Historic building under threat

2010-05-27 00:00

AMAFA, the provincial heritage body, has received an application from the Archdiocese of Durban to demolish the historic 103-year-old Denis Hurley Centre in the city centre, next to the Emmanuel Cathedral­.

“We are reviewing this, but because of our real concerns about its historic, cultural and political significance amid the Grey Street precinct, we are calling for public comment, ” says Ros Devereux, head of Amafa’s built environment section.

“The unusual three-storey triangular­ building was designed by the Cathedral’s architects, Street-Wilson and Paton, as the St Augustine’s School for coloured children, and was completed in 1907.

“This was moved in 1957 to Sydenham Road on the orders of the apartheid government. Archbishop­ Denis Hurley­, then the Vicar Apostolic of Natal, turned the building into a parish centre where, catechism continued to be taught and it was also used for church and social events.

“The building served other vital community uses that caused conflict with the government,” says Devereux. “In 1949 people were given refuge during the Cato Manor­ race riots, while night schools allowed local working residents to reach matric level. Refuge was also given to those escaping conflict during the turbulent eighties­.”

More recently the building has been home to Refugee Pastoral Care, the Nkosinathi feeding scheme, the Usizo Lwethu clinic, and Justice and Peace which provides paralegal support and job-related training. Extra-mural classes are given for children.

In the late seventies, Professor Brian Kearney, then parish architect, and later compiler of the Revised­ Listing of Important Buildings and Places in Durban, proposed demolition of the building, but this was not done because of lack of funds. He considered it to be poorly designed and constructed, prompting many necessary ad hoc additions and alterations over the years.

According to the archdiocese the building no longer serves its original purpose and has not been easily adapted into a parish centre­. They want to demolish the building, which is in a dilapidated state, and construct a purpose-designed building to serve parishioners and people in need.

Should demolition be allowed, the design of a new building would have to be sensitive to its unique position next to the cathedral and other nearby heritage buildings, says Devereux.

“It would also have to take into account the eThekwini municipality’s proposals for this whole historic precinct.”

All buildings in KwaZulu-Natal more than 60 years old require written permission from Amafa for any alterations or demolition.

“With buildings of significance, such as this one,” says Devereux, “Amafa is required under the Promotion of Access to Justice Act to seek public input, particularly among affected communities.”

Written comments or objections to: The CEO, Amafa KwaZulu- Natal­, Box 2685, Pietermaritzburg, 3200, by June 14.

For more information, visit www.amafa.pmb@mweb.co.za

— Witness Reporter.

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