Due to the wealth of new information, the history of Doornfontein will be made up of a few parts. The Saratoga & Windybrow posts were the start.
Doornfontein was originally a popular early sanctuary for the well-off Western European, German and English Jews. As they moved off to more exclusive and better sheltered suburbs like Parktown in the late 1890s, they were replaced by a strong working middle class Jewish community, many of whom came from Poland and Lithuania via the UK and Cape Town. Many of the big mansions were torn down (Windybrow being the only remaining mansion on that side of the suburb) and the land subdivided into smaller plots on which new houses were built to house the growing population. In the 1920s, rising anti-semitism and falling property prices forced the middle class to re-locate east to Yeoville & Orange Grove. They were in turn replaced by a lower class of Jew that could not afford to go anywhere else and Doornfontein remained for some time after ‘the lowest rung of the Jewish residential ladder’.
Margot Rubin has written a very detailed and insightful piece on the Jewish movements in and around Doornfontein in THE JOBURG BOOK.
There were once several shuls in Doornfontein in very close proximity to each other. Today, only two remain: The Lions Shul (covered below) and the Sherwell Street Shul or Beth Hamedrash Hagadol as it’s also known.
The others were: Talmud Torah Synagogue designed by Saul Margo in 1918, Chassidic Synagogue also by Saul Margo from 1931 and the Hilner Street Synagogue which may also be the Ponovez Synagogue designed by Obel & Obel in 1931 and the foundation stone laid by D. I. Fram on 26 July 1931. It was demolished when the Harrow Road overpass was built (as was the Chassidic Synagogue a few years before in 1964).
There was also a synagogue next to the Jewish old age home which was commissioned by Schlesinger. Percy Rogers Cooke was said to have been approached to design it along with a new wing for the old age home sometime between 1920-1926. The home and synagogue moved to Sandringham in 1962.
The Lions Shul at 120 Siemert Road is the oldest surviving Shul in Johannesburg. It was built in 1905 (for four thousand Pounds) and named after the two cast-iron lions that guard its entrance. Morrie Jacob Harris was the architect. The shul almost destroyed by a fire in 1930. It was completely restored although the process did alter the building from its original form.
Robyn Sassen described the interior of the shul in an article, “Inside, the shul presents a transformative soul journey. Its like being transported to the turn of the 20th century or stepping into ‘der heim’ in Eastern Europe…this shul has a neshamah (soul)”
To the left of the shul used to be its hall where religious functions were held. The hall was sold and converted in later years as numbers attending dropped due to people leaving the area.
Going in order of the old postcard picture of the shul, these are the buildings and houses to the left that still stand:
Next to the hall is what was the first Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital. It was established and built in 1906 by the Guild of Loyal woman and designed by Allen Wilson. It’s the predecessor of the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital built in 1943 in Joubert Street extension near the old fort. More on the history of Johannesburg hospital’s HERE.
This warehouse is next to the old hospital. Nothing is known on the history.
This is a typical Doornfontein and turn of the century houses as can be seen from a few interior pictures below.
Some additional existing buildings and houses along with old views:
I found the old Turkish consulate on Beit Street by accident. The gold dome picture is from Davies Street side. On the Beit Street side is a plumbers building added in the 1940s. Whatever is under the Turkish dome or minaret is boxed in between the building around it and cannot be seen from the street. Fortunately I was able to gain access to the property in 2016 and have added some interior of this fascinating house.
It originally belonged to Henri Bettelheim (Consul to his Most Exalted Person, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire). He held lavish balls there as well as gambling parties in the late 1890s. In the 1930’s, when Doornfontein’s fortunes took a turn for the worse, it became a brothel for some time. The present plumbers yard has been around since the 1940s. Many original features are still intact as can be seen in the interior pictures below taken in 2016.