14 February 2008

Dentin' our heritage

On Tuesday night the exhibition on Historic Port Elizabeth opened at EPSAC. My favourite artist, Suzi-k, together with artist Velia Offerman and photographer Bob Binnell put together an execellent collection of oil paintings, water colours and photographs of historical Port Elizabeth.

The exhibition generated a lot of interest and I have seldom seen the gallery filled with so many people. Quite obviously the preservation of our historical heritage is close to the hearts of many Port Elizabethans. Click here to see more of Suzie-k's paintings.

Houses in Central

Historical Port Elizabeth refers to Central, which has a wealth of the old houses and buildings, but has unfortunately it has also seen the influx of unscrupulous landlords, criminals and anti-social elements. And this is where the story shifts gear, because this is not an art review, but rather a commentary on the fight between the preservation and degradation of our heritage.

Aftermath of the Great Storm of 1902

There were a lot of Central campaigners at the exhibition, but I want to single out two stalwarts.

At the forefront of the rejuvenation and preservation drive is Pierre Voges, the CEO of the Mandela Bay Development Agency which has been mandated to upgrade the Central area. Pierre is doing a great job of upgrading the inner city. The first major project was the upgrade of Govan Mbeki Avenue we took a walk down there recently and it is really a pleasure going into the od CBD again.

Then there was the “protector”. Jeremy Davis, the Democratic Alliance, City Councilor, who works tirelessly to protect the interests of Central. He has a no nonsense approach to dealing with any issue that negatively impacts the area and is loved by those who are passionate about Central and hated by those who are out to “destroy” it.

Amidst this august group, imagine our surprise when slum lord Ken Denton arrived – he is not at the forefront of the popularity stakes. When the Irish billionaire started buying up property in Central some years back, we saw this as a vote of confidence in the city and expected to see the area being upgraded. How wrong we were. The exact opposite has occurred – many of the buildings have fallen into a shocking state of disrepair, some have been burnt out and many bricked up to keep out vagrants. Despite his promises to repair the buildings I have seen no evidence of this – one can only speculate as to his motives.

A prime example is the row of historical houses on the Donkin Terrace. These houses have been declared national monuments and were lovingly restored by the late Dr Nick Woolf some years back.

Once one on the show pieces of Port Elizabeth, sadly this is what the Donkin Terrace has been reduced to.

A few close ups

Of course we were unaware of the drama playing out behind the scenes between Jeremy Davis and Ken Denton at the exhibition. Headlines in today’s Herald thanks to the efforts of Jeremy Davis.

If we had known that Denton was going to be there Suzi-k could have done a special painting of one of his buildings - just for him. Who knows, maybe he will catch some of the passion we have for Central after coming to the exhibition.
Hats off to those who fight so tirelessly for the preservation of Central - we take pride in our city and will not tolerate those intent on bringing it down.


Gemma said...

Hi...I came late to ABC Wednesday but found another interesting post here as well.
Enjoyed the "D" Derelict houses and imagine what life was like there.

MedaM said...

Suzie-k’s paintings are just great.