Commissioner Street is a major one-way street in the Central Business District of Johannesburg, South Africa. It runs from the M31 to the M1, and is indicated as the R24. The Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa, is located on the street, as is the southern end of Newtown. There is little evidence of Commissioner Street’s exact origin, although it is known that this street played a role in the development of Johannesburg.
Commissioner Street has been an important street in Johannesburg since the 1800s and has seen many significant events throughout its history.
- In 1886, it was declared that mining would be allowed in Johannesburg. Johannesburg’s first chemist was opened soon after the announcement by a Mr. Heymann. The chemist was known as “Golden Mortar Dispensary”.
- In May 1896, Carl Hertz bought a projector from England and screened the first movie seen in South Africa at the Empire Palace of Varieties on Commissioner Street. This introduced South Africa to the age of the bioscope.
- On 22 September 1941, Dr Anton Rupert started his first business, the Voorbrand Tobacco Company, in Commissioner Street.
- In 1973, the Carlton Centre, Africa’s tallest building opened on Commissioner Street. The building consisted of a hotel, shops and offices. The hotel closed down in 1997 due to urban decay.
Two Chinatowns are located in the city of Johannesburg, the first Chinatown is located on Commissioner Street and the second is in the suburb of Cyrildene. The last remaining shops and restaurants of Johannesburg’s first Chinatown are located between buildings 5 and 17 on the western end of Commissioner Street. It was established in the early 20th century when the first Chinese immigrants settled west of Johannesburg and it is estimated that by 1904 there were 180 Chinese businesses operating in the Newtown area. This Chinatown hosts an annual Chinese New Year celebration on Commissioner Street. Since 1994, it has been affected by urban decay and growing levels of crime, reducing its size. It is also getting smaller due to most of the descendants of the original immigrants now being 2nd and 3rd generation South African Chinese who have started to spread out to do business in other parts of the city and country. Many of the original businesses have moved to other areas in Johannesburg or closed down. The “New Chinatown” established in Cyrildene consists mainly of recent Chinese immigrants.