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The historical Caledonian Hall in the CBD, believed to be a hijacked building, has been gutted by a fire, in which one person died.
ONE person died in a fire in a building in the CBD on Saturday, the City’s emergency management services (EMS) has reported.

The burnt shell of the building, with salvaged mattresses drying in the sunThe burnt shell of the building, with salvaged mattresses drying in the sunThe 107-year-old building, Caledonian Hall, on the corner of Jeppe and End streets, was gutted in a fire that started around 2pm. Believed to be a hijacked building with 27 people living in it, the building is now unstable and is very likely to be demolished, says Hentie Malan, the incident commander and advanced life support provider who responded to the emergency call on the weekend.

He says access to it is through the adjoining building, as all the ground floor windows are bricked up and the doors are welded closed. In responding to the emergency, the EMS had to break through one of these entrances and remove mounds of rubbish.

The cause of the fire is not yet known. Malan suggests that the death was caused by smoke inhalation. “Seven people were rescued from the roof, while others jumped from the first floor on to mattresses.”

A thorough investigation will take place, he adds.

Scottish baronial style
The three-storey building, built in the Scottish baronial style in 1905, has a central turret and stepped gables on either side, and was painted in blue and green, with orange trimming around its windows. It was the former headquarters of the Johannesburg Caledonian Society. The foundation stone was laid by the Caledonian chief, A Dickson, in September 1905, according to Naomi and Reuben Musiker in A Concise Historical Dictionary of Greater Johannesburg.

“All the building materials are said to have been brought from Scotland. It later became an entertainment hall, a catering establishment, a warehouse, a carpet business and a discount house.” The building was used by the Caledonian Society until 1939, when it was sold to Ginsberg Caterers, which catered for weddings and barmitzvahs for many years.

“It is very much part of Scottish and Jewish heritage in Johannesburg,” says Flo Bird, the chairperson of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust. “Its stature is indicated by the palm trees along End Street – always a prestigious symbol.”

Caledonian Hall was designed by the same architects who built the grand Rand Club in Loveday Street, Leck and Emley.

Jocelin Flank, an education officer based at the Berea Fire Station, who attended to the fire, recalls going to the building in the late 1980s. “It was painful to watch the building go up in flames – I used to go there with my wife on Saturday evenings to dance.” It was called Club Babylon in those days. All three floors were in operation, with each floor offering different kinds of music.

Zoleka Ntabeni, the manager of public culture in the City’s arts, culture and heritage department, has inspected the damaged building. “It is destroyed. The facade is still okay but floors have collapsed.” However, she considers it possible to restore.

Bird is upset that the building has been destroyed. Across the road, the Adam Leslie Theatre, a Herbert Baker building, is now also in a derelict state, and she believes it may be the next one to go up in flames. “The Three Castles lies in ruins consumed by flames and here is another mini castle.”

The Three Castles building, several blocks away in Marshall Street, has also been damaged by fire. The derelict building is now bricked up.

Bird questions why the City’s health and safety department doesn’t inspect these buildings, before disasters occur.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, a fire broke out in a block of flats in Doornfontein, across the road from the University of Johannesburg campus. Malan confirms that a person left an appliance on, and came back to find the flat on fire. It was extinguished with no loss of life.

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