Once used as the city’s main communications hub before the advent of telecommunications, Port Elizabeth’s old post office and its tower are slowly being restored to their former glory – at a cost of millions of rands.
Months after renovation work first started on the iconic sandstone tower, the once crumbling structure has now been restored.
The tower has a new roof with intricately replaced sandstone slabs, and the work on it was the first step to revamping the buildings in the precinct, property mogul Ken Denton said.
“We’ve started from the top and moved down,” he said, explaining that the main objective was to ensure the insulation and all roofs and downpipes were completed before work on the interior of the buildings started.
“We need to make sure the structures are watertight,” he said.
Working incrementally on the renovations, work had been done on the old court house and police station some time ago, he said.
“These are really special buildings with not many to compare with. [This] justifies going out of our way [to ensure] it is high-quality repair work and renovations,” he said. Denton could not give a clear indication as to the amount already spent on the renovations, but indicated it was in the millions.
“It’s a long, ongoing process, with work being done in sections,” he said.
Built over 120 years ago by the same architect who designed the parliamentary buildings in Cape Town, the old post office was an icon of the city and had to be restored to its full glory, he said.
“The city needs certain icons and identity through old established buildings as a signature of the city,” he said.
Part of the plan for the buildings, which include the former magistrates court, the Baakens Street police station and the former post office in the late Victorian era style of architecture, is to open up the spaces to the public to experience and enjoy.
It is also planned to expand the area to allow for public thoroughfare from behind the city hall to the proposed multi-level public car park, which forms part of the extensive renovations.
Denton said the area would be multi-functional, with wheelchair accessibility.
“There are historic aspects such as the old police cells which will be highlighted,” he said.
“Other spaces could be used for partial office space, specialised spaces for retail and conferencing and there will be good multifunctional spaces.”
The project coordinator for the renovations, Tony Jones, said when he first inspected the buildings he had not been able to absorb it all.
“There are so many beautiful aspects to these buildings, [but now] I know every nook and cranny,” he said.
It was vital to maintain the architecture of the structures, including preserving fireplaces scattered throughout the old post office and other buildings, he said.
The tower, for example, took a number of months to complete because sandstone had to be sourced from the original source near Rustenburg, while wood to replace the beams was brought in from Germany.
“When he [Denton] does renovations of this nature he does it properly and brings in only the best,” Jones said.
Work on the other buildings has stopped for the next four to six weeks as the master stonemasons complete a job in Knysna. Local workers have been given a break during this period.
According to Denton, all roofing, insulation and down piping will be completed by the end of the year.