Less than a year ago, if you looked up a list of Joburg’s must-see creative hubs, you wouldn’t have seen Lorentzville ranking very high. In fact, there’s a good chance that most Joburg residents didn’t even know where Lorentzville was. Thanks to a few dedicated artistic projects and venues, that’s all beginning to change, writes Dave Mann.
Lorentzville is a small stretch of land that sits behind the Jukskei River and runs alongside Bertram’s, New Doornfontein, and Troyeville. Once a working-class Jewish neighbourhood, Lorentzville became a predominantly Portuguese area before transforming into a multicultural working-class suburb. In the years that followed, the area became characterised by a collection of old, crumbling buildings and disused factories.
Nowadays, though, Lorentzville’s looking good. The old Johannesburg suburb is filling up with new venues, artists, and pockets of creativity, and it seems as if it’s having a domino effect on the surrounding areas too.
The creative core of the area is the Nando’s Central Kitchen. The building’s been there since Nando’s co-founder Robbie Brozin opened it in the early 1990s, and after a redesign of the building a few years ago, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be going anywhere soon.
The Nando’s Central Kitchen features an upstairs party deck, water features and installations, loads of local artworks, and even its own radio station. Of course, it’s not the many features of the Central Kitchen that make it such a special venue, but rather the various relationships and community-based projects it’s helped foster over the years. Through its unique flair and sustained commitment to the arts, the Nando’s Central Kitchen has brought some much-needed attention to the Lorentzville area which has resulted in some truly innovative projects and developments taking root there.
One of these is the Victoria Yards complex. Spearheaded by developer Brian Green, who’s well known for his work on Milpark’s 44 Stanley Complex and Melville’s 27 Boxes, the Victoria Yards is an exciting new property that’s home to artist studios, gallery spaces, restaurants, and more.
Each time you visit the former collection of warehouses and chop-shops, it’s a little bit greener. Vertical gardens, water features, and organic vegetable patches see horticulturalists from the area hone their skills, while quiet, industrial studios tucked away down the many pathways of the premises see local and internationally-renowned artists such as Ayanda Mabulu, James Delaney, Blessing Ngobeni, and Dario Manjate hard at work.
Doubleshot Coffee and Impi Brewing Company are on site to quench your thirst, while glassblowing and furniture workshops fill up some of the larger revamped warehouses. The Daville Baillie gallery was one of the first to set up shop at The Victoria Yards, having moved from their former space in Norwood, and has already hosted two exhibitions in the new space.
Still, the Victoria Yards is ever-evolving. Plans for live-music sessions are underway, while a beautiful old building overlooking a tiered vegetable garden is set to become a restaurant and small hotel. With many of the project’s employees being from the surrounding areas, including women from the local Bethany Home for survivors of abuse, it’s safe to say that the Victoria Yards seeks to be a venue that serves Lorentzville itself.
A short walk from Victoria Yards will find you at the studio of internationally renowned South African artist, Nicholas Hlobo. A beautiful old building that used to be the area’s local synagogue, Hlobo has been working from the studio space since 2012. Paying homage to the history of the area, the artist has maintained the building’s original layout and architecture, replete with mezzanine flooring, Victorian ceilings, and carpeted stairways.
A few streets down from this you’ll find the Art Eye gallery. Situated in Ellis House Art Studios in New Doornfontein, the Art Eye Gallery is a collaborative project and gallery space that strives towards free expression through community collaboration. They host regular exhibitions and events, including poetry readings, talks, and even works by local graffiti artists.
Holding down the party front is The Tennis Club, also located in New Doornfontein. The result of two gallery owners buying up Ellis Park’s original tennis club, the venue is another example of an old, disused building in the area being transformed into an exciting and well-frequented venue. Through a combination of great Sunday parties, excellent live acts, and a fresh take on Joburg’s nightlife scene, the Tennis Club is fast becoming one of Joburg’s favourite party spots.
So if Braamfontein’s a little too busy and Maboneng’s no longer your scene, you’d do well to pay a visit to Lorentzville and its surrounding areas. With its hub of artists and foodies, and its ongoing commitment to community-based projects, Lorentzville could just be your new favourite arts hub.