METALWORKERS know about metal, right? They don’t know about restoring fine old buildings, right? Wrong. They know a lot about restoring buildings, and their union’s head office in Newtown is testament to this.

Chief finance officer for Numsa, KM Hassan receives the Colosseum Award from MMC for development planning and urban management Ros GreeffChief finance officer for Numsa, KM Hassan receives the Colosseum Award from MMC for development planning and urban management Ros Greeff
Numsa – the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa – recently picked up a Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) Halala Colosseum Award for the category “Conserving Joburg – Joburg past, present and future” for its restoration work.

The building in question is the old Standard Bank on the corner of Bree and Gerard Sekoto streets. It’s a neo-classical Edwardian structure, built in 1935. Numsa bought it in 1997 from Standard Bank to use as its head office, and had conservation architect Henry Paine of Henry Paine & Barry Gould Architects restore and renovate it in 1998.

The firm put in a striking metal staircase leading up from the basement to the original banking hall. The stairway rose higher to a newly installed mezzanine level, and the basement was converted into a conference room. A lift was also installed.

Numsa bought the building and an empty plot behind it, plus another building on the block, on Gwigwi Mrwebi Street, which was originally a set of shops with accommodation above, dating back to 1911.

The original single-storey bank is a corner structure with an imposing arched door on the corner. Tall, arched windows run down both sides. It rests on a granite base, with rectangular concrete blocks covering the bricks. The words The Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd appear above the door, and on the finishing panel that tops the building on each side.

Zee Hassan, the project manager of WIP, the property and investment arm of Numsa, says not only did the union restore the building, but it doubled its size by imperceptibly extending it northwards. This two-year renovation began in 2004, and cost about R7-million.

The extension to the original building along Gerard Sekoto Street adds several metres and another four arched windows, perfectly matched to the original. The end of the original building is marked by an enclosed doorway and portico. It is painted a muted beige, with white half-columns between each window, the frames and facias of which are also white.

“The result is that, in place of disparate buildings, a unified streetscape of considerable beauty has been created, wrapping around a city block,” reads a JDA statement.

Empty plot and house
Numsa has converted the empty plot into an internal courtyard and parking area, with an attractive rose garden. The northerly building has been restored – a major undertaking that involved creating foundations for it – and is rented out to the International Metalworkers Federation. The building retains its pressed steel ceilings and wrought-iron banister.

Around the north side of the structure, the shops have been re-invented, to be opened at the end of August, says Hassan. He is considering a 24-hour cafeteria, a church office, a mini supermarket, a funeral parlour or a jazz club as possible tenants.

Digger’s Inn Hotel
Numsa has also bought the four-storey building directly across the road, in Gerard Sekoto Street. Originally the Digger’s Inn Hotel, a seedy, unhappy place, it has been transformed into a conference centre.

The Vincent Mabuyakhulu Conference Centre, formerly the Diggers’ Inn HotelThe Vincent Mabuyakhulu Conference Centre, formerly the Diggers’ Inn Hotel
Now called the Vincent Mabuyakhulu Conference Centre, it is made up of two buildings also owned by WIP that have been renovated to accommodate conference rooms ranging in size from 154 seats to 10 seats. The hotel rooms have been converted into 72 handsome en-suite rooms and 21 double rooms with communal bathrooms, for visiting delegates.

There are two dining halls and a sparkling kitchen. It has obtained a three-star rating, such is the quality of the accommodation offered. Hassan says there are plans to building a gym and braai on the roof.

Hassan and his team have taken care to get doors custom built, replacing new doors that did not match the structure. Linking the buildings are sand-blasted glass doors throughout both, depicting large cogs and other metal shapes.

“The final result is a building that has retained its heritage, proudly taking its place in Newtown and ensuring that the history it hides in its walls is not forgotten but honoured,” concludes the JDA.

Various restoration and renovations in this part of Newtown have lifted a part of Joburg that was desperate for some much-needed tender loving care.

Story: City of Johannesburg