Thursday, October 30, 2008

HERITAGE: Proudly Prince Albert or just another Greyton?

- William Penfold -

Our unique, truly local Prince Albert architecture is something that should be retained at all costs. Like our other national treasures such as our rich history, San paintings and etchings, endemic plants and dinosaur footprints, our authentic local architecture should be guarded as a thing of beauty and a joy forever. It should be a relatively easy thing to ensure that our local authorities enforce the carefully planned ordinances that are in place.

In lower Mark Straat, a perfect example of an historic Karoo outbuilding, complete with ‘buk as you go through’ stable door, exquisite corner fireplace with iron bar lintel, has been destroyed. All but two token walls have been demolished and a new concrete slab on a new brick plinth thrown in anticipation of creating more ‘suitable’ accommodation. This, in the name of ‘progress’.

Why could this building not remain and additional accommodation be built elsewhere on the property? It would certainly have been the cheaper option if this had at all been considered. This thoughtless action is, without doubt, a loss to the fabric of Prince Albert and is just one of many inappropriate and sadly irrecoverable actions in a town that is crying out for preservation.

It is so important for everyone to think twice (or more) before taking action. Get expert advice. For heaven’s sake, look for more than one opinion. This town desperately needs expert architectural input from architects with deep heritage experience and understanding.

At the moment, Prince Albert is heading toward Toyland with so many twee houses so lacking in fulsome detail and unimaginative design that don’t sit comfortably with the old and are too readily accepted for approval by an inexperienced municipality.

The delicate fabric of Prince Albert cottages is so vulnerable to the unconsidered onslaught of insensitive owners and builders. A single telephone call to a modern builder’s supplier will supply all the necessary requirements for a modern cottage in the supposed guise of Karoo Victorian country cottage.

This must be guarded against with all the will in the world. Most brand new tiles, brand new taps, brand new paving slabs etc. simply don’t belong! There is no ‘off the shelf’ alternative to a truly proportioned Victorian sash window.

There is no ‘off the shelf’ alternative to an old ’happy’ door or authentic French door. They must be designed and made. Surely the people spending the money we see being spent can see and understand this simple and basic requirement?

Why can’t we repair the old? Why can’t we replace the worn parts? Why rip out? Why destroy? Why did we come here?

Do we want Prince Albert to become like the soulless, ‘keep up with the Joneses’ town that Greyton has become? I sure as hell hope not. Do any of you know how Greyton used to be? It was like God’s gift to mankind. A bit like Prince Albert.

Have you noticed the way the poor stressed out, crime weary city folk set their car alarms when they park here in case one of us locals might rip them off? In our town, they soon forget their troubles and then inadvertently set off the alarm when getting back in their cars. Such is the way it still is here.

We need all worry that if you bring the city and its troubles to Prince Albert and, as sure as the village patina is relentlessly being rubbed off, the city and its troubles will come to bite you in the behind. Once a lifestyle is gone, there is no getting it back.

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