The pink church with the blue door is one of Melville’s iconic historical sites. The landmark follows the journey of prayers, businesses and an overarching spirit of a building with tales stretching over 115 years.
Placed on a steeply sloping site, in a quiet part of the usually vibrant Melville suburb, the former Church could slightly confuse one about what it currently is. Since its inception over a century ago, the marvel that is the pink building, still stands.
FRONT VIEW: Max the dog, outside the new-looking Pink Church, now The Blue Print Studio.
FROM THE BACK: The north entrance of the Pink Church , on Second Avenue, previously a parking area, the space is now used as an acid room. Photo: Palesa Dlamini
At first glance it is a church, the closer one examines the pink-painted building with a high pitched roof, it becomes evident that although initially built for the purposes of worship, it is no longer being used for what it was originally intended.
The walk from Auckland Park, to the one-story building, situated at the corner of Chatou Road and Landau Terrace is an intriguing and dynamic one as the pace and activity of the area changes.
Initially one is hit with the loud commotion of traffic, businesses and early morning folk making their way to work, on Empire Road in Auckland Park. The change in scenery and ambience is evident as one moves further away from Auckland Park and closer to the Pink Church. The calmness and quiet cannot be evaded: fewer cars and people. On this warm summer morning only the green vision of leafy elongated trees and private houses consume people.
Arriving at the Pink Church with its brick-layered paving and white, steel-barred gate, its longevity is displayed by the worn out white trimmings on its apex rooftop, which are etched with marks that represent wrinkles of this long-standing landmark. Its exterior clearly reveals that, like fine wine the building has matured with age. Fenced by a pink wall, the former church now serves as a print studio to Collin Cole who warmly welcomes me at the entrance.
Initially, comprising two stands which were later consolidated to stand number 239, the eye–catching structure came into existence in 1903 as the Auckland Park Wesleyan Church. Plans of the space before it came into actuality show that there was never a doubt about what colour to make the place of God as these too show a pink structure to be constructed and it has remained as such.
The pungent smell spawned by conifers which encircle the building infuses the air and is reminiscent of Christmas trees. These saplings, which are a type of pine tree are of great Christian significance as they form part of the religion’s ethos.
The book of Kings in the old testament of the holy book, the bible, conveys how Solomon constructed the Lord’s temple using wood from these kinds of conifers. The man of God paved the walls and ceilings of the temple with cedar and used planks of cypress for the floors. The temple had two folding doors made of cypress wood.
FROM THE SIDE: The Pink Church surrounded by leafy trees that extend over the building.
Having housed various types of works during its existence, 25 years later, the place of worship remained as such after it became home to the Melville Auckland Park Hebrew Congregation, as it served as a synagogue. The building’s tradition as a church remained when The Old Apostolic Church of Africa took over it in 1956. Offices have been housed by this establishment. It has been a dwelling to its current owner and has served as an office space for a variety of other businesses.
In glancing at the magnificent creation, one cannot ignore the preservation of the character and church–like atmosphere of the historic stand.
The colour pink is created by mixing the colours red and white which in Christianity are believed to represent the blood of Jesus and purity respectively. Biblically, the colour pink symbolises the right relationship with God. As spoken of in Psalm 32:11
AT WORK: Owner of the Blue Door Print Studio, Collin Cole cleaning one of his prized printers at his studio.
Cole, who is the current occupier of this inviting space, a print maker by profession, distinguished this as the best and most attractive place to utilise for his studio, print-making classes and business.
The 58-year-old blonde-haired man smiles as he welcomes me warmly at the gate of his recently acquired studio.
As he leads me inside the structure, I am greeted by two folding wooden ingresses at the south side of the building. This is now a sunlit interior space where the light is inviting as it fills the high structure from its seven high built arched windows with three on either side of the Pink Church and one just above the main south side entrance. The most noticeable feature is the apex shaped skyline surrounded by a high pitched wooden roof which according to Cole is approximately 12 metres from the floor.
“That skyline is one of my favourite things about this beautiful place. I mean the light from all sides and especially from the skyline is just breath-taking. It is especially good for the kind of work [printing] that we do here,” Cole said.
The room Cole and I stand in previously consisted of what he calls “boring white walls” which the print maker decidedly painted an exuberant red after occupying the space on his 58th birthday on May 25 last year.
Two full-size West African figures guard the short staircase down to his corridor gallery. Further down, to the right of the gallery, is a strong room which the first occupants of the Pink Church, Christian congregants in 1903 used as the church safe.
In sneakers, jeans and t-shirt, Cole takes me on a tour of this exquisite heritage site. The once irreparable wooden floors have been transformed into concrete cement screed and decorated with multiple rainbow colours to add a little bit of class.
With his two year–long lease agreement with his landlord Lebrun Rossouw, Cole has no immediate plans of relocating.
“When I first saw the place it was actually being used as an office by architects Britz and Scholes and I knew I wanted to own it at some point. I was immediately drawn to it because of its classical look, architecture and structure,” Rossouw says.
Rossouw, owner of The Jolly Roger Pub located in Parkhurst, north of Johannesburg saw the former church as the best place for a bachelor such as himself at the time. He lets out a laugh as he explains why a church was the best fit for him.
INSIDE: The former place of worship now carries print works and machinery used to produce them.
“I can’t think of anything more romantic than living in a church. It contrasted the atmosphere I experienced in my pub because when I would come home all I felt was calmness. The romance of a church as a home cannot be put into words,” he said.
Rossouw took ownership of the Pink Church after it had been empty and abandoned for three years.
“It was derelict, had no windows, doors, toilets and was occupied by vagrants,” he explained.
The businessman renovated the distinctive piece of property as he turned what used to be the pulpit area into his private sleeping quarters by erecting a white two-metre-high wall which now boasts the initials B.D in the colour blue, which are a representation of what the building currently is, The Pink Church with a Blue Door. Rossouw proudly speaks of one of his most prized possessions, The Pink Church
“When I first moved in there, there was a mezzanine floor and stairs as well as a conference room which had been and added by Britz and Scholes. I added and changed a lot. I added a kitchen, I extended the entrance so I could use it as a parking space. It now extends closer to the road. I added a garage at the back and I created a bathroom too,” Rossouw said.
Seventeen years subsequent to acquiring the gemstone, Rossouw, following careful consideration and thought explains that he is always open to change.
Having been used as an office from 1978 the Pink Church was occupied by 15 staff members who worked for the architectural firm, Britz and Scholes.
One of the former staff members was 56-year-old, Fiona Garson whose first job was as a junior architect at the firm. Speaking of the building during her time there, in 1988, Garson fondly recalled the interior at the time and the great way owners of the building at the time transformed the building.
A VISION: The brightly painted walls of the building carry the print works of current and former students.
TIMELINE: A history of what is now the Blue Door Print Studio.
WATCH: The process of print making.
“Britz and Scholes were the owners of the building. It was a nice building. There was an entire mezzanine level and a double volume in the middle. The staff would sit upstairs and everyone had their own alcove to work in,” she says.
After a moment in silence as if travelling back in time to when she was 23 years old , Garson takes a deep breath and continues, “I remember how beautiful it was especially because of the way it was oriented. It had a high volume inside and it was an interesting space to work in because I don’t think a lot of people envisioned the place as an office and not a church.”
According to Garson, her then R2 367 pay check was enough for her to get by as she could pay the rent at her small flat in Yeoville as well as pay for her car.
Garson is currently one of the directors of Cohen and Garson Architects and was part of the team responsible for designing the Wits Art Museum in Braamfontein.
Britz and Scholes sold the building for R400 000 in 1990 to Dug toy (Pty).
When the Melville Auckland Park Hebrew Congregation was formed in the western suburbs of Johannesburg, the Pink Church was purchased by the Jewish community in 1929, more than 20 years after its inception.
During her visit to New York in the Eighties, Rose Norwich, a member of the Jewish community became interested in synagogues in South Africa that had been closed down. The now 97-year old qualified architect, who was a Wits student, wrote part of her thesis on the Pink Church. Although her memory is slightly slipping, she tries hard to think back to when she visited the building, as she scratches her fluffy grey hair.
“It was a pretty little building. It was attractive and it captured the essence of the 1900s. It wasn’t big and great, but it was attractive,” says the 97-year-old.
Looking at her old plans of the building and comparing them to the ones I have obtained, Norwich thoughtfully says, “It’s amazing that everyone who has owned it has changed it in some way, maybe that’s what makes this building so interesting. I am almost as old as it actually.”
The National Heritage Resources Act, 25 of 1999 states that structures such as the Pink Church, which are older than 60 years may not have any of its part exterior demolished by any person without a permit issued by the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority Gauteng.
“As far as I know this refers to the exterior of the building. That is why a lot of the demolishing that I did was done to the interior,” Rossouw explains.
Across the road from the Lucky Bean Guesthouse on First Avenue, the Pink Church is also surrounded by private residences, one of which is to its right, formerly known as stand 51 and was utilised as a dwelling place for the synagogue’s rabbi in 1934, after the Jewish congregation built a small house comprising of two bedrooms and a kitchen.
Owner of the guesthouse on First Avenue Conway Falconer has been a neighbour of the church for about eight years. The 56-year-old bearded entrepreneur speaks fondly of the heritage site.
“It’s always been a building I have been proud to speak of when talking about my area. It’s not just your typical building. It’s a church that has experienced a lot. I think at some stage someone tried to sell antiques from there and I think Lebrun once lived there. It’s like it’s always changing inside but always stays the same,” he says.
It can always be argued that it is fairly easy to recycle an existing building, particularly a building such as this former Methodist Church. However, the innovation and care with which the interior has been converted shows the importance and grace of the Pink Church. One cannot help but be mesmerised and captured by the finishes, use of colour and visual excitement it currently carries.