Between the Baakens River and Richmond Hill, in the historical heart of Port Elizabeth, lies the bustling area of Central. The suburb is known for its British Settler history, which can be seen in the character homes, historical monuments and public buildings such as stone churches.
Central is also known for its vibrant mix of cultures and personalities.
Small-business owner, Hannah Mclean, who has lived in Central for three and a half years, believes the area has much to offer. “What drew us here was the architecture as well as the potential of the area,” she says.
Many of Port Elizabeth’s historical landmarks are located here, right where the city began its early growth. “We have the Donkin Reserve, Fort Frederick and many other monuments,” says Hannah.
Most properties in Central are character homes and have lots of potential. There are also apartment blocks from the ‘30s up to the ‘70s and ‘80s. Some of these blocks, such as the ones in and around Park Drive and St George’s Park, have been beautifully restored. Freestanding houses in Central often have large erven with a garden.
“There are also a few parks in the area for children to play in,” says Hannah. She lives on the edge of the Baakens Valley and has the benefit of a “lovely touch of innercity nature” right by her home.
“The part of Central that we live in is quiet for the most part. It’s mostly residential, so the street noise is normally from children playing or students partying.”
The Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) has put considerable effort into beautifying historical streets and buildings which had deteriorated over time and become a haven for vagrants.
One shining example is the old Tramways Building, which is now a stunning venue for everything from artisanal food markets to swish celebrity events.
The well-known Donkin Street houses have also been impressively revamped and the area has gone from being no-go zone to a place where friends can gather and hang out together without fear.
“The MBDA has done a lot in sending out people to clean the streets, and we’ve seen a great improvement since then,” says Hannah.
“That said, we’re so grateful for the work that the very friendly street sweepers and the MBDA’s team have done in cleaning up Central. I wouldn’t say that living in the city centre is for every personality type, but it’s a great area to invest in and I believe that it’s still going up in value.”
She says the area is safer than what many outsiders suppose and that residents of Central are involved in trying to maintain good security.
“The area is full of friendly neighbours who are very involved in the neighbourhood’s well-being – and they still greet you in the streets,” she says.
It’s worth exploring Central’s monuments and churches to take in the rich history. St George’s Park is a great place to take the kids. You can also get some exercise by walking or jogging around the park, which also hosts the Art in the Park event once a month.
The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum is another spot worth visiting.
“We’re always driving against traffic, and so we don’t take more than 10 minutes to get to most places. And the beach is only five minutes away,” says Hannah. She adds that the area is culturally diverse with lots to see and do.
“We fell in love with the views of the valley and ocean first, and then with the wooden floors and high ceilings of our home. Our house was built in 1826 and it just has so much character. It’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.”
Property prices in Central tend to reflect the housing stock, with much of the property in terrace houses and apartment blocks. You can expect to pay around R400,000 for a two-bedroomed flat.
There are a few houses (38%) but very few townhouse complexes (2%), with most of the suburb consisting of flats (60%).
A two to three-bedroomed house generally will sell for around R860,000.
There are several pre-primary schools in the area as well as some good private and public schools.
These include St Augustine’s Primary School in Prospect Hill and Elsen Academy in Bird Street. In Park Drive, you’ll find Greenwood Primary School, St George’s Preparatory School and St George’s College.
The Baakens Valley is beautiful for walks or picnics and to partake in the occasional trail run.
The Donkin Reserve offers stunning views of the city as well as vibrant public art. T
he newly renovated Campanile is a must. The 204 steps up the Campanile (which is 50m tall) take climbers to the Observatory Room.
The Port Elizabeth Main Library was officially opened in 1902 and is a fine example of Victorian Gothic architecture.
The Route 67 Art and Heritage Walk includes 67 public art pieces by 67 different Eastern Cape artists in a total of 67 giant steps.
The Port Elizabeth Opera House has been revamped, as has the Athenaeum, and both buildings are worth a visit.
Old Austria Restaurant in Westbourne Road is a tribute to the charm and elegance of eating out as it was generations ago.
Natti’s Thai Kitchen in Park Lane has been a Port Elizabeth institution for more than a decade, having earned a respected reputation for its outstanding and authentic Thai cuisine.
Dockside Brewery is in a revamped fibreglass factory in the Baakens Valley.
Don’t miss the Valley Market and The Goodnight Market in the Tramways Building every month.
Savages Fine Food in Park Drive offers elegant sophistication and great food. There’s also a gift shop on the premises.
The Roof Garden Bar in Winston Ntshona Street (Chapel Street) is a popular hangout. The Black Box Theatre in the same venue does monthly film screenings in partnership with Alliance Francaise.