the history of Parkhurst. If you have any old photos, stories or other information on Parkhurst, please contact Tim on firstname.lastname@example.org. The history will be added as and when Tim has time. Please be patient and please return from time to time.
The story of Parkhurst begins with Mr Isidore William Schlesinger, the New York insurance salesman who became one of the most influencial businessman in Johannesburg in the early half of the 20th century. He came to South Africa in 1894 when he was 23 and worked as a commercial traveller selling American goods, before becoming an insurance salesman. He made between ₤10,000 and ₤15,000 a year and travelled throughout Southern Africa. He returned to the USA and travelled to Ireland during the Anglo-Boer War and returned to Johannesburg after the war was over.
He almost immediately founded 2 companies which were to loom large in Parkhurst’s history: African Realty Trust (ART) and African Life Assurance Society. It was the ART that started buying up small parcels of farmland in Johannesburg and developing them into residential suburbs or townships (as they were called then). Parkhurst was one of these parcels, being the most northerly portion of the Braamfontein farm.
Braamfontein was a large farm – most of the more illustrious suburbs that lie south of Parkhurst (ie Parktown, Emmarentia, Westcliff, Saxonwald, Greenside, etc) were all part of the farm. However, the little portion 36 that was to become Parkhurst was the most remote part of the farm. It measured 189 morgen and 273 square roodts or 162.3 hectares. It was located on the slope of one of Johannesburg’s deceptively steep hills. It’s western, southern and northern boundaries follow the courses of 2 small spruits (streams). It was an unvaried terrain of grassy veld, deep erosion ditches (dongas) and green pastures near the streambeds. There was no old farmhouse. Parkhurst fell into a no man;s land between the the lesser track to Rustenburg (now Barry Hertzog Dr/Rustenburg Rd) and one of the main routes to Pretoria (now Jan Smuts Dr).
On 11 September 1903 the ART purchased the farm from the Afrikaner farmer Petrus Johannes Barnard for ₤36,019, 11 shillings and 4 pence. This was quite a lot of money in those days. Without wasting any time, the ART under Schlesinger’s guidance started developing the land into small 1/8 of an acre (+-500 m2) stands and launched an audacious naming competition to publicize the new suburb.
His Father’s Son
(source: Time 02 Aug 1963)
When US-born Isidore William Schlesinger arrived in Cape Town in 1896 [Note – his officail biography says he arrived here in 1894] , South Africa was in the throes of the gold rush. A salesman from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I. W. preferred to seek his fortune above the ground. Soon the diminutive (5 ft. 2 in.) drummer was coursing the veld in horse and buggy, selling life insurance to gold miners and Swazi chiefs for the U.S.’s Equitable Life Assurance—and earning a record $30,000 a year in commissions. He set up his own insurance company, then turned to real estate.
As Johannesburg grew from a brawling mining camp to a vital metropolis, I. W.’s enterprises grew with it. I. W. put up $560 million worth of real estate subdivisions, introduced the chain store, cafeteria and American-style drugstore to South Africa. He gradually bought up most of South Africa’s “tearoom bioscopes” (combination cafe-movie theaters), then added a catering service to supply them. Catering led him into the hotel and restaurant business. When he died in 1949, he was involved in nearly every sector of the economy and had built his $84 million real estate and cinema-chain empire on thrift, hustle and an eye for the shape of things to come.
Yankee Doodle on the Rand
(source: Time 27 Jul 1953)
South Africa had seldom seen a hustler like Isadore William Schlesinger, who was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and arrived penniless in Cape Town in 1896 to take part in the gold rush. Schlesinger never got to the goldfields. Instead he took a salesman’s job, switched to life insurance as an agent for the U.S.’s Equitable Life Assurance, was soon earning $30,000 a year in commissions.
While others went looking for gold and diamonds, Schlesinger started his own insurance company, began making himself one of South Africa’s biggest landlords. He started by promoting real estate subdivisions in the path of Johannesburg’s growth, eventually put up $560 million worth of buildings and gave South African cities an American look.
North of Johannesburg he bought 16,000 acres of barren bush, dammed two rivers, built 200 miles of concrete flumes, and planted half a million orange trees. He bought confiscated German lands in Tanganyika after World War I, and became one of Africa’s biggest sheep ranchers. When the flickering “bioscopes” caught on, he built a chain of theaters across South Africa and produced his own films. In remote regions, Schlesinger traveling vans still carry Wild West and Charlie Chaplin films to native villages and compounds. He introduced the chain store, the cafeteria, and the American-style drugstore. Through all this he never gave up American citizenship, had his stationery emblazoned: “I. W. Schlesinger, American Citizen.”
Parkhurst Is Sold
Once the decision had been made to buy the land that was to become Parkhurst, IW Schlesinger and the African Realty Trust (ART), wasted no time in transforming the land into a suburb or, as it was called in those days, a township. The farm was surveyed and subdivided into 2147 stands (plots) by Euan Curry in August 1903, officially purchased by the ART on 11 September 1903, and officially registered as a Johannesburg township in February 1904.
The ART started charging £100 a stand and offered purchasers the chance of paying it off at £10, 10 shillings a year for 9 years without any interest. It had cost them £46,019 if you include the £10,000 in transfer duties, legal fees and surveyors costs. That means that it had cost them just over £21 per stand. So on 2147 stands @ £100 each, the ART was hoping to make a total £214,700 or £168,681 gross profit which would show them a return of 476% on their money.
How Parkhurst Was Named
The 2nd Anglo Boer War between 1899 and 1902 effectively halted any urban development in Johannesburg. When the war ended in May 1902, the old Boer method of ad hoc administration in Johannesburg was replaced by the British model where a city council was set up, bylaws and regulations drawn up and the city boundaries increased. In order to take advantage of the new order, the developers quickly started setting up new suburbs.The first after the war was Norwood on 15 July 2002 and by the end of the year a total of 8 new suburbs had been created; in 1903 another 13 were formed and in 1904 a further 12 new suburbs were founded. In the first 2 1/2 years after the war, Johannesburg had never before or since seen such an proliferation of new suburbs.
Parkhurst was the 67th suburb in Johannesburg and the 22nd after the war to be formed, being laid out in September 1903 and officially registered as a suburb in February 1904. This was right in the middle of the property boom and something was needed to make it stand out from the other suburbs and entice buyers.
The usual method was to issue notices complete with flowery language extolling the virtues of the the new suburb and notifying potential buyers about the forthcoming public auction of stands in the new suburb.
Parkhurst was IW Schlesinger’s 1st property development project and he brought all his New York chutzpah to bear by announcing a competition to name the new suburb.
The 1901 map (on the right) shows the old municipal area in red in the middle and the new boundaries that followed the 6 mile (about 10km) boundary around the CBD. Note that Parkhurst was located along the northern end of the new proposed boundary. To the north of this new boundary is the farm Klipfontein 479 which was officially registered as being in the Pretoria District.
The terms of the competition were published in the local newspapers. Anna Smith in “Johannesburg Street Names” uses the 21 August 1903 edition of the Transvaal Critic as her source. Among all the hupla of the announcement of the competition, there some interesting facts pertaining to the new suburb. Remember that the African Realty Trust (ART) did not yet own the land.
- The new suburb was initially given the temporary name “New Parktown” until the competition had determined its new name.
- “The proposed New Township is situated within less than 5 miles [about 6.5 km] of the Market Square, in the direct line of growth and development of Johannesburg’s most aristocratic suburbs.”
- “It is within a short drive of Parktown, outside of and and adjoining the beautiful ‘Herman Eksteen Park.’ (Sachsen Wald) a recent princely gift to the City for a Public Park and Zoo.”
- “We may add that the proposed New Suburb is in the immediate proximity of Rosebank and the adjoining Parktown North.”
- “Beyond it are the suburbs of Melrose, Dunkeld, Illovo, Hyde Park, Inanda, Parkmore, Craighall, Sandhurst and others too numerous to mention.”
- “To well informed people in the vicity of Johannesburg, the New Suburb needs no introduction. Its unique reputation of beauty and healthfulness is sverywhere recognised.”
- “Situated on the slope of the northern portion of the Farm Braamfontein, over-looking both the Herman Eksteen Park [now the Zoo], Fuchs Park [now Pirates Club], Geldenhuys Estate [now Greenside and Emmarentia] and Parktown, it enjoys a climate essentially different from and superior to that of any other suburb.”
- “The soil itself is rich and fertile. Farms supplying Johannesburg markets have occupied its area from the days of the early settlers to the present time.”
- “In point of accessibility the “New Suburb” will offer every advantage to those whose business requires residence near the budiness centre [downtown Johannesburg/CBD].”
- “Situated as it is, within the Municipal Boundary, quick communication will be afforded by the proposed Municipal Electric Tramways.”
Summary of the Competition
The competition was launched on 21 August 1903 and ran for 26 days until 15 September. 11,823 entries were received from all over South Africa and the neighbouring colonies. The judges then took a month to consider the entries before decalring the new name on 15 October 1903.
The best summary of the competition is in the Star on 15 October 1903:
“It will be remembered that some time little ago the African Realty Trust, having the new suburb, which had hitherto been known as the New Parktown, adjoining Herman Eckstein Park, to dispose of, hit upon the novel idea of offering a considerable sum of money in prizes to the person or persons who suggested the most suitable and appropriate name for the township.
The total amount offered was £300 divided as follows: £100 to be given to the winner or winners; another £100 for the winner or winners, who, whilest the competition lasted, visited the suburb; and the third £100 to the winner or winners who had purchased stands in the township.
As the prizes were tempting, the competition attracted considerable attention, and the judges appointed to select the winners, Messrs. J.W. Quinn, A Rogaly and D.Holt, had to deal with no fewer than 15,000 coupons [note that this is a mistake – they probably meant to say 12,000 as the official reportback stated 11,823 entries] in the performance of the duty that they had undertaken. After much study and careful consideration, they selected from the very numerous suggestions ‘Parkhurst’ as the name for the new suburb, on the ground that it seemed to them the most appropriate, because of its “euphony, comparative brevity, and general fitness to the locality.”
49 people suggested “Parkhurst” and they equally divide the first £100 getting £2.0s.10d. Six of them possessed visitors’ coupons, and get an additional £16.13s.4d. Only one of the successful competitors qualified for the third £100, viz., Mr. A.E. Adams, or Beresford Building, who gets £118.14s.2d. The five competitors in addition to Mr. Adams who possessed visitors’ coupons were: Mrs. Ralph Davis, Johannesburg; Mr. A. Ogden, Doornfontein; Mr. Wm. Witton, Potchefstroom; Mr. D. Bostwick, Braamfontein, and Mr. Gilbert Wood, Germiston.
Amongst such a legion of suggestions as were sent in, there were, of course many other appropriate, and even beautiful names; and there were also many which were unpronounceable, and even ridiculous. Public men came in for a lot of attention, Lord Milner’s name, in a variety of forms, being suggested by something like 200 competitors; while others rung the changes on the names of the judges, Quinntown, Rogalyburg and Holtville being amoungsr the attempts to appeal to the sympathy of the judges. On the whole the jusdges are to be congratulated on having selected perhaps the best name for the suburb, and one which should not give much trouble at the G.P.O. [General Post Office].