Johannesburg has many historic landmarks and the Rissik Street Post Office is one of them. Built in 1897, it’s among the city’s oldest surviving buildings and was named a national monument in 1978. At one point, it was Johannesburg’s tallest structure, towering over Rissik Street at 102m high. A magnificent building oozing character and charm, it boasted a mix of architectural styles complemented by exquisite finishes. These included a copper dome, brass fittings and switches, wooden balustrades and a tower that comprised clock hands and bells.
The municipality-owned building was leased to the South African Post Office for a term of 99 years, but once the lease ended in 1996, the building fell prey to vandalism and was gutted by fires twice. Despite this, heritage experts said its core structure was sound, but that damage from rainwater due to the broken roof and damaged walls were adding to its deterioration.
It was clear to the Joburg Property Company (JPC) that something needed to be done to preserve the building and restore it to its former glory. In 2011/12, a tender was awarded for the building’s rehabilitation – a process that included fixing the roof, clearing away accumulated debris and salvaging and recycling some of the original materials. To ensure that this piece of history wasn’t lost, a conservation policy document was also drawn up for the building.
In keeping with heritage requirements and given how expensive repairs to the building would be, it was decided that a public use for the building had to be found.
An initial R40-million was invested in the building’s rescue, starting with the erection of a steel skeleton inside the building to support the roof, walls and flooring. This was important because the wooden floors were part of the actual structure holding the building together, but they’d been damaged and were compromising its structural integrity.
To deal with underground water seepage, a lot of work was done below the surface, where tunnels were dug and water pumps installed. The building was put on surveillance to ensure there it didn’t lose more of its historic assets to vandalism.
The reconstruction project began last year, with an estimated cost of R147-million. The aim is to restore the building so that it is safe and functional, in order to lease it out for public purposes. Due to its massive internal space, the hope is that it will house a museum or art gallery or be used as a venue for events such as concerts.
Whatever it’s use, it’s certain that the restoration of the Rissik Street Post Office will be a great asset to the people of Johannesburg as it upholds and complements other Heritage Monuments and sites within the city. At the moment however, it remains closed.