Pretoria Station

Significance

Pretoria Station is situated at the beginning of Paul Kruger Street (was Market Street). This street runs all the way through to Church Square towards the valley and hills situated to the north of Pretoria (Greig 1970:167). The station accommodated many railway lines coming from the Cape, Natal, Delagoa Bay, and the northern Transvaal to Pretoria. It was decided that Pretoria needed a new railway station in the early 1900’s because the administrative headquarters of the railway was moved to Johannesburg (Greig 1970:167), and therefore the new Pretoria Station building came into existence.

The Pretoria Station building has a great significance for South African history, heritage, architecture and culture due to numerous reasons. One of the most known reasons is that it was designed by the famous Sir Herbert Baker who also designed the majestic Union Buildings, built on Meintjies Kop a mile from the centre of Pretoria inner city, and other Cape Dutch homesteads, houses, churches and office buildings in the Cape (Hartdegen 1988:98). The materials used for building Pretoria Station and the style in which it is built resembles the transforming of the Republic of South Africa into the independent and multi-diverse country that it is today. Not only the architect of this building, Sir Herbert Baker, but also all the other architects, managers and contractors who were involved in the process of creating this building reminds us of South Africa’s past and England’s influence on our country during that time.

The Pretoria Station was built in 1910 (Hartdegen 1988:98) and is therefore already past the 60 year old mark which makes it, according to the National Heritage Resources Act, a heritage site of South Africa (NHRA 1999). The station also has a cultural significance for the Boer community of South Africa because it housed the Kruger Statue in the square in front of the station building (Breytenbach 1979:35). Although this famous statue of the once president Paul Kruger only stood at the station for a short period it is still of significance. The Kruger Statue was unveiled by general J.B.M Hertzog, first minister of the Union of South Africa, on 10 October 1925, exactly a hundred years after President Kruger’s birth (Breytenbach 1979:37). This ceremony was the most impressive ceremonies South Africa has ever held and according to Breytenbach (1979:37) it was also where some of the best speeches about President Kruger were held.

Pretoria Station, its surroundings, and the history behind it all should therefore be protected and valued because of this significance.

Current known heritage status

The Pretoria Station was built in 1910 (Hartdegen 1988:98) and is therefore already past the 60 year old mark which makes it, according to the National Heritage Resources Act, a heritage site of South Africa (NHRA 1999).

Known interested and affected parties

University of Pretoria
The South African Institute of Architects
The National Heriatage Council of South Africa
South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA)

History

The first and original station building was built in 1893, and was then owned by the Nederlandsch-Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorwegmaatschappij (NZASM:Netherlands-South African Railway Company). The now known Pretoria Station building designed by Sir Herbert Baker, as previously stated (Section about Significance), was only completed in 1910 at the time when the four provinces of South Africa was unified and it was done from surplus funds of the Government of the province of Transvaal.

The Pretoria Station building was Baker’s first design for a public building and it is here that he experimented with techniques and forms that he later used on the Union Buildings (Pretoria Station Update June 2001:4).
In 1909 Baker received his first large commission for a secular public building in the Transvaal, being the railway station in Pretoria, and according to him the first negotiations over the Pretoria Station started on 11 February 1909 and the plans for the abortive competition were inspected on the 19th of that same month (Keath 1992:157). Baker specifically asked that the Department Architect of the public Works Department, namely Piercy Eagle, should study the plans and reports because he said that ‘The Railway Department have apparently no architect, and it is no use reporting that things are to be done to the plans if there is no one of Knowledge and Taste to see that they are carried out.’ Because of this request and the calculated wording that he used it is stated that the job was then as good as his (Keath 1992:157). On March 1909 Baker started with his sketch plans for the station and on 7 April, only three weeks later, the plans were virtually finished on his departure to Cape Town, where he consulted with Fred Masey on a few finer details on the station’s design.

On 11 Augustt he delivered the contract drawings to Pretoria and construction began soon after (Keath 1992:157). Mr HC Hull, Colonial Treasurer and Chairman of the Railways Board, laid the foundation of the new station building , on 21 May 1910 (Pretoria Station Update June 2001:4). Non-whites were not allowed to enter or use the main station building until the Group Areas Act was scrapped, and so they had to make use of the facilities on Bosman Street, an area that was previously called Pretoria B (Pretoria Station Update June 2001:4). An arson attack on the Pretoria Station building occurred on the night of 19 February 2001 (Pretoria Station Update June 2001:1). On the Monday afternoon of 19 February 2001 Metrorail experienced some problems along the railway line to Pretoria. The uphold caused commuters to wait longer than expected for their trains, and at around 6:30pm more or less 6000 commuters have already been waiting for over an hour, resulting into a small group of individuals becoming restless and in the end violent (Pretoria Station Update June 2001:1).

These few people started to vandalise the building, harassing and attacking the station staff, and ended up setting fire to the furnishings in the Mainline Passenger Services (MLPS) centre on the ground floor of the station building. Although the fire brigade arrived within four minutes of the fire taking hold it was impossible for them to enter the building due to the fire’s intensity and so almost hundred percent of the roof structure were destroyed (Pretoria Station Update June 2001:2). Restoration on the Mainline Passenger Services (MLPS) centre, the MLPS ticket office, passenger elevators and almost hundred percent of the roof had to be done (Pretoria Station Update June 2001:3) and was completed at the end of the first quarter of 2002 (Pretoria Station Update Dec 2001:1).

Description of site and/or structures and/or interior spaces

One of the problems that the architect, Baker, had to deal with when designing the station was that it served as a terminal for a number of lines coming to Pretoria from places like the Cape, Natal, and Delagoa Bay and it also serves as a through line to the northern Transvaal (Greig 1970:167). These tracks enter Pretoria through a deep valley and meets the axis of Market Street (now Paul Kruger Street) at an angle of thirty degrees. All these characteristics on the site had an influence on the final design of the building. It was specifically planned with a main entrance block, which included booking halls and administrative offices, situated at right angles to the axis of Paul Kruger Street. This central block is flanked, at sixty degree angles, with two wings which contains further administrative offices and the railway officials could also be accommodated within these wings. The conditions of the terminal tracks meeting with and entering the main block caused the construction of a desired single roof (typical to European precedents) that could span over all the tracks impossible (Greig 1970:167).
Another factor that had to be taken into consideration when designing the roof is Pretoria’s climate that consists of heat and glare most of the year and it is also an area that is susceptible to hail. The final decision made was to cover the narrow platforms serving each of the tracks for a distance of more or less eight hundred feet, and therefore the drama of a colossal arch that is characteristic to some famous terminal railway stations was not possible for this design (Greig 1970:167).

The main building can be entered from the facing square through a flat-roofed porte-cochère (Keath 1992:164), followed by a long, arched and vaulted loggia which has waiting- and luggage-rooms in both ends (Greig 1970:169). Besides the ground floor there is also another two floors that mainly consist out of offices. In the middle of these floors is a deep recess with (extending the full height of the two upper floors) four sets of twin Ionic columns (see: Image 5). Balustrades is provided at the bases of these columns . The columns acts as a screen for the high, clerestory windows of the hall behind them. The entrance hall is covered with a reinforced concrete domed roof supported by concrete columns consisting out of granite bases. This structure therefore forms a vault with large windows that create a open and welcoming space to travellers (Greig 1970:169). On the ground floor public spaces can be found for tickets, baggage, refreshment and waiting, of which a few is faced with a variety of marbles and even have beautifully designed skylights (Keath 1992:164).
A variety of materials were used in the construction and finishing’s of this building of which most of it was of an experimental nature (Greig 1970:169). For the four large columns in the entrance hall a local red granite was used and it was also the first time that this material was used in South Africa. Instead of using teak for the facings it was decided to use a simple, inexpensive marble and local slate that also required less maintenance. The first-class waiting-room were faced with a more decorative marble imported from Sweden that was light green coloured with white markings on it. Brèche Rose and Norwegian marble of a hard texture line the walls of the general waiting-room giving the room a cool impression. These marble lined walls does not only add to the aesthetics of the building but also to the resistance to fire and so does the double reinforced concrete floors (Greig 1970;169).

The station building’s walls is built from stone, that is bonded into a brick lining, and the base is faced with a dull-coloured, rugged, but very durable granite. The granite used was quarried at the Halfway House situated between Pretoria and Johannesburg (Greig 1970:169). A type of sandstone that is free-working and does not weather very good were used for the facing of the superstructure of the building (see: Image 7). This type of sandstone is known as Flatpan and it was brought from the Orange Free State for the construction. The red ‘Italian’ tiles that were used for tiling the roof were made in Vereeniging (see: Image 9) and it is also the first time that this particular tile and material were used in a public building in South Africa. The whole station building is topped of with a central clock tower (see: Image 10) that was constructed in stone (Greig 1970:170). A few more characteristics of the building is that ends of the main building block’s façade is emphasised by means of some balconied Venetian windows at first-floor level and these windows have pairs of oval apertures beneath the eaves (see: Image 10). The roof is also a bit Mediterranean-looking (see: Image 11), because of the Wren-inspired flèche that is noticeable on the small side of the roof (Keath 1992:165). Overall the main elements used in this building design such as the wide-eave, low-pitched, red-tiled roof, the loggias, balconies, ionic columns, arcades and as well as the broad concrete vaults and deeply-splayed window openings in the domed entrance hall reflects of vernacular Italian architecture (Greig 1970:170).

Pretoria railway station is the central station in Pretoria, the executive capital of South Africa. It is located between Pretoria’s central business district and Salvokop, in a 1910 building designed by Herbert Baker. It is the terminus of various Metrorail commuter rail services in the northern part of Gauteng, and a stop on Shosholoza Meyl inter-city services from Johannesburg to Polokwane and Nelspruit. Pretoria is also the northern terminus of the luxury Blue Train service from Cape Town. Platforms and tracks for the Gautrain rapid-rail service are currently under construction next to the main-line station.