Hotels Estates

A historical investigation into the Sea Point beachfront as a public open space throughout the 20th century with special reference to memories of growing up along the Sea Point Promenade by Leila Emdon.

Chapter Two continued – The growth of a suburb: the Development of Sea Point in the late 19th century to the 1950s

<< previous - Availability of public transport

Old Hotels, Estates of the Beach Road and Main Road Area

The Marine Hotel

The Marine Hotel Sea Point Photo: The Lion Mountain ©

In the 1930s, many of the larger houses that had lined the Beach Road were either demolished or converted into hotels. There was the Milroy at the foot of Fort Road near Three Anchor Bay Road. For a while, it housed the Cape Town YMCA but then reverted to a hotel, popular for its Saturday night dances. The Atlantic was also on the Beach Road, on the corner of Rocklands Road. Both boasted tea gardens with lawns that reached down to the low walls that separated them from the Beach Road. There was the Rocklands Hotel on the corner of St James Road. Milton Manor on the Beach Road near Milton Pool was a popular holiday hotel.

There were relatively few blocks of flats in Sea Point then. Most of those we know today were built after WW2 in the 1950s and 1960s, the boom slowing somewhat towards the latter years of the last century and reviving again in recent years, in the post Waterfront era.11

The Town Planning scheme, instituted in 1941, encouraged the development of a band of high-rise structures along the beachfront. The purpose of this was to create a desired image of an impressive array of modern multi story residential buildings along the coast, as in Rio de Janeiro. At night, it would project “a waterland image with their sparkling lights.” This resulted in the high rise, high density environment existing in Sea Point today”12. Much of the development that did take place exhibited a late Victorian style. An example of this was the famous Bordeaux Estate.

Today it is a large square block of flats but its history goes back to 1865 when Pieter Marais bought the site. The Sea Point property extended from the Main road to the Beach Road. Peter Marais was prominent member of the community. His wife suffered with bad health so her husband arranged for an approach to be made from the front gates of Bordeaux, leading down to a small pond in the rocks below Bordeaux. Such stones that could be removed were carted away and during the hot weather, the ‘invalid’ was wheeled down to have her seawater bath. Such was the origin of what was later known as “Graafs Pool”. 13 Graaf’s Pool has its own interesting history that will be discussed in a later chapter.

First Bordeaux

The first Bordeaux, home of Peter Marais Photo: Under Lions Head ©

In 1893, the Graafs bought it and a second story was added to the house and now “became one of the most arresting edifices on the Sea Point Beach Road.”14 These grand hotels were a large part of the social scene amongst Sea Point residents. The hotels became a place where young mothers in particular could meet. Rosemary describes the scene along the beachfront: “In the old days there were adorable little houses along the beach front in-between the hotels, they had beautiful houses and picket fences. The Bordeaux Hotel had an amazing tea garden; all the young mommy’s would order tea.”15 Sonia Kirsch also reminisces about the old hotels: “a lot of the flats are named after the hotels that stood there before. Those hotels were converted into huge blocks of flats, so the beachfront became like a concrete jungle. At Bordeaux, they had lovely dancehalls and restaurants. My friends and I used to take our toddlers down to let them play.”16

Graaf Bordeaux

Bordeaux, home of the Graafs Photo: Under Lions Head ©

11Daniel Vaughan, 11 October 2008, interview via e-mail, 12M, Sindler, 1994, An Investigation into the Attitudes and Perceptions of Residents Towards Sea Point as an Attractive Area to Live in, Marketing technical report for the University of Cape Town thesis collection, pg 6 13 M, Murray, ”Old houses and Village characters” Under Lions Head, pg 132 14 ibid 15 Rosemary Magid, 10 October 2008, Recorded interview 16 Sonia Kirsch, 20th September 2008, Recorded interview

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Transport Availability

A historical investigation into the Sea Point beachfront as a public open space throughout the 20th century with special reference to memories of growing up along the Sea Point Promenade by Leila Emdon.

Chapter Two continued – The growth of a suburb: the Development of Sea Point in the late 19th century to the 1950s

<< previous Chapter Two The growth of a suburb

Availability of public transport

Sea Point can be split into two main roads. The Beach Road runs between the promenade and the flats and hotels that are opposite. Before the 19th century, there was no such road but, instead, the road as we know it today was part of people’s large gardens.

Behind the flats is another road called Main Road. This is where the business of Sea Point happens. Most schools, churches and synagogues are situated here. The number of properties grew during the first half of the nineteenth century, as more roads were built. Most development occurred between the Main and Beach Roads until the mid nineteenth century.

Although the area was sparsely populated, development began to speed up in the second half of the century. A horse drawn omnibus was provided. A tram assisted it in 1862. The provision of transport made the Green and Sea Point the first commuter suburb. This made easier the increase in 5 M, Murray, 1964 Under Lions Head, A.A Balkema pg 7 6 ibid population that could be now be supported. The introduction of the railway in 1892 made accessibility easier. For people growing up in Sea Point during this time, the changes were welcomed.

Many young people used to marvel at the tram going past the Main road. Joe remembers watching the tram go past his house on the main road of Sea Point. Transport availability made it easier for people to travel. The low crime rate meant that young people could walk to and from school, as well as to friends. It is hard to imagine now that where the lawns are along the beachfront there was once a railway. There are not many people alive today who used the train. The two trains were failures from the start as could not take the curves without being derailed, and both, too, were prone to regular breakdowns.7

Beneath the Lion Bold describes the opening of the second train line: “November 30, 1905, was a big day for the Green and Sea Point community, especially the school children, to whom a puffing steam-train was the fastest thing on wheels and a really exciting spectacle. The railway, ‘which for several years had been an abeyance’, was reopened. It had been taken over by the Government Railways, rebuilt and regarded and extended to the end of Sea Point.”8

Sea Point Railway

A Train of the “second railway” approaches Bordeaux on its way to Cape Town in 1915 Photo: Under Lions Head

Although the rail was well patronised in the beginning, the Tramway Company, running trams along the Main road began competing with the market by improving their lines and decreasing their prices. For fourteen years, the train ran at a loss.9 In addition, on the 16th of April 1929 the last train ran. Although a failure, the train is remembered as a distinguished aspect of the promenade’s history.

As Joe Mauerberger exclaims, “As you know, we had a railway e. It left at the station, came all along past the pavilion, and ended by the Aquarium. It went along where the lawns are today, tunnels were there to get to the beach. This ended in 1929, because most people lived above the beachfront unlike today. Today it would do very well.”10 Today a memorial for the train is found on the Three Anchor Bay side of the promenade.

7M, Murray, 1964 “The two Railways”, in Under Lions Head, pg 89 8 C, Lighton (Ed), 1963, “A Railway Occasion”, in Beneath the Lion Bold- A story of Green and Sea Point, Rustica Press Cape Town pg 50 9 M, Murray, 1964 “The two Railways”, in Under Lions Head, pg 89 10Joe Maureberger, 31st August 2008, recorded interview
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Suburb Growth

A historical investigation into the Sea Point beachfront as a public open space throughout the 20th century with special reference to memories of growing up along the Sea Point Promenade by Leila Emdon.

<< previous The challenges of oral history

Chapter Two – The growth of a suburb: the Development of Sea Point in the late 19th century to the 1950s

In the late 1890s the Sea Point sea front area was more of a small village than the large busy suburb it is today. In the late 19th, early 20th century the sea front was inhabited by large estates owned mostly by upper class citizens. Their gardens cascaded as far down as the sea front and their houses were massive. From the 1800s Sea Point was clearly an area associated with wealth and was exclusively reserved for the upper classes. From as early as the 1700s the first exclusive recreational centre known as “Society House” was in full swing in 1767.5 However it is only in 1839 that Green and Sea Point became part of the Cape Town municipality. Before this, the area remained quite independent from the rest of Cape Town. Shortly after the promulgation of the Municipal Ordinance of 1839, properties of Green and Sea Point were evaluated for rates. At this time there were only forty-six properties in all.6 This gives an idea of how empty Sea Point was during this time.

Availability of public transport

Old Hotels, Estates of the Beach Road and Main Road Area

Growing up in Sea Point. 1930s-1950s

A Peaceful Suburb

Sea Point Pools

Childhood and Teenage Memories of the beaches and promenade

Rocklands and Saunders Beach – The good old days

Recreational activities for the youth

Teenage Life

World War Two and Sea Point

The exclusive utopia of Sea Point – Sea Point and Apartheid

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Oral history

A historical investigation into the Sea Point beachfront as a public open space throughout the 20th century with special reference to memories of growing up along the Sea Point Promenade by Leila Emdon.

Chapter One continued

<< previous Stories untold

The challenges of oral history

In Michele Paulse’s thesis An Oral History of Tramway road and Ilford Street, Sea Point she goes into the complexities involving the use of oral sources in reconstructing the past. This history makes use of the significance of memory in the construction of place so therefore it is important to have clarity on the pros and cons of using oral sources. During the mid-1970s to the 1980s, oral history became a common research methodology in South Africa, especially due to the many undocumented stories about Apartheid’s oppression.4 Oral history became an important aspect of historical research because it is the memory of a place or event that is of equal significance to the facts surrounding the topic. It is a challenge in accuracy because memory is shaped by the context and belief and attitudes of the person and may differ from that of another person. The past is re-constructed rather then recalled by memory. The person being interviewed is also aware of their own documentation while speaking about the past and this may affect memory. Memory is also constructed in how one perceives the current day situations as people are aware of what they should and should not say. This is not to say that oral sources lie but that one must be aware that in the reconstruction of the past through memory, certain things will be left out.

Given that oral history can be used to give a sense of the past but also how the past is re-constructed, I used the oral sources for the purpose of memory and how people’s memories about Sea Point affect their perception of it today. Because of the vast changes in Sea Point and the loss of the small community atmosphere it had in the past, most people look back on Sea Point with a sense of nostalgia. My sources have included people from different age groups who have grown up in Sea Point at different stages. My first source is my great aunt Sheila Vaughan. She was born in 1927 and has lived in Sea Point near to the beach her whole life. Born into a Christian family she enjoyed the youth community and a rich social life in the area. Her younger brother (my grandfather) Daniel Vaughan also contributed to my research. Another testimony was from Joe Mauerberger who has lived in Sea Point since 1926 and still plays an active role in the community. Sandra Sheinbar was born in the 1930s; she grew up in Sea Point. She too plays an active role in the issues about Sea Point and believes that Sea Point, despite its changes, is a wonderful place to live. Sonia Kirsch moved to Sea Point when she got married, and she and her husband ran a doctors surgery in the 1950s. Rosemary Magid lived all her life near to Rocklands beach. All the elderly people that I have interviewed come from different backgrounds, some are Christian by faith, and others are Jewish and so reflect diversity of beliefs in Sea Point. All have fond memories of Sea Point and still live there.

For recollections of the 1960s onwards, Stuart Kirkman contacted me via e-mail to give me his testimony. I also collected stories from family members who grew up in Sea Point such as my father Andrew Emdon as well as my brother Julian Emdon. Growing up in Sea Point myself and having a good memory of how the political changes affected Sea Point in 1994, I used my own knowledge and photographs. Other sources were members from the SEAFA committee. A major contribution was from an online forum called “Sea Point Then and Now”. A Green Point resident started the group and now over four hundred people from all over the world exchange memories from growing up in Sea Point and photographs. From here, many people contributed photographs and books.

4M, Paulse, 2002, An Oral History of Tramway Road and Ilford Street, Sea Point, 1930s-2001: The Production of Place by Race, Class and Gender, University of Cape Town thesis collection, pg 7

Sea Point Promenade 1938

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Stories untold

A historical investigation into the Sea Point beachfront as a public open space throughout the 20th century with special reference to memories of growing up along the Sea Point Promenade by Leila Emdon.

Chapter One continued

<< previous Why should we remember Sea Point?

Stories untold

The literature available about Sea Point is very scarce. Most of the writing about Sea Point happened in the 1960s. Marischal Murray’s Under Lions Head appeared in 1964 and the Sea Point Boys School published their book Beneath the Lions Bold in 1963. In 1975, Noreen Kagan completed a UCT history honours thesis entitled The Growth and Development of the Municipality of Green and Sea Point.

After that one of the few things published about Sea Point was Martine Sindler’s marketing thesis An Investigation into the Attitudes and Perceptions of the Residents towards Sea Point as an Attractive Area to live in.(1994). This was a well-researched project and helps explaining many of the changes that happened in the early nineties.

The latest work published about Sea Point is also from the University of Cape Town. This is M. Paulse’s Oral History of Tramway Road and Ilford Street, Sea Point, 1930’s-2001: The Production of Place by Race, Class and Gender.

Although these sources proved very useful to me, I aimed with this project to bring something new to the body of Sea Point knowledge. I saw that there lacked a history of Sea Point based on memory and oral testimony. I believe that it is by recording and analysing oral history that others and I can understand Sea Point’s history from a personal perspective. Without the stories and memories of people, the promenade’s history would not be as important.

I used the sources as a way to summarise twentieth century Sea Point, but then used questionnaires and interviews to build up a narrative of what it was like to live in Sea Point in the past. I interviewed people from different age groups to build the story and incorporate pictures of memories. By interviewing people I came to see a common theme amongst people’s memories. This was that when people have fond memories about Sea Point or the promenade, they refer to their childhoods as well as their adolescence to late teenage years. It seems that promenade served as the ideal place to be young and many people spent the best part of their youth on the sea front. This was because of the vast amount of activities available to young people, the beach, as well as the fact that there were so many children living in Sea Point, much more so than today. The focus will therefore be on youth and how young people used this area. The promenade was also popular for its visual qualities and, therefore, photographs form part of this historical narrative.

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Remember Sea Point

A historical investigation into the Sea Point beachfront as a public open space throughout the 20th century with special reference to memories of growing up along the Sea Point Promenade by Leila Emdon.

Chapter One continued

<- previousA public space under threat

Why should we remember Sea Point?

This is the entry point of my historical research. Clearly, the issue of public space is an important issue in contemporary South Africa. During the Apartheid era, most public spaces in South Africa were segregated according to race, including the Sea Point promenade. For decades, the promenade was exclusively for whites; only since Apartheid ended have all citizens been allowed to mix freely.

It is no wonder the public are fighting for the preservation of this right. This project is concerned with the historical significance of this area. It is arguable that the history and heritage of the beachfront and Sea Point need to be recorded so that the heritage of the area is maintained. This is a place of great historical and cultural significance. In tracing the history of the area from the 1930s until the present day, it has become evident that public spaces such as the promenade, as well as the sea front in general are reflections of the social, economic and political changes that exist in the broader society. This area is a social public space, so how people interpret and remember it is of great significance to me.

It is memory that creates its meaning. In my search for the history of the promenade, I discovered that while the area has always been public it has been treated differently over time. Sea Point was a bustling, vibrant family suburb, which was both affluent and middle class. The promenade was a place full of activity. In the 1960s, the area was developed and blocks of flats were built.

The promenade continued to be a safe area for people to enjoy and many events took place both in the day and night. However, the Group Areas Act kept this exclusively for whites and therefore the promenade was a protected area for a privileged minority. This followed a similar trend to other public areas in South Africa.

I argue that this had many implications for the future of the Sea Point promenade. From the late 1980s the fabric of Apartheid became unwoven, the Group Areas Act was abolished and Sea Point started to change. By the mid 1990s, the buildings by the pavilion became derelict. Crime increased and the promenade lost its former glory. In recent times, the area has been restored. Business is thriving in Sea Point, crime has improved, and so have many other social problems.

This project looks at how Sea Point has reflected these changes. By learning about the past and hearing people’s stories, one can learn about the good things that the promenade once offered and how it was to grow up along the promenade for a different generation. It is also interesting to learn about the activities that were on offer for young children and teens. Although the area was once reserved for whites only, this public space might still be used as a recreational space but this time includes everyone. Is the council really acknowledging the need for an accessible recreational space? The stories told about the promenade reveal to me that this area, with its rich social history, needs to be always remembered.

Beach Road after a Storm 1899 Photo: Beneath the Lion Bold©
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Space Threat

A historical investigation into the Sea Point beachfront as a public open space throughout the 20th century with special reference to memories of growing up along the Sea Point Promenade by Leila Emdon.

<< previous A Lifetime on the Promenade

Chapter one: A Public Space under threat

In this dissertation, I argue that it is important to place the history of the beachfront as well as aspects of Sea Point into historical context because of the debates and issues surrounding the area in current times. The reason I have chosen to do historical research on this area is that the beachfront is currently coming under threat of development.

Stop Development

The development of the promenade is technically illegal because this land is legally zoned as public space, meaning that it belongs to the people of South Africa.

In response to this threat, a non-profit voluntary organisation called SEAFA (Seafront for All) has formed, consisting of “representatives of various local ratepayers’ associations, business people, bodies corporate, share block companies and concerned citizens from across the Peninsula”1.

SEAFA argue that this public open space is “utilised daily and is of significant cultural, environmental and historical significance to many”2. The intended development is a hotel on the Clifton side of the Pavilion, and on the Cape Town side, a “three story shopping complex, restaurants, a gymnasium and other retail outlets, all with limited parking.”3

This will be the first development on the seaside of the beach road besides the Waterfront.

SEAFA, with the funds raised by donations, are taking the government to the High Court as the required re-zoning of the area not only takes away the people’s rights to the land as a public space but also leads to probability that the rest of the Promenade as far down as Three Anchor Bay can might be re-zoned also.

Although they have made success in keeping the development suspended, the area issue is not closed and the area is still under threat of future development. The story of the Sea Point promenade being a place for everyone to enjoy may one day be a thing of the past.

1 SEAFA, 2008, “Introduction”, information pamphlet.
2 Ibid
3 SEAFA, 2008, “The Intended Development”, information pamphlet

SEAFA held a public protest, on the Sea Point promenade in April 2008, where thousands petitioned against the commercial development of the promenade.

Photos: Janey Ball ©

Kids ProtestSeafa - How Dare You










<< previous A Lifetime on the Promenade —- Chapter One continued – Why should we remember Sea Point? ->

Sea Point

Sea Point data to follow

Promenade Lifetime

Promenade Lifetime

A Lifetime on the Promenade

We are proud to introduce the work of Leila Emdon which is part of her thesis work for her degree in Historical Studies.

A historical investigation into the Sea Point beachfront as a public open space throughout the 20th century with special reference to memories of growing up along the Sea Point Promenade by Leila Emdon.


The Sea Point promenade is a very special place, not only to people who live in Sea Point but also to the people of Cape Town. It is a public space where people can walk and enjoy the majestic view of the ocean and magnificent sunsets. It is a relatively safe and clean environment.

Sea Point Promenade

Photo: Jeremy Jowell ©

Since South Africa became a democracy in 1994, it has attracted a large variety of people from different cultures and religions. The promenade therefore is a cultural marker of how Cape Town and South Africa at large is a diverse and increasingly integrating society. Those who have grown up in Sea Point, Mouille Point, Green Point or Three Anchor Bay will agree that childhood memories are rich and wonderful as they are filled with images of learning to cycle on the promenade, playing in rock pools along its jagged shoreline and going for rides in the Mouille Point Blue Train.

When looking at the history of Sea Point it is arguable that the character and essence that Sea Point once possessed, over time, has been eroded by the over-commercialisation and development of the area.

Sea Point has also lost many of its qualities of a ‘family’ suburb due to the rapid increase of crime in the 1990’s as well as mass immigration of families out of the area.

The promenade has remained relatively the same in the last few decades. It has always been a public space, which keeps it timeless, but this may not always be the case.

Cape Town

Cape Town is a very vibrant and diverse city with Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town central.

Cape Town pre 2010

Cape Town pre 2010

Due to its enormous natural beauty with miles of white sand beaches and an enormous variety of entertainment and varying activities, it stands out as one the most sought after international destinations

The Cape Town CBD (Central Business District) is not large when compared to any other major global metropolis however its diversity is unparralled. Due to the relatively small nature of the City bowl it is easy to explore and to see all the places without having the need for transport within the CBD.

Do note, a city map is still a necessity as well as instilling your general safety first factor you would have in any major city worldwide. The Museum Mile, the Company Gardens, Greenmarket Square, St Georges Mall, the Bo-Kaap are all part of the Cape Town City Centre.

Numerous excellent hotels, loft apartments, trendy restaurants and bars can be found in the heart of the city and along the coast. Take a trip up Table Mountain; visit the V&A Waterfront or make use of world-class conference and hotel facilities.

Last, but not least, take the trip to Robben Island, the former home of Nelson Mandela.

Along with the City Centre and Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town Central includes the beachside suburbs of Bakoven, Bantry Bay, Camps Bay, Clifton, Fresnaye, Green Point, Mouille Point, Sea Point, Three Anchor Bay and further along to Llandudno and Hout Bay. It also includes the trendy city suburbs of Higgovale, Gardens, Vredehoek, Oranjezicht and Tamboerskloof. Don’t miss out on the culture of Woodstock, Observatory and Zonnebloem too.