In 1899, an investor named Herman Tobiansky envisaged a pleasant white suburb that could be developed on a site to the West of Johannesburg. It was some way out of town, on high ground which sloped upwards towards a koppie, and was charming and attractive. He bought 237 acres of land, laid out the streets, and named them after his children and family - Edith, Gerty, Bertha, Toby, Sol - and called the suburb-to-be Sophiatown after his wife, Sophia.
Stands were at first bought by whites. But Mr Tobiansky's plans were about to be shattered: the Town Council decided that the area next to Sophiatown was to the Johannesburg's sewage disposal facilities. Whites no longer wanted to live in such a place and many moved into other suburbs such as Vrededorp, Brixton and Mayfair. Mr Tobiansky began to sell his many unsold plots to the Africans, Coloureds and Indians seeking homes in the area. Homes sprang up - brick and corrugated iron houses, cottages, shacks of all types Sophiatown, and the other freehold townships that developed in the Western areas - Martindale and Newclare, as well as Alexandra Township, were unique features in a city that was developing increasingly on segregationist lines.
Blacks, coloureds, Indians and whites lived freely in these areas. There were few visible or strictly enforced barriers between people of different colours and races.