AFTER years of neglect, a number of Victorian terraced houses in Donkin Street are getting a much needed facelift through a project which aims to see them become the creative hub of Port Elizabeth.
It is envisaged that the 17 houses will soon be teeming with energy when they are reborn in the form of the Donkin Village Creative Quarter – a hub which will be home to photographers, architects and artists.
The terrace contains 18 homes in total but one has been retained by its owner and will not form part of the project.
The area has a long and rich history in the city, with the land first being divided in erf in 1854. Slowly houses were built, with the last one completed in the early 1880s. In 1967 they were proclaimed as national monuments.
Over the years, the houses deteriorated and anti-social activities, like drug dealing and prostitution, became rife in the area.
Perhaps the most controversial issue was the sale of 17 of the houses to property owner Ken Denton in 1999.
The iconic row of houses continued to deteriorate until two and half years ago when Denton invested hundreds of thousands of rand in their refurbishment.
The houses, still owned by Denton, should now be restored to their former glory by the end of the year.
Project coordinator Tony James said: “We are about 50% complete with the project and, should we work at full capacity for the rest of the year, it will be completed before Christmas. With help from my partner Allan Henderson we tried to keep each house as close to the original as possible, simply adding a few modern touches such as down lighting.
“Each unit is unique in terms of size and design so we found a common happy medium and went with it.
“We tried to keep the authenticity of each unit alive.
“The creative quarter is something which can be found in most major cities. “We are looking to retain the areas historic value with some modern flare,” James said.
Of the 17 houses, four have already been leased out to modern design and creative companies Work at Play Photography and Design, Ampersand, Perfect Circle and DHK Architects.
Ampersand publishes The Soapbox, a magazine aimed at exposing the Bay’s creative enterprises.
The Soapbox creative director Reino Erasmus said: “As a creative, I believe your immediate environment has a great influence over your work and thought process. But most importantly, your view on this world.
“By immersing yourself in such a historically significant and culturally vibrant part of town, you cannot help but to feel motivated to inspire others.”
The Soapbox operations director Greig Timkoe, agreed: “Central and Govan Mbeki is the cultural coal face where Europe, Africa and Asia meet.
“I find the comparisons and similarities creatively stimulating, and it’s one of the chief reasons I choose to work here.”
Work at Play owner Karl Schoemaker said: “We love the creative design concept. Being surrounded by other creative minds allows for a great work environment.
“It is [stimulating] for our type of industry, as opposed to our previous place where we were in a warehouse in Newton Park.”