Stuttafords and Granny’s Old Piano

Johannesburg's Stuttgords building is like granny's piano. You inherited something that meant a great deal to someone else and still means a lot to many others, but it may not mean anything if the history does not do it for you. Granny's piano is probably out of tune and the felt hammers inside are worn,…

Johannesburg's Stuttgords building is like granny's piano. You inherited something that meant a great deal to someone else and still means a lot to many others, but it may not mean anything if the history does not do it for you.

Granny's piano is probably out of tune and the felt hammers inside are worn, not to mention the state of those keys. To resell it would put very little in your pocket. However to restore it and make it available to the next generation could have an awful value all round.

Such is the situation that some of Johannesburg's grand old buildings find themselves. The Ansteys building is a perfect example of a successful transformation of use from one generation to the next; a tired pink elephant transformed into a bright art deco mixed-use block for the stylish set.

Stuttafords, though is not vast the department store chain of old. A place where your mum dragged you through departments with obscure names like haberdashery, lingerie and Manchester, hopefully to reward you with a milkshake and assorted sandwiches at the self-service tea-room upstairs. Stuttafords today is an up market, sleeked down version of its old world self. But an iconic reminder of those Grande old stores that used to dot the South African landscape remains.

The building fell under the Auction Alliance hammer last year. Stuttafords was established in Cape Town in 1857, and opened its first Johannesburg Store, the one on Pritchard Street, in 1893 in what was the retail hub of Jo'burg in those days. The building was conceived by Cape architect Charles Freeman, and the 10 storey building was the nearest Jo'burg had to a Skyscraper.

Like Granny's piano it features a beautiful façade, but alas, also like her piano, the beautiful inside wood work has been gutted, in the building's case, by squatters. The property is anchor tenanted by McDonalds until 2019, and only a portion of the property is occupied, with the reminder currently vacant. In fact the building has been vacant for ten years. The property extends over an approximate GLA of 7, 787 m², and features plenty of parking.

It was previously reported that owners, Wayne and Renney Plit, managing directors and founders of AFHCO Holdings, owners of 62 inner-city properties, a pioneer firm in CBD renovation, were planning to build 133 apartments with International Housing Solutions (HIS). The Greatermans building was simply converted into 400 rental units at a cost of R80m, also with equity financing from IHS. But this was not to be.

Instead, the Stuttgords Building is to be fully restored and converted into a 120-room hotel. The first three floors will be occupied by the international easygroup / Lonrho hotel. The easyhotels chain markets itself as offering no frills accommodation at international standard at competitive prices. The plan though is to extend the hotel into the remaining six floors in the years to come.

It's a boost for Jo'burg's CBD to have an international hotel chain of the calibre of easyHotel put down roots. So life will return to the old building again. The Plits are reported to have said that they have every intention of restoring the facade of the building to its former glory. So granny's piano gets some airtime for a new generation of city slickers.