Annamaria and I are huddled together in Minneapolis at the moment, editing the sixteen short stories that will make up our anthology titled Sunshine Noir. After all, the shadows are darkest where the sun is the brightest. My blog today is about a hot area with a mysterious (at least to me) past.
I think it was Pliny the Elder who once wrote: Ex Africa semper aliquid novi – there is always something new out of Africa. The other day I read an article about a small town about thirty miles from where I was born and raised in Johannesburg. It’s called Springs and is one of the many towns that sprang up along a long range of hills that became known as the Witwatersrand – ridge of white waters – so-named, apparently, because the sun reflected off the water on the rocks.
Originally Springs was a small farming community. Then in 1883 or thereabouts, coal was discovered. The town grew quickly, supplying coal to the gold mines of Johannesburg. In the early 1900s, gold was also discovered and the town continued to grow, soon becoming the sixth larget town in the county. Today, Springs is still a gold town, but has also become an industrial centre.
Those of us who grew up in Johannesburg thought of Springs as a dorp—a small, dull, non-entity sort of place—and would have had to search deeply for a reason to go there.
It just goes to show how blind one can be.
The article I read about Springs highlighted the fact that outside Miami, Springs has one of the largest collections of Art Deco buildings in the world. Springs? Who would have thought it?
The term Art Deco had its origins with the international exhibition “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes” held in Paris, France 1925. Shortened to Arts Deco, later to become known as Art Deco, the style developed principally from exotic African and Eastern art forms, so it shouldn't be surprise that some of its influence landed up in Africa.
Built in the 1930s, these buildings established Springs as one of the architectural centres of South Africa. I can’t understand how I didn’t know about this when I was growing up.
Today the town is laying plans to make these buildings into a major tourist attraction. Some of the them are still in good condition, but others have fallen into varying states of disrepair.
Here they are. The photographer of the black and white pictures is Philip Schedler of Johannesburg. I found the photos on his website. The others were taken by the Arts, Culture and Heritage team from the Ekurhuleni Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture.
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